The Royals have decided to baby Luke Hochevar

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Luke Hochevar is far from the kind of 22-year-old hotshot starting pitcher teams typically shut down in September.  He actually turned 28 today, and he’s currently sporting a 5.29 ERA in 96 big-league starts (and four relief appearances).  Nevertheless, the Royals have decided to have him hang it up for the season because of concerns about his workload.

The Kansas City Star’s Bob Dutton has the quotes:

“Could he finish the year?” manager Ned Yost asked. “Yeah. He wants to. But for me, it just  doesn’t make any sense to continue to push his innings when he’s in a good spot.  It gives us an opportunity to look at somebody else.”

The decision likely has a lot to do with last year’s reduced workload, the result of a sprained elbow ligament that sidelined him from mid-June until early September.  Hochevar ended up throwing just 103 innings then before jumping to 198 this year.

“He’s had a real nice second half,” Yost said, “and the innings are  way up. He ends on a real good note. He’s healthy. He’s strong. He’s ready to go  230 innings next year without missing a beat.”

Well, let’s not go that far.  Generally, one has to be pretty good to pitch 230 innings.  Hochevar is ending this season with a 4.68 ERA.  Yost is right about the second half improvement — he went 6-3 with a 3.52 ERA and a particularly impressive 1.13 WHIP in his final 12 starts — but he got some help from the schedule makers there.  Overall, his peripherals suggest that little has changed.  This year’s strikeout rate is a little worse than his career average, the walk rate is a little better and the home run rate is almost exactly the same.

Hochevar may yet make the jump from No. 4 starter to No. 3 starter, but it’s hard to see him having much more upside than that.  With his salary likely to increase to $3 million or so in arbitration next year, it’s still to be determined whether he’s going to fit into Kansas City’s long-term plans or not.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.