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Has Hochevar turned the corner with back-to-back strong starts?

Jul 27, 2009, 12:38 PM EDT

Prior to last week Luke Hochevar seemed destined for a career as a
solid but unspectacular mid-rotation starter, which while certainly not
a bad thing would qualify as a big disappointment for the No. 1 overall
pick in the 2006 draft.

Hochevar had a mediocre 92/39 K/BB ratio in 123 innings at Triple-A
and then went 11-16 with a 5.25 ERA through his first 33 starts in the
majors, managing a measly 4.7 strikeouts per nine innings. His average
fastball was just 90 miles per hour, he wasn’t missing any bats, his
control was shaky, and despite still being just 25 years old Hochevar
didn’t look like someone capable of becoming an elite starting pitcher.

That may still end up being the case, but he’s at least done a good
impression of an elite starter in his last two outings, racking up 22
strikeouts in 13 innings while handing out zero walks against two of
the AL’s best lineups. He had nine strikeouts in six innings against
Tampa Bay and then whiffed 13 in seven innings Saturday versus Texas,
which is remarkable for a guy who never had more than six strikeouts in
his first 33 starts.

Bill James once found that pitchers with even a single 15-strikeout,
zero-walk start were overwhelmingly destined for greatness. In fact, as
the always awesome Joe Posnanski points out
of the 21 guys to accomplish that feat 20 of them are “either Hall of
Fame quality or excellent pitchers” with Sterling Hitchcock being the
lone exception. Of course, Posnanski also notes that dropping the
threshold to 13 strikeouts produces “a significantly bigger group.”

The 13-strikeout group has 75 pitchers, to be exact, with
significantly more non-elite names mixed in with the Hall of Famers. In
other words, Hochever’s outstanding 13-strikeout, zero-walk performance
against the Rangers doesn’t really predict greatness so much as
goodness. After all, for one game to have that much meaning is
extremely difficult.

However, Posnanski’s findings got me wondering about Hochevar’s
two-game stretch with 22 strikeouts and zero walks. Or, put another
way, how many pitchers have had back-to-back starts where they didn’t
walk anyone and struck out at least nine batters? Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com,
I can tell you that Hochevar was just the 29th guy to do it since 1954
and no one has done it in three straight starts. Here’s the list:

Randy Johnson (x2)      Rich Harden             Oliver Perez
Pedro Martinez (x2) Dan Haren Steve Renko
Curt Schilling (x2) LUKE HOCHEVAR Nolan Ryan
Erik Bedard Fergie Jenkins Ray Sadecki
Kevin Brown Jon Lieber Johan Santana
Steve Carlton Jim Merritt Mike Scott
Roger Clemens Terry Mulholland Ben Sheets
Bob Gibson Mike Mussina James Shields
Dwight Gooden Roy Oswalt David Wells
Aaron Harang Camilo Pascual

Not all of those names are great pitchers, but an awful lot of them
are and most of the elite starters from the past five decades are on
the list. All of which isn’t to suggest that Hochevar is suddenly
destined to become a great pitcher, just that the possibility at least
seems a whole lot more plausible than it did a couple weeks ago.

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