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.

Jeff Locke

Jeff Locke hasn’t regressed, but instead has improved his game.

**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?

**2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker.

Prospects

**Prospect Watch: Polanco Collects Three Hits In Altoona Debut.

**DSL Prospect Watch: Pirates Trounce Yankees, Adames Homers Again.

**Minor League Schedule: Kingham Likely To Make Altoona Debut Tonight.

**Prospect Trends — Turning Around Flagging Careers.

**Does Tony Sanchez Have a Throwing Problem?

**Pirates to Sign 15th Round Pick Max Rossiter.

**Pirates Sign Five Draft Picks, Including 2nd Rounder Blake Taylor.

Pirates

**Pirates Locke Down and Shut Out Dodgers 3-0.

**Brandon Cumpton Will Start for Pirates on Saturday.

**The Book on Brandon Cumpton.

**Pirates Notebook: Projecting Rotation with Burnett Out, Cumpton In.

Tim Williams

Author: 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 AccuScore.com, 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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  • John Dreker

    I’d like to apologize to Brandon Cumpton for thinking that he would never start in the majors before the Pirates signed him. I even went as far as to say at the time, that I didn’t care if they signed him, because he probably wants slot money to sign and I could pass on a future middle reliever for that much. Wish more players would prove me wrong(in a good way) like he has

    • http://www.facebook.com/joe.sweetnich Joe Sweetnich

      John,

      It’s nice to someone publicly admit when they were wrong. Hat’s off to you; good example for all of us…

      • http://www.facebook.com/susanne.klichlangford Susanne Klich Langford

        Yes, John…that is very un-Fox News of you! …very un-ESPN of you too!!!

        Fred Langford

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      John…don’t feel bad…I figured he was minor league org material all the way.

      I hope he does well!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

    My thoughts on FIP, Jeff Locke and Jeanmar Gomez. If you look at The starts that Locke and Gomez have made; Locke has generally looked like 2 different pitchers (the erratic fringe # 5 type in his first 3 starts and the solid # 4 type of his last 11 starts), Gomez on the other hand has been pretty consistent (all of his 7 starts look similar) which leads me to believe his overall FIP and xFIP to be a good indicator for what to expect from him if he returns to the rotation.

  • rburgh

    As one of the voices defending Locke’s future into the teeth of his xFIP a while back, I just want to say that I am glad the stats are catching up with what I was writing about back then. I got some flack then for comparing him to a young Tom Glavine, but maybe the comparison needs to be revisited. He gets good movement, keeps the ball down, and works both sides of the plate. He’s now done that for 11 starts in a row, which suggests that there is a good chance that his current numbers are not a fluke.

    Yes, he is taking advantage of (a) pitching in a great park for LHP, and (b) pitching in front of a very good defense. That’s why his ERA is still miles ahead of his xFIP. But, as long as PNC Park remains his hone field, and as long as the Bucs’ FO continues to run out a good defense behind him, he’s always going to outperform his xFIP. And he’s the classic pitcher type to do so – keep it down, move it around, change speeds, and have some life on the ball when it gets to the plate.

    BTW – there’s a photo of him up on mlb.com that shows him preparing to throw what looks like a knuckle curve. Has he picked up a new trick courtesy of AJB?

    Finally, I continue to believe that his upside is a lot more than a “#4 starter.” I suspect that I am going a bit overboard, but I think he deserves serious consideration for the ASG at this point. He’s going to get 5 more starts before then (if he stays healthy, knock on wood), and if 4 of those are in the same ballpark as his last 11, he’s going to have some numbers that make a compelling argument for that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      I have been a Locke fan since we got him, even during the Rudy Owens’ minor league pitcher of the year days. I always thought he’d be better than Rudy.

      I am glad he is doing well. I just have a feeling he’s gonna be lots better than a #4 start. I think of Ted Lilly (in his prime) more than Tommy Glavine, altho, I wouldn’t mind Glavine…:)

      Foo

  • deacs

    Yeah I’ve gone back and forth with my buddy who’s a Phillies fan about this. He says unless you’re Matt Cain you’re not going to beat the system here when it comes to FIP. Or at least not by the difference that Locke had at the time. And I remember many readers prepared to go to James’ house with pitchforks and baseball bats after that article. Why did Locke get pulled by the way? I would think over the next couple days you can’t really count on Cumpton or Cole to go into the 8th. Not complaining cause they won but just wondering.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      a LOT of us wondered why Locke got pulled.

      I bet the Dodgers were dancing in the dugout that Hurdle took him out….lol

  • Cave Bonifield

    I just wanted to send kudos to all involved with this site.
    I am a long time Pirate minor league follower and enjoy your in depth analysis and coverage immensely.

  • leadoff

    When it comes to Locke I hate to say I told you so, but! I think I wrote not too long ago that I not only thought that Locke would not regress, but I thought he would get better, seems it fell on deaf ears.
    There is a chance he could maintain a #1′s era, in fact much more likely he will maintain a #1′s era than he will end up at a #4′s Era. His current stats are #1 ERA stats. 5th best in major league baseball.
    There are solid reasons why Locke is as good as he is, none of them can be explained with stats.
    Remember this guy was a coveted pitcher in the Brave system.
    You don’t have to throw 98 mph to be a No.1.

    • smurph

      I was also one of the ones who said Locke seems to have the grit and smarts to make the best of his talent. i.e. he knows how to pitch. While Tim kept saying his FIP would go down, it seems you ignored the possibility that he might improve enough in other categories to keep his meaningful stats close to his same numbers. No he likely won’t end the season with a sub-3 ERA, but it would not surprise me to see him win 12-15 games this year if he stays healthy.

  • rburgh

    Let me make myself a little more clear. I am 100% sure that Locke is not going to pitch to a 1.48 ERA for his career. My beef with xFIP restts on the following points.

    1. It assumes that all pitchers are going to regress to the same BABIP. This is manifestly not the case. The Bucs’ DER a(accorsing to Baseball Prospectus) is .729, the median for all 30 teams is .706. That means that Locke’s BABIP is not going to regress to the league average, but to the league average -.023. That’s a significant difference.

    2. It assumes that all pitchers are going to regress to a uniform HR/FB percentage. For a LHP who pitches his home games in PNC Park, that’s also manifestly wrong. In 36 home games the Pirates have hit 28 HR and allowed 20. That’s 1.33 HR per game (both teams). In 31 road games, the Bucs have hit 35 HR and allowed 34, that’s a rate of 2.23 per game. Assuming that home/ road flyball rates are relatively the same, that means that any Pirates’ pitcher’s HR/FB rate should regress to about 75% of the league average.

    The current ML average BABIP is .281, Locke’s is .233. I think he should regress to a BABIP around .260, xFIP assumes he will regress to .281. His current HR/FB% is 10%, the ML average is 14.8%. xFIP assumes he will regress to a 14.8% rate, I think he will regress to 11.1%.

    These two beefs that I have with xFIP will collectively make a HUGE difference in what xFIP predicts he would do in a neutral environment and I think he will be able to do in the Bucs’ defense / PNC Park environment.

    End of rant.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      1. I agree with you somewhat on this. I wrote about a month ago that I think the Pirates starters should be expected to end up in the .280 range, due to the defense behind them, and the tendency for a lot of starters to be ground ball pitchers. The problem is that a guy like Locke has been allowing a BABIP around .225, which is definitely going to regress. Maybe not to .300, but it will go down.

      2. I agree with your “LHP in PNC” argument, which is why I prefer FIP for lefties. It doesn’t normalize the HR/FB ratio like xFIP.