Is Jeff Locke Starting to Figure Things Out?

Jeff Locke

Jeff Locke has thrown 13 shutout innings in his last two starts.

Don’t look now, but Jeff Locke has a 2.83 ERA in 28.2 innings so far this year in the majors. That number is probably too low for his actual skills. He has a 4.60 xFIP, which suggests his overall performances have been nowhere near the actual result. But Locke is starting to show some improvements.

We saw some of those improvements last night against the St. Louis Cardinals. Locke had a strong start, going seven shutout innings and allowing just three hits and two walks, with four strikeouts. That followed a start where Locke threw six shutout innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing two walks and two hits, with six strikeouts.

You would like to point to those starts and say that Locke is starting to figure things out at the major league level. He’s thrown in each of the last two seasons, but both trips to the majors came at the end of the season, after a full year in Indianapolis. This is the first year he’s been in the majors from day one, throwing at 100 percent. The hope would be that he’s going to perform better this year than he did in his short trips in previous years.

While you’d like to point to these last two starts as a sign that Locke is figuring things out, the reality is that he gave up nine runs in 15.2 innings over his first three starts, with nine walks and six strikeouts. He’s obviously trending in the right direction, but he has just as many poor starts as good starts this year, and it would just be selective to only consider the good outings. There are some positive signs from his recent starts that do show signs of encouragement going forward.

For one, he’s gotten more swings and misses. Locke had just six swings and misses in his first two starts, which represented 3.5% of his pitches. In his last three starts he’s gotten a swing and a miss in 8.7% of his pitches. By comparison, Wandy Rodriguez has a 6.7% swinging strike rate on the year. Locke is now up to 6.8% after his last three starts.

In Locke’s first two starts of the year he was throwing a first pitch strike around 50% of the time. In his next two starts he was around 61%, and in his last start he was 76.9%.

We talked about Locke last week on the Pirates Prospects Podcast, with James Santelli reviewing how he looked in the St. Louis start. My points on the podcast were that Locke is a guy who isn’t going to dominate opposing hitters, and will need to get by with pitching. He’s got a good mix of pitches, but none of his options stand out as a plus offering. His strong point is his control and command. That’s why the above numbers are encouraging. Locke has success by getting ahead of hitters (first pitch strikes), and by fooling them with his stuff and placement. His stuff can be very hittable if it isn’t located well. If he is locating his stuff well, that’s when he’s going to get swinging strikes, fewer walks, and better overall results.

That’s what Locke has shown over his last two starts, and even a bit during the Atlanta start, which didn’t have the best outcome. It’s too early to say that he’s starting to figure things out, since that would be based off two starts. He is doing what he needs to do to have success going forward. In his recent starts he’s looking like he’s doing a better job of commanding his pitches and getting ahead of hitters. If he figures out how to continue that at the major league level, then that combination will keep him in a major league rotation going forward.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Richard Ya’Zhynka

    Locke had a 3.70 xFIP in 34 innings with the Pirates last year.

  • joe g.

    Yesterday he was able to touch 93 mph with his fastball. He’s not a power pitcher, but he throws hard enough. For him, it’s about commanding the inner half of the plate with strikes. He did it yesterday, and the results were excellent.

  • Ian Rothermund

    Just as many good starts as bad starts, you say? Sounds like a #4 or 5 pitcher in a rotation.

    • Tim Williams

      I’ve seen Locke’s upside as a strong number 4 starter.

      • Kerry Writtenhouse

        These are the type’s of guys we need to be giving opportunities to when they present themselves. This rotation should get fairly deep if the injured starters make it back healthy and throwing well.

        • ianmonk

          I loved what I saw yesterday. He figured out the strike zone and then gradually expanded it throughout the game. Now we need to see him pitch through some adversity again to really see what he has learned. Hopefully the confidence from the last 2 games will do wonders from here on out.

  • emjayinTN

    Tim: Getting to pitch at 100%, and watching guys like AJ Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, and throwing to a Catcher like Russell Martin, and pitching under the watchful eye of Ray Searage, have all contributed to the 3-1, 2.83 ERA. He has the pitches topped by one of the best change-ups on the team and the confidence he is building serve to make pitching with command just that much easier. This kid has done very well for the Bucs since being traded as a part of the booty the Braves gave up to get Nate McLouth – one of the most despised trades of the NH era, but one that just keeps on giving. Gorkys Hernandez helped us steal Gaby Sanchez, and Charlie Morton has been a SP for us and will be again when he returns from TJ Rehab.

  • leadoff

    I don’t see any better stuff from Wandy and he is a least a 3, I do agree that Locke could be a 4, but that depends on the staff that he is on.
    Since JMac has lost his fast ball, I would put Locke ahead of him on this staff and move Wandy up to 1 or 2. On a Philly staff, he is probably a 4.
    As far as his poor starts are concerned, a lot of pitchers are slow starters and some are fast starters that fizzle out. I believe after seeing Locke in St and seeing him now that he has built up his arm strength and his fastball is moving better than it was. He is also much more efficient.
    Don’t forget Locke was pitcher of the year in this organization last year and I think there were pitchers like Cole and Taillon in it.
    Unfortunately Locke is still going to have his ups and downs and since he already gets very little credit for winning a lot more criticism for lack of stuff, I think he is going to be looked at as a Kevin Corriea and I think Kevin showed the Pirates last year when the rest of the staff fell apart he was still efficient, the Twins sure like him.

  • Joe Sweetnich

    If you watched yesterday’s game closely it was very evident that Locke was Greg Maddox like, meaning that nothing was up in the zone and almost nothing was middle of the plate. He consistently hit the outside corner at the knees.

    xFIP or whatever you want to quote does not factor in outside corner at the knees with arm side run. Outside corner at the knees with arm side run results in 13 straight shutout innings. Locke did not have that until his last two starts. Continued command WILL result in strong outcomes regardless of what xFIP says.

    • kelso

      Yeah he was definitely on and had those low corners picked

  • Jeff Brooks

    A couple weeks ago, I called Locke a 4A pitcher. It’s still a small sample size, but I’m happy to eat crow on this one so far and hope to do so the entire season and beyond.

  • kelso

    Nice analysis. Watching the game yesterday it seemed to me like the difference between now and earlier in the season is a much better command. Locke was really picking some corners of the strike zone and repeating it with consistency. He looked awesome yesterday

  • reddfoxx39

    Locke Ness Monster!

  • Lee Young

    I’ve been rooting for Locke for some time.
    I hope he keeps it up.
    A low 90s FB is nothing to sneeze at either, unlike Maholm’s and Duke’s upper 80s slow balls.

    • emjayinTN

      We cannot put a stat on the simple fact that he is watching two highly successful and totally professional pitchers – how they go about their business, how they handle themselves in the dugout and the clubhouse, how they prepare, right on down to how they do their bullpens on off-days. , and those two guys along with Grilli, and Martin who is a veteran but still only 30, and has a whole lot of little boy in him.. I hope that we have a chance to get Gerrit Cole up to experience the same thing that will help them mature.

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