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.