Clint Hurdle announced today that Jeff Locke has won the battle for the final starter role over Vance Worley. Locke will begin the year fourth in the rotation, while Worley will move to the bullpen at the start of the year.

The move comes as a surprise, since Worley has looked like the obvious choice to win the job all Spring. He also looked like the favorite due to his numbers in 2014. Worley had a 2.85 ERA last year in 110.2 innings, with a 3.54 xFIP. He looked a lot like the pitcher he was in 2010 and 2011, before injuries wrecked his mechanics. Locke had a 3.91 ERA last year, along with a 3.90 xFIP. However, his numbers were largely due to his first half success. He struggled in the second half for the second straight year.

Locke has looked good the last few outings this Spring, while Worley has struggled a bit recently. Both would be good starting options, but Worley looks like the better of the two, especially if he’s really back to his pre-injury self.

The Opening Day rotation will have Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke, and Charlie Morton. Hurdle said that they would start all five, rather than skipping the fifth spot, which means Cole would line up for the home opener on April 13th.

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48 COMMENTS

  1. Got no problem with Locke as our #4 starter.I think it’s nice to have 2 lefties in the rotation. It’s gives a lot of teams problems because there just isn’t that many of them in the NL . Where I do have an issue is Worley being the odd man out because the Pirates made a goof and gave Charlie Morton an extension . Which is the only reason they feel the need to put Morton in the rotation. Morton is a lost cause. he will tease you with a good start and then completely blow up and give his team no shot to win. They aren’t sending their 5 best guy out there and it’s disappointing.

  2. My personal feeling is that the real story here isn’t Locke or Worley – they are comparable. The real story is that neither should really be in the mix. I think the Bucs are one primo, ace-like SP from winning the whole thing. I don’t think they can do that without a Scherzer, or Lee, or Verlander a couple years ago, etc. I think this is the time to go for it given the great strides the team has made. Right now, I think it’s going to be hard for them to pass the Cards. Get an Ace, I truly do think they’d be the team to beat.

      • I don’t want to wait until next year. We’re close. Let’s go for it. Would you give up a Tallion and a Bell for a Strasburg? See, I would at this point. Not five year ago, but now, yes

        • Washington will be in it until the end and so I doubt Strasburg would become available. Would Cincinatti entertain offers on Cueto if they are out of contention?

          Wouldn’t that be a kick in the head – Pirates fans shouting the name of Cueto as he is pitching for them in a World Series?

    • Providing he stays healthy I think by end of year Cole will be viewed as an ace. People undersell how good he’s been and the his peripherals were lights out after returning from injury.

  3. I like having two lefties in rotation and let’s face it, Locke is a stud early in the season. i’m not as surprised as most people. I fully expect to see Worley starting by May 15th or so.

  4. It’s tough to criticize too much because we’re not around these guys everyday but it’s hard to believe they didn’t go with Worley after what he did last year.

  5. As if this weren’t an odd enough turn of events, I think Pedro Florimon may have beat out Andrew Lambo for the final bench role. But I kind of like what Florimon brings, except that he strikes out too much. Still, he has surprising power to go with his good speed and superior fielding skills.

    I won’t be surprised if a trade is brewing as far as Locke & Worley go. Neither is really a relief pitcher. I’d still prefer Worley, but I like Jeff Locke too. I’d prefer that they kept them both and bounced Morton out of the rotation.

    • I would resist trading either of them. The injury history on the rest of the staff (Morton, Liriano, Burnett, and even Cole) would say keep an extra pitcher ready.

      Even if you have bring in Worley during a blowout (and I am hoping for a lot of those with the Pirates offense – see today’s 18-4 thumping of the Phils) to get him steady work, then do it. Locke / Worley should not be traded until the last possible moment (July 31 is this year’s deadline) if at all.

      Yes I know the Pirates have Kingham and Taillon waiting in the wings, but I wouldn’t bring either up until rosters expand in September.

      • That was a great game today. Just like old times, it was like that every game against the Phillies in the 70’s. It really brought back the memories, those were the days! (not the 18 runs, but the high tensions between the two and guys getting thrown out of the game, though both teams had sluggers and scored high run totals).

        The Pirates and Phillies need to be in the same division, this separation is ridiculous and a black mark against the game.

        • Probably will never happen without realignment.

          Speaking of which, my brother and I have talked about possible new franchise locations and what realignment might look like.

          I heard some talk (I think on ESPN) of Montreal and Mexico being potential locations.

          I was thinking more heartland locations like Oklahoma City and Salt Lake City to bridge the gap between east and west coast baseball.

          AL North East Division
          NY Yankees
          Toronto Blue Jays
          Boston Red Sox
          Baltimore Orioles
          Cleveland Indians
          Detroit Tigers
          Minnesota Twins
          Chicago White Sox

          AL South West Division
          California Angels
          Oakland As
          Seattle Mariners
          Texas Rangers
          Houston Astros
          Kansas City Royals
          Oklahoma City Twisters
          Salt Lake Hornets

          NL North East Division
          Pittsburgh Pirates
          New York Mets
          Philadelphia Phillies
          Washington Nationals
          St. Louis Cardinals
          Milwaukee Brewers
          Cincinatti Reds
          Chicago Cubs

          NL South West Division
          LA Dodgers
          San Francisco Giants
          San Diego Padres
          Colorado Rockies
          Arizona Diamondbacks
          Miami Marlins
          Tampa Bay Rays
          Atlanta Braves

          • I do not ever see MLB going back to Montreal. One of the last years they were there, I enjoyed a game with 500 of “my close personal friends” on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in July. I think I paid $5 to sit in the first rows of left field. I was the ONLY person in the section. I spent most of the day having a personal conversation with Sammy Sosa between innings. I think paid attendance on that beautiful Sunday was like 583.

    • Gorkys Hernandez has had a good Spring and would fit the 4th outfielder role well. He might be in the mix for the 25 spot as well. I’m all for bouncing Charlie!

      • Gorkys has definitely opened some eyes this spring with his improved swing. I could see him getting added to the roster and called up at some point this year.

    • I don”t see Pirates trading either. This move only solidifies this opinion for me. They did this partially to preserve assets and make them both useful since Worley is a better fit for pen.

  6. I am really not sure about this. Certainly neither one is substantially better than the other, but Worley seemed to be the better choice at present. There are a few factors this decision could be based around, trade, investment in the player, hurt feelings from Worley taking the team to arbitration, however, none of those are likely. I think in the end, Neil and Clint just flat out feel like Locke gives the team a better chance to win every 5 days for whatever reason.

    To be honest, my initial reaction was that the team feels Worley’s stuff would play up in the bullpen, but then thinking about it, even if it did, it is still in a long relief role, and couldn’t possibly play up to the point that he would be a dominant reliever.

    • In terms of the teams logic, if you do see neither as substantially better than the other then it makes sense for me. If neither is largely an upgrade, they could see Locke as a bad fit for the bullpen and thus let Worley go to the pen where he can be more useful than Locke in that role.

      Personally, i do think Worley is better than Locke to the point it makes this an odd move that has more risk than i like. But, i tend to let Searage and Co. do their stuff before calling something totally stupid. They could see Locke having turned a slight corner than allows him to be more consistent….but im skeptical.

      • Luke,

        Locke is where Morton was early in his career – heavy splits. Locke dominates against lefties and struggles against righties.

        Vance has pretty even splits which makes him a better middle / long relief option where Locke would function better as a lefty specialist coming out of the bullpen.

        In 2013 Locke was a 4 pitch pitcher – four seam fastball, two seam fast ball, curve ball, and change (heavy on the four seamer). Last year he rarely threw the four seam fastball and became more finesse – two seam, curve, and change were his primary offerings.

        http://www.brooksbaseball.net/landing.php?player=502046

        • Issue i have with the Locke/Morton comparison is that it means Locke has to greatly change his game to be really effective. He would need to use his two seamer more and use it in the zone more to go for GB stuff. I like the idea (since he doesnt have the stuff to overpower guys) but idk if he has a good enough 2 seamer to be Morton. He seems like what he is, a guy that attacks the corners and lives or dies by his command/the strike zone. Valuable, but to a degree.

        • Locke doesn’t really platoon splits.

          Handness: wOBA / K%-BB%
          RHH: .322 / 8.4%
          LHH: .309 / 3.3%

          If a lefty has platoon splits he won’t last long at all as a starter, and Locke has a very good change up.

          • Andrew,

            Look at last years numbers (2014)
            vs. RHH – .276 AVE, .776 OPS
            vs. LHH – .190 AVE, .521 OPS

            Then look at 2013 numbers
            vs. RHH – .229 AVE, .667 OPS
            vs. LHH – .286 AVE, .748 OPS

            Any chance he can marry the best of the two this year?

            • He has a reverse split in 2013. Usually when you talk about platoon splits it flows one direction, it can bounce around in a given season, because 150-200 batters faced isn’t that large of a sample. I don’t think he is similar to Morton at all.

  7. Locke: This is the one guy I struggle to watch pitch. He nibbles and nibbles and I find it so tedious to watch. At least when Charlie struggles, he’s good for a beaning or two.

    • That said, I still wish they would leave Charlie in extended ST until he is good to go. Then trade him (that’s what I mean to go). Of Worley, Locke or Morton I think Charlie is the least dependable over a season due to his injury history.

    • You’re damn right and the nibbling can be downright disgusting at times. Locke did do admirable job his first 6 weeks but was awful down the stretch last year. Like he was awful down the stretch in 13.

    • I saw on the Pirates’ website that Hurdle said that having a 2nd LHP fit their plans best for the starting rotation at the start of the season. If that is how they are thinking then they either need to start drafting more LHP starter candidates, or trade some of their RHP prospects for some LHP ones because they don’t have a 3:2 RH/LH mix in their minor league system. Not even close!

        • Yes, I suppose so. Trouble is, if you look at MLB.com’s top 30 Pirates’ prospects only 3 of the 14 pitchers listed are LHP and their ranks in the first 30 are 23, 26, 29. So the Pirates’ system is short both on quantity and quality of LHP prospects.

  8. I wonder: will Locke be the first half starter with Worley taking over after the annual All Star Break meltdown, or is there a trade brewing. I wonder if Clayton Richards may also play into this.

  9. I’m not on board with this decision. I think Worley is their 3rd best starting pitcher. Hard to accept the brass think he’s #6. It’s a long season. Morton may not work out. Locke may fade away half way through the season like the last two years. Hopefully AJ’s good for the year, but he is 38. Perhaps they thought Worley is the most flexible. Who knows.

  10. Worley probably has a quicker/easier bullpen-to-rotation transition than Locke. Also, Cumpton’s injury and Richard’s potential exit might have influenced the decision.

    • Honus. Good points. A few years ago, we would have thought this was a decision to give us an every other day extra bat off the bench in Worley, but
      the PH’ing bench this year should be pretty strong.

    • I think you are correct with Worley a better bullpen option. I also like having two LH starters. Personally I would put Liriano between Cole and Burnett.

  11. I guess if the pirates viewed them as pitchers 5a and 5b if they felt Locke improved over the last few games while Worley didn’t then that is why Locke beat him out.

  12. Surprised? Yes. Maybe they feel Worley is more suited for the inevitable early season relief of a short start?

  13. Then why even call it a competition? Just say this is who we want in the rotation. Whatever but think Worley was better.

  14. Wow…don’t think many people saw this coming…guess they figured three lefties is too many in the bullpen.

    I don’t think it will be long before The Vanimal reclaims a spot in the rotation. He’s too good to be relegated to Jeanmar Gomez/Stolmy Pimentel long reliever duty…only pitching once a week in games that are over by the third inning.

  15. I am confused… did they do this just so they had two lefties in their rotation? Obvious this wasn’t due to Worley being a better pitcher.

    • Nate: Worley is #3; Burnett is #4; and Morton and Locke are a tossup for #5. The two LHSP’s seems to be this answer. No way Locke was going to be lost by trying to send him down to AAA, and this is just another way to keep everybody.

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