When Neal Huntington came out and said that the organization was torn between whether Brandon Cumpton or Jeff Locke would replace the recently DFA’d Wandy Rodriguez, the decision seemed clear – Cumpton.
Cumpton has been dominant all season in Indianapolis, boasting a 1.35 ERA in 40 innings, with a 21:10 K/BB ratio. Since coming back to Indianapolis from Pittsburgh, Cumpton has gotten even better. He has allowed just three earned runs in his 21 innings over three starts.
However, the stats for Locke show a different story. Locke has seven starts with Indianapolis and has a 3.92 ERA. While he has 31 strikeouts, Locke also has 15 walks. Locke has also allowed five home runs in 39 innings in Triple-A.
While the stats may not paint a clear picture, my assessment goes beyond the numbers. It is based more on what I am seeing on the field in their starts. By watching the two throw, Cumpton is just much more polished than Locke at this point in the season. Cumpton has been hitting 94 MPH consistently much of the season and his stuff just looks electric, as he works consistently down in the zone. He seems to mix his pitches better and just have the hitters more off-balance. I just don’t see as many hard hit balls off Cumpton as with Locke.
When it comes to Locke, there is no secret that it is a good day when he hits 91. However, it is more than velocity. So many times this season, I have seen Locke fall behind hitters early in games and innings, working with three ball counts. This has been a constant struggle in the past for Locke with command and it has continued this season. I see Locke working more elevated in the zone as well, which will not lead to success in Pittsburgh. Rodriguez can attest to that. Locke does seem to be getting more action with his curveball lately than he was early in the year, but it’s more about the placement.
It is clear why the Pirates brass is high on Locke, based on his stuff, experience, and potential. However, I just don’t see him as big league ready at this point in the season. To me, Locke would be third on the list of possible replacements, behind Casey Sadler. Sadler has thrown much more consistently than Locke this season. The only aspect that Locke has over Sadler is experience. Sadler works down in the zone similar to Cumpton, but does not have the same zip on the fastball.
Vance Worley is another option. However, based on just a handful of starts this season, Worley still is working on getting completely stretched out and seems to be about a month away from the big leagues.
While Cumpton got just a cup of coffee last time up, when Rodriguez went on the DL, he will get a real look this time. With the chance, I see Cumpton making the most of it and etching his name into the rotation for the rest of the season and moving forward into next season.