All season on this site we had been talking about how Jeff Locke was due for regression. The left-hander had an ERA around 3.00, and eventually that dropped as low as 2.01 on June 19th. That would have made him one of the best starters in the majors. His advanced metrics suggested a different story. Locke’s FIP bounced around a lot in the first half of the season, but from the start of June he has been consistently in the 3.70-4.00 range.
The main reason we were saying that Locke would regress was because of that FIP. Fielding Independent Pitching measures what a pitcher controls, and removes any outside help that could be influenced by other players on the team, or luck. In this case, Locke was playing above his head, stranding an unsustainable amount of runners.
Lately Locke has seen some struggles. There was the horrible outing today, which James Santelli recapped. There was a four run in four inning game on July 31st. The other starts have been good, but we’re just not seeing the first half Locke who strands everyone and throws seven shutout innings.
I don’t want to excuse Locke’s start today, because it was a horrible outing. It wasn’t just about bad luck either, as James detailed some of the things Locke was doing wrong. That being said, if you remove this start, Locke hasn’t been bad this season. The sentiment that Locke is falling apart lately just isn’t true. The idea that he was struggling before this game is also false.
What is happening is that Locke is finally showing that regression. He’s not getting out of every jam. As a result, he’s actually giving up runs and looking more like a #3-4 starter. If you take out today’s game, in every situation his numbers look fine.
Think he’s struggling since the All-Star break? He’s got a 3.54 ERA in 28 innings.
Second half problems? 3.32 ERA in 40.2 innings since the start of July.
The only way you could get a bad group of starts before this one is if you took the July 31st start where he gave up four runs in four innings, and didn’t include some of the fine starts surrounding that poor outing.
I see this all the time with regression candidates. It’s almost the five stages of regression grief.
Stage 1 – Denial
Every time you mention that a guy who is performing well will eventually regress, you automatically get people who deny the entire idea of regression. Or they just deny that the player will regress.
Stage 2 – Anger
If you dare bring up the subject more than once, you’ll spark some rage.
Stage 3 – Bargaining
“What if he just knows how to pitch?” “What if he’s the next (Insert pitcher who wasn’t even a regression candidate) who always plays above his head?” “Why can’t he be the exception?” And a bunch of other questions that start to accept that regression is a real thing, but hope that it isn’t real in this case.
Stage 4 – Depression
The player actually regresses. Season over. Pack it up. This guy shouldn’t even be in the majors. Even though we were comparing him to Clayton Kershaw two months ago, he had one bad start and a bunch of “Not Clayton Kershaw” starts to go with it, and that means he should be done for the year.
Stage 5 – Acceptance
We haven’t reached that stage with Locke, but this is the stage where you accept what the pitcher is, and laugh about that time you thought his 2.01 ERA in 89 innings was enough to make him the next Tom Glavine.
Acceptance doesn’t always include rational thinking. If it’s a pitcher like Locke, who has a 3.85 FIP and should be expected to put those results up going forward, then he’s going to get the Video Game/Fantasy Baseball/Charlie Morton Isn’t a Good Pitcher treatment, where every pitcher is expected to have a 3.00 ERA or lower, and anyone who is close to league average is actually someone who should be in the minor leagues.
On the season Locke has a 2.90 ERA and a 3.85 FIP. That includes tonight’s start. I think people are starting to enter the “Depression” stage, with the realization that Locke isn’t going to be a top of the rotation starter. But “regression” doesn’t mean that if a player isn’t a top of the rotation starter he falls to the other end of the spectrum. It just means he regresses to his skill level. In this case, Locke is still expected to put up numbers that are around the league average. He’s got some things to work on to make sure tonight’s start doesn’t happen again (lowering his walk rate would be a good place to start). But Locke is still a major league pitcher, and he’s still a guy with the ceiling of a #3-4 starter. Eventually we can all get to the “Acceptance” stage and realize Locke’s true value.
Links and Notes
**The latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast is out: P3 Episode 17: The Pirates Issues With RISP, Platoons, and Small Ball.