First Pitch: Jeff Locke’s Season Should Be Over

Jeff Locke Pirates
Jeff Locke was hit for five runs in the first inning today. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Jeff Locke had a bad day.

The left-hander gave up five runs in the first inning to the Cincinnati Reds, putting the Pirates deep in a hole in an important game for their playoff chances.

Jeff Locke has had a bad second half.

Since his last start in July, Locke has a 7.42 ERA in 44.2 innings, including today’s outing. During that time he only made it 6+ innings once. He had a few decent starts, and one dominant outing against the Cubs, but too many bad starts, and two horrible games, with today’s included.

Jeff Locke’s season should be over.

I like Locke. I didn’t think he was as good as his first half, but I don’t think he’s this bad. I was saying that there was some regression due in the first half. Now he’s gone from lucky to unlucky. There is regression to be had with the second half numbers. His first half FIP was 3.80. His second half FIP (before today) was 4.18. Going forward he should be expected to sit around a 4.00 ERA, which is a strong number four starter.

The Pirates just can’t afford to wait for that now. They also don’t have to rely on Locke at this point.

Locke’s next scheduled start is Saturday against the Reds. As I wrote earlier, that is going to be an extremely important series, and one where the Pirates need to be competitive in every game. Starting Locke would be a huge risk, and it’s a huge risk that can be avoided. The Pirates have an off-day on Thursday, which would allow them to move Charlie Morton up from Sunday to Saturday on normal rest. They could also move Gerrit Cole up to Sunday. The end result is that you replace the struggling Locke with the lights out Gerrit Cole in the most important series of the year.

There’s no downside to any of this. The Pirates would still have Francisco Liriano available for a one game Wild Card. Everyone would be going on full rest. They’d also be starting their best pitchers.

But I’m not just talking about the regular season. The Pirates will have to decide on their post-season roster, and I don’t see Locke fitting in. The starting rotation will have Liriano, A.J. Burnett, Morton, and Cole. The bullpen is sure to have Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Justin Wilson, and Tony Watson. That leaves at least three more relievers, and maybe four depending on whether the Pirates carry an extra hitter or an extra pitcher.

The candidates for the bullpen are:

Bryan Morris

Vin Mazzaro

Jeanmar Gomez

Kyle Farnsworth

Stolmy Pimentel

Jared Hughes

Brandon Cumpton

Kris Johnson

Jeff Locke

At this point it would be easy to pick 3-4 players to put ahead of Locke. Farnsworth has been pitching surprisingly well, and would be a candidate for the post-season roster. Jeanmar Gomez has been a great all-around pitcher this year, and is pretty much a guarantee for the post-season roster. Vin Mazzaro has also done well this season, and has earned his way onto the team as one of the final relievers on the staff. If the Pirates carried an extra reliever, guys like Jared Hughes or the hard throwing Stolmy Pimentel would be better options than Locke.

You also have to consider that Locke has been working as a starter all year, and this isn’t a good time for him to move to the bullpen for the first time in his career and get used to that role. That adjustment would be difficult under normal circumstances. In the playoffs when Locke has been struggling? Those are far from normal circumstances.

Maybe Locke could get some bullpen work in the next week, although the Pirates have so many options that they wouldn’t need to turn to him. If he doesn’t get an appearance, then his season should be over. He remains a good rotation option for the 2014 season, as his FIP numbers have indicated all season that he can put up quality MLB numbers. But that’s something the Pirates need to focus on during the 2014 season, and not during the most important stretch of the 2013 season.

Links and Notes

**Playoff Race Update: Home Field in the Wild Card Game Decided Next Weekend

**Score Escalates Quickly, Pirates Lose 11-3

**Pirates Notebook: Jose Tabata Earning His Place in the Lineup

  • Roberto Hernandez has an xFIP of 3.5 and a GB% of 53 this year. IMO that’s a perfect buy low guy. Especially coming from the AL East. I think he’d be a risk well worth taking.

  • You could get Roberto Hernandez (Carmona) or Saunders for under $5M, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Baker might be a little more – if someone is willing to take a huge gamble on his health. The bigger question is whether any of them is an upgrade over anyone else who is already on the roster.

    Hernandez has ranged from mediocre to awful for the last few years. In fact his last good year was way back in 2007. He is no upgrade over Cumpton, Johnson, Gomez, Pimentel, etc.

    Saunders was awful – maybe worse than awful – this year and will be 33 next season. At his best he is mediocre, and has not had a good season since 2008. Again, he is no upgrade over Cumpton, Johnson, Gomez, Pimentel, etc.

    As for Baker, at least he has some upside. Pitched very well in 2011 before his TJS. Took forever to rehab, though, and had some elbow problems during the recovery. Had Wandy Rodriguez-type “forearm tightness” and was shut down for an extended period. Was up-and-down in a few September starts. Big risk but some upside. Wouldn’t pay him big money – other than incentives. He might be an OK #5 starter but only if fully healthy.

    One wild card is Jeff Karstens. He’s not great but if halfway healthy he is clearly better than pitchers like Hernandez or Saunders. If he pitches well in the Dominican, I’d sign him to a low-value contract long before some of the other names.

  • I think the Pirates should go into free agency to get a back end starter for a year or two. I don’t trust that Wandy will be back ever again, I don’t trust that Locke is even a MLB pitcher. Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez, Scott Baker, Joe Saunders or somebody we could get for 1yr/$5-8M makes a lot of sense. That way we won’t be desperately waiting for Taillon, Kingham or McPherson all season.

    • I think it depends on what AJ does. If he comes back, I don’t think they need to add a starter. You have Charlie and Cole as starters. So you need 2 out of Wandy, Locke, Cumpton, McPherson, Johnson, Karstens, and Kingham.

      • Two out of three from Wandy, Locke, Cumpton, Johnson, Karstens, and Pimentel. McPherson won’t be back until at least the All-Star break and Kingham is very unlikely to jump from half a season of AA ball all the way to MLB. Taillon will likely be on the Pirates earlier than Kingham – hopefully by July.

    • Scott Baker is the only pitcher you mentioned worth talking about. And why would you be ” desperately ” waiting for the three pitchers from inside the orginization ? I can tell you right now,waiting or not,you are going to see Taillon almost assuredly,and a pretty good chance at some point you will see Phil Irwin also,though not in the rotation in 2014.

  • Several thoughts on this.

    -Locke should be shut down, he does not have value out of bullpen, he has a reverse platoon split, walks about 4.5 batters per 9, and does not strike guys out at a high rate.

    -His supposed success against the Reds was three starts with a .170 BABIP, yes their entire offense is left-handed but see above. (Should he have started? I do have a strong opinion, and I am not sure the debate is productive.)

    -Gomez, yes he has the will to win or whatever, but a .238 BABIP, a 16% K rate, and 8% BB rate, he is not some panacea.

    -Is anyone else concerned about penciling in Locke for the rotation next year, he relies on a 90 mph fastball, which he throws 60% of the time and only mixes in a change-up and knuckle curve? His K and BB rates are not good. Having a .300 BABIP and 70% strand rate assume major league ability.

  • Great stuff as always Tim. But please tell me you dont think the Pirates would or should keep more than 6-7 in the pen for the playoffs? Need at least a 6-man and to me preferably a 7-man bench, espcially for a wild card game round.

    4-man rotation, with the 5 bullpen locks u mentioned (Grilli, Melancon, Wilson, Watson, Gomez) plus one or two more from the Mazzaro / Farnsworth / Morris contingent.

    That would leave the 6 bench locks as Marte, Gaby, Jones, JHay, Barmes, Catcher.

    And personally I’d go with a 6-man pen and keep Snider (or a third catcher to allow Sanchez to pinch hit) just in case.

    And really, for the wild card, I will be very disappointed if Cole is on the roster. What would be the point? He couldnt pitch in the wild card game, so give his spot to another bat or arm that’s usable.

    • This wasn’t really about overall playoff strategy. It was more about looking at scenarios where Locke could be a candidate for the playoff roster. We’ll have something up on the playoff rosters this week.

      I agree with you that leaving Cole (and other SPs) off the Wild Card roster makes sense. Load up on hitters and relievers, since you don’t need the starting pitchers that round.

  • Tim – what changed for Locke in last month ( Seems like last month the discussion was he wasn’t struggling, he’s just regressing. Now his second half numbers would suggest struggling beyond mere regression. Have you noticed anything different with him?

    • He’s gone to the other extreme. His 1st half and 2nd half numbers:

      1st Half

      6.03 K/9
      3.88 BB/9
      .228 BABIP
      83.3% Strand Rate

      2nd Half

      8.16 K/9
      5.81 BB/9
      .365 BABIP
      67.0% Strand Rate

      The BABIP was extremely lucky in the first half, and extremely unlucky in the second half. The strand rate was extremely luck in the first half. It’s a bit unlucky now, but closer to the average of 70%.

      The walks are up, which is an issue when you’re no longer stranding 83% of runners. More runners on base, plus more scoring equals more runs. The strikeouts going up helps, because that means you’re relying on your defense less. So when that BABIP comes back to earth, it’s not going to hurt as much.

      One big concern is that he is getting crushed with a lot of line drives the last two months. I don’t have any theories on that just yet, but that suggests he’s getting hit harder now, which goes beyond luck to something else. In June and July he had a 15.7% LD rate each month. In August it was 29.1% and it’s 24.5% in September.

      • Hi Tim in my response earlier Locke getting balls crushed is kind of what I was eluding to. earlier this year he was really getting a lot of routine grounders similar to the days of Glavine and Maddox. Now every ball hit is a rocket. Of course more of those will drop in then the dribbler to short. I do agree with your premise though that Locke should probably not pitch again. Though if things are decide d one way or another by next Sunday then maybe it would be a great time to get him three more innings.

  • I agree completely that Locke should sit the remainder of the year, but I don’t think Hurdle gets the blame for starting him. Locke had good #’s against the Reds and was serviceable his last few outings. You have to look at the big picture here. Every decision that is made is going under the microscope because the results are skewing negative now. Leave Liriano in to pitch the 9th? Goes against the grain of every decision he’s made all year. Put Barmes in to play SS? Your MLB SS just needs to make a routine play. Players have to make plays. Pitchers need to make pitches. Hitters need to bear down and have good AB’s. Your MVP front-runner? 0-the series in the biggest 3 games of his career. +20 record at home? 5-6 on the last and most important homestand of the season. My only issue with Hurdle this year was my fear that he was overusing Melancon and Wilson in the 1st half by pulling starters at the 90 pitch limit or lower. I think he figured that he’d rather have a rested starter in September and rely on the expanded roster for bullpen depth. Since August 1 the Pirates are 24-25. The Brewers are 23-24. The next worst team out of the playoff group is St Louis at 29-21. Have no delusions here: This is the real team. They are a .500 road team and I would expect a 2-4 or 3-3 finish. Sure the starting pitching match-ups look good, but the bats are a mystery.

    • Completely agree with the article and with NWBucco. Everyone is an expert in hindsight. I was hearing people say that Hurdle was both overusing his bullpen, and he was waiting too long to pull his starters. How can it be both? I agree that Locke is done for this season. Shut him down until next season. I think you do keep Farnsworth to pitch to one or two batters – no more. I pretty much agree with Tim as to the 11 or 12 pitchers you keep. Remember you can change your roster each time you advance. For the WC game, maybe you only have 9 pitchers.

  • Come on Leadoff. I know your venting but you can’t just say hey the guy is worn out because he pitched bad. Its easy to say lets pitch the rookie. Then when he gets rocked your the first one on the site to challenge the manager for player a guy with no experience in such a critical game. Lockes record against Cincy coming in was Cy Young worthy. Additionally Cincy struggles against LHs. It was a good call but it didn’t work out.

    As for the article, I do have issues with the premise that Locke has just been unlucky of late and that he was really lucky the first half. I would argue he isn’t nearly the pitcher he was in the first half and luck has nothing to do with it.

    • If he isn’t the pitcher he was in the first half, then how did he put up those numbers without luck?

    • Why not pitch him again this Sunday then? Would you pitch him this Sunday with his regular turn, after all he is not worn out? This is not venting, it is reality, how many people on this blog site or anyone anywhere would say that Locke should start on Sunday?
      All pitchers get rocked once in a while, I have been around long enough to accept it, but they did not shut lock down for 11 days because he got hit once in a while, they thought he was tired, they have rested Wilson and Watson in the last month, the problem with these worn out pitchers is they come back for a game or two, but can’t do what they did in April, they don’t have the same sustainability.

      • They don’t really need him on Sunday, considering there is a day off this week. So they could roll with Morton-Cole-Liriano against the Cubs. Off day Thursday. Burnett-Morton-Cole against the Reds, keeping everyone on regular rest. One scenario where they may need to find an extra starter would be if they decided to bump Liriano to Friday for the Reds series. Someone would have to fill in on Wednesday, which would not be Locke. But by keeping Liriano on Wednesday, that would set him up for a wild card scenario the following Tuesday. By bumping Liriano to the Reds series, that would put Cole in the seat for the wild card matchup.

  • I have been a HUGE Jeff fan all season long and My Girlfriend HATES Jeff. OMG!! She said he looks like a little kid looking for his “Linus Blanket” coming off the mound!!! HAHAHA but I have to agree, Jeff is done!! Shut him down and get him ready for ’14. I expect him to be in the mix next year. My 3 options out of the pen after the No Brainers are Gomez. That dude is a Beast!! He has been asked to clean shit up all season and he has done it with Honor!! He has earned his spot. Next is Vinny!! I love Vinny!! That dude gets it done!! He needs a haircut but I can see like Sampson, that gives him his strength so Vinny, do your thing!! He is a lock!! And my last one is Crumpton!! Guys let me tell you, his last start was the deciding factor for me because he developed an “OUT” pitch and he got better from his previous starts!! Then yesterday out of the Pen he was nice!! This dude may shock all of us and have a spot in the rotation next year!! He is showing he is DURABLE!! Pitching like this in September is nice!! He owns my last spot!!

  • Melancon, Morris, Mazzaro, Hughes look to me like worn out pitchers and not pitchers I would turn to for multiple innings and in Morris case I would use him for one hitter, this month I don’t think he has gone a full inning without being in trouble.
    Pimentel and Cumpton should be used a lot more out of the pen right now and should be put on the 25 man playoff roster IMO, drop Hughes and Morris.

  • It should be Hurdles last game also, I would not have started Locke, I would have started Gomez, he is rested well enough now that Gomez will pitch well for us in the December playoffs. Keeping a guy for long relief that can start when you have a starter that is completely worn out is insane, much less letting him stay out there to give up 5 runs in less than an inning in a game this big when a blind man on a galloping horse could see he had nothing after the first batter, that is anyone but Hurdle. Save those pitchers Clint, Cumpton, Pimentel the only pitchers to shut down the Reds on Sunday, Why, possibly they are a couple of the few bullpen pitchers they have that are not worn out, since most of the bullpen is worn out.
    Somehow, someone has to get to the Pirates and let them know this is September, not April, the April versions of some of these players will not work now.

    • Gomez has not pitched more than three innings since June. Before Sunday, Pimentel had pitched a total of 5.1 innings in his major league career. Remember what happened last time we ran a promising rookie who had limited success in relief out for a spot start? His name was Kris Johnson and he gave up 7 hits and 5 runs in 2+ innings.

      Cumpton, who would have been my choice if it was someone other than Locke, hadn’t even pitched in the majors since July, and wasn’t all that impressive for Indy after he went back down.

      I would point out that the first two batters both hit ground balls, one for an out and one that was six inches from being an out. And at least two pitches to Votto were just off the plate – it’s not like Locke was hitting the Parrot.

      • As I pointed out, Gomez should be ready for a December playoff game, why save him? what for? Hurdles refusal to use him baffles me. As far as the hits were concerned, balls hit hard are a pretty good indicator, Locke made a good pitch to Bruce as far as location, when a pitch is located well and tagged, that is a good indicator that there is not much on the pitch, indicating your pitcher does not have much on his pitches.

        • Maybe Searage and Hurdle think they know something about Gomez that you might not recognize leadoff : that he isn’t a very good starter ?

  • This is not a defense of Locke,but you would have a hard time convincing me that Stolmy Pimental would be a better option than any left hander . Unless it was Zach Duke that is.

    • The Pirates have two good left-handers, so I think at this point it’s a question of who is the better pitcher.

      • I wouldn’t disagree with that call Tim,but nobody can convince me Pimental will be of any value what so ever in the playoffs. You are talking about leaving him on there and sitting a guy who helped get you there in the first place.

  • I haven’t looked yet, but I bet Locke is a guy that has a 25%+ difference between his WARb(actual results) and WARf (expected results)…….

    Actually I’m wrong 1.1 to 1.2. Which means pretty much what we see is what we get.

    BUT 1.1 WAR has a value of $5M so that’s pretty darn good for a $400k guy

  • Guys – It’s Time to Step Up

    Tim has been entertaining us all year, and not only dedicated his career to entertaining us, but moved several hundred miles and spends countless hours daily to give us information. All this is free!

    Could you imagine having the stones to do what he has done?

    Let me be the first to throw some money in the pot for Tim. I’m in for $50 and will donate through the site.

    Give up eating out for a week, or your purchased cup of coffee for a while and let Tim know how much we appreciate this site.


    • Joe…been there already….Tim told me that he earns more than enough through his advertising.

      $$$ Foo

    • Thanks Joe, and thanks to everyone who donated this morning!

      I’m currently making plans for all of the playoff coverage, and the donations help with the travel. I’m hoping there will be a lot of that travel ahead of me in the next few weeks. Hopefully that starts with a trip to Pittsburgh, since that means the Pirates either clinched home field advantage for the Wild Card, or won the division and clinched home field for the playoffs.