First Pitch: Locke’s Anti-Regression, Cumpton a Bonus, and Jamestown
I didn’t have one specific thing I wanted to write about, but a few notes I was thinking about. So I went with more of a notes column, with three different topics below.
**About a month ago we were talking about Jeff Locke being a regression candidate going forward. That sparked the usual responses of “what if Locke is the exception and outperforms his FIP all year?” Well, he isn’t the exception. Locke has been excellent ever since that article, but it’s not because he was the exception to the rule. It’s because he’s changed his game.
The key factors that make up FIP are home runs, walks, intentional walks, hit by pitch, strikeouts, and innings pitched. Basically anything that is a direct battle between the batter and pitcher, with no influence from fielders. This explains why it is called Fielding Independent Pitching.
When Locke had a 2.73 ERA and James Santelli wrote that he won’t keep dominating, his FIP was 4.47.
After tonight’s start, Locke’s FIP is down to 3.82. There was an argument in the original article that Locke has been a different pitcher since struggling in his first three starts. If you took those three starts out, you only had six remaining. We now have 11, which isn’t a huge sample size, but is bigger. In those 11 starts, Locke has a 2.97 FIP.
So why is Locke’s FIP going down, rather than his ERA going up? Simple. He’s changing his game. Locke is now striking out more batters than he was back on May 21st. When that article was written, Locke had a 5.5 K/9, a 3.8 BB/9, and an 0.9 HR/9. Locke now has a 6.6 K/9, a 3.9 BB/9, and an 0.5 HR/9. He’s added a strikeout per nine innings on average, kept his walks about the same (which is mostly due to his last start where he walked seven) and has cut down on the home runs.
If you go with that 11 game sample (chalking the first three starts up to Locke adjusting to the majors), then he’s got a 7.3 K/9, a 3.6 BB/9, and a 0.1 HR/9.
It’s not hard to see why Locke isn’t regressing. It’s because he’s improving. FIP shows what a pitcher will do in the future if he continues what he’s done to date. Locke hasn’t continued what he was doing. Instead he’s striking out more batters, not allowing as many homers, and the end result is that his numbers look more legit.
Of course there will still be some regression. Locke isn’t going to keep pitching with the 1.48 ERA he’s had over his last 11 starts. But this time he’s not looking like a #4 starter who is posing as a top of the rotation guy.
For more on Locke, check out James Santelli’s outstanding game recap, which breaks down some of his strengths and what worked for him tonight.
**Everyone looks forward to the debuts of guys like Gerrit Cole, but my favorites have to be guys like Brandon Cumpton. A lot of people will follow the top prospects like Cole, but only the hardcore prospect followers will even track Cumpton. Part of the fun of my job is following those guys, seeing how they progress through the system, and identifying them as sleeper prospects. In Cumpton’s case, he’s got the chance to be a back of the rotation starter in the majors, or a strong reliever if there’s no room in the rotation.
The key difference between Cole and Cumpton (aside from the obvious talent and upside) is that the Pirates are expecting Cole to be good. If Cole becomes an ace, that’s part of the plan. If Cumpton becomes a major league starter, that’s a bonus. Even if all he ever does is comes up and makes 2-3 strong starts in 2013 while A.J. Burnett is out, that’s huge value from a ninth round pick. The Pirates rely on guys like Cole working out. But when guys like Cumpton work out and contribute, it’s a big bonus, and the Pirates need all of the bonuses they can find.
To prepare for tomorrow’s start, check out The Book on Brandon Cumpton, giving a scouting report and a recap of his development in the minors.
**The Jamestown Jammers begin their season on Monday. The roster is still taking shape, so I hope to have a season preview by Sunday. Here’s a quick preview of that preview: keep an eye on Harold Ramirez, and another eye on Elvis Escobar. There’s going to be a lot of young talent at the level, but those two are clearly at the top of the list, and have looked good this year in extended Spring Training.
Links and Notes
**Check out the newest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 9: What To Do With the Rotation When The Starters Return?