To say that the Houston Astros bullpen struggled last year would be an understatement. The Astros relief core finished last in baseball with a 4.80 ERA, tied for last with 26 blown saves and gave up a .741 OPS to the opposition, 28th in baseball. Understandably, Jeff Luhnow has determined that improving the bullpen is a priority for this offseason.
While the Astros are expected to increase their payroll by upwards to $20 Million for 2015, that would still likely leave them out of the running for the top relief arms that could be available. Besides, given the multitude of issues that the Astros bullpen had last season, and the amount of potential openings on the team, signing a reliever like David Robertson just would not seem to be cost effective. However, there may be a reliever available who could, for much less money, provide similar results in Luke Hochevar.
A failed starter for the Kansas City Royals, Hochevar truly found his niche in the bullpen in 2013, posting a 5-2 record with a 1.92 ERA and a 0.825 WHiP. Becoming a pitcher who mainly relied upon his fastball and cutter, Hochevar saw his velocity increase by approximately three miles per hour across the board. That increased velocity led to a career best 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings, while Hochevar displayed improved control, walking only 2.2 batters per nine.
Of course, if a pitcher of that caliber is going to be available for what could be a bargain, there has to be a caveat. Luke Hochevar is certainly no exception, as he missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery in early March. Given that the Astros did not exactly have good luck with the previous injured reliever they brought in, Jesse Crain, it may be understandable that they would be hesitant to look at Hochevar.
Yet, that should not be the case here. Given that a pitcher tends to struggle a bit with his command in the first year following the procedure, a one year deal with a team option or a two year deal may be a solid investment for the Astros. Hochevar, during the 2013 season, proved that he could be a reliable reliever, even working his way into the set up role by the end of the year. He could even be a low cost alternative at closer if the Astros wanted to take that path, instead of taking a chance on former closers such as Sergio Romo or Andrew Bailey.
The Houston Astros could definitely use a few upgrades in the bullpen. Luke Hochevar could potentially be a fit in Houston, and at quite the bargain.