First Pitch: Jeff Locke Currently Has Some Unlucky Numbers

After a pretty horrible start tonight, Jeff Locke sits with a 5.34 ERA on the season. And as usual in his career, the xFIP tells a completely different story, with a 4.03 mark.

When an xFIP is higher than the ERA, you usually assume it’s good fortune. For example, take Locke’s first half in 2013. He had a 2.15 ERA, but a 4.21 xFIP. The reason for the difference? He had just a .228 BABIP and an 83.3% strand rate, which were both extremely fortunate. Either Locke figured out how to be the hardest starter to hit in the majors, and figured out how to step up his game only with men on base, or he was benefitting from good results over a small sample size that wouldn’t continue going forward.

As we know now, Locke was benefitting from good fortune. But it’s not as simple to say that he’s just unlucky when the xFIP is lower than the ERA. There could be something else leading to his poor numbers. Let’s take a look at some of those stats, compared to last year, when he had a 3.91 ERA and a 3.90 xFIP, which are both similar to this year’s xFIP.

Looking at the batted ball data, Locke is showing similar numbers as his 2014 season. He has a 51.3% ground ball rate and a 20.5% line drive rate, which are both about the same as last year. The only notable change is that he has a 25.2% soft hit rate, up from 20.7% last year. He has a 28.9% hard hit rate, which was the same as last year.

Locke had a .278 BABIP last season, which is close to his career line of .288. So far this season he has a .333 BABIP, which is a big reason for his inflated ERA. But looking at the numbers, he isn’t showing any signs of why this number should be elevated. He’s not allowing any more line drives than last year, and he’s not allowing an increase of hard hit balls, while actually seeing a decrease in soft hits. This isn’t a recipe that sees a 50 point jump in BABIP.

There have been mixed results from Locke so far this season. He’s had a few gems and a few disasters, with tonight falling in the latter category. Most of his starts have been of the “quality start” variety, which is enough to put the Pirates in position to win when this offense is clicking. Going forward, his xFIP looks like a better bet than his ERA, since there’s no sign that his high BABIP is due to a different approach.

If you look at the league, the NL averages a 3.81 xFIP from starting pitchers. Locke’s numbers are below that, but most likely better than what most teams are getting from their fifth starters. The problem is that the Pirates are getting fantastic results from every other position in the rotation, which means the standards are raised for Locke. Being a good number five starter doesn’t satisfy people who are seeing Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Liriano dominating often. So there will most likely be calls to replace Locke, even if he does see his ERA get closer to his xFIP.

The problem with replacing him is that there aren’t many good replacement options. This isn’t really a bad thing. It’s just a common thing. Locke should be expected to perform closer to his 4.07 xFIP going forward. Most teams don’t have guys who are better thanΒ that stashed away in Triple-A. The Pirates have some interesting options, but at best, they would be expected for the same level of production as Locke’s xFIP. Those options include Casey Sadler, Clayton Richard, and Adrian Sampson. Sadler profiles as a number five starter, Richard has had some command issues lately, and Sampson would be making his pro debut. Expecting those guys to perform better than Locke’s xFIP is probably asking too much.

The alternative here is to make a trade, although that might not be necessary. Even with Locke, and with Worley’s numbers as well, the Pirates have had some of the best starting pitching results in baseball this year. Not every pitcher has to perform like a top of the rotation guy. The Pirates have room to upgrade on Locke, and they’ve got the prospects to get an upgrade. But I don’t think the value of that short-term upgrade would match the amount of talent they’d have to give up in the long-term, and the potential hit in value they’d see with that talent leaving.

Basically, the Pirates would hurt their long-term future much more than they’d help themselves in the short-term. If that’s ever a consideration, it would only make sense if the team was an upgrade over Locke away from winning it all. Their pitching looks to be in a great place right now, even without Locke. The offense came around last month. And Locke’s advanced metrics suggest he will also come around soon, putting up the numbers you’d see from a solid fourth starter, only in the number five spot for the Pirates. That’s not bad, and it would be hard for the Pirates to upgrade on that without sacrificing too much of their future.

**Prospect Watch: Hanson Finishes Strong Month, Ramirez Continues Streak

**Morton Shows Prime Form Early in Return

**John Holdzkom Closes in on Return

**Prospect Reports: Sampson, Broxton, Ramirez, Brault, Tarpley, Tucker


  • I actually agree with every word of this article Tim- well done.

  • Actually, Dillon Gee is a better 5th starter. Not that I’m proposing getting the guy, but just wanted to throw that out there since the Mets have now made him the 6th starter as they’ve got an even better 5th starter in Niese. It’s a good thing their offense sucks or you could pencil them in for our WC spot now.

  • The Bucs needed a good drubbing. I was getting tired of seeing their Pythagorean record show that the run differential meant they were really six games better than they are πŸ™‚

  • Let the never ending excuses and meaningless numbers trip begin, suck sucks no matter what xfip says. If you really want a number that means something then here ya go, 7, as in 7 runs allowed, I don’t give a tinkers darn what the numbers are other than that. A losing pitcher is a losing pitcher no matter what window dressing you add.

    • Luckily the last game he pitched, that number was a 0, you weren’t talking about replacing him after the 0 were you?

      • Yes

        • so basically then you don’t care about the runs allowed. You are confusing

          • Locke is and always will be a junk ball pitcher, his success is more luck than skill and no amount of number fudging will change that. He has been the same guy for three years when are you going to wake up. The five starter needs to be a little more consistent not great but certainly more predictable than locke. As luck would have it richard is almost ready to come up and lock out locke.

            • Locke has a 93 MPH fastball as a lefty, he is not a junkball pitcher, he throws like 40 inside corner fastballs every game. He’s a nibbler, far different from a junk ball pitcher. Actually, Liriano would be the epitome of a junkball pitcher at this point of his career, throwing nothing but balls, slider, curveball, changeup……my point is, you are misusing the term, and even the term itself, isn’t necessarily bad if it was true

            • Show me a major league pitcher whom has been a 5th starter for 3 years or more and been consistent, and i’ll show you a pitcher who is NOT a 5th starter

            • Richard has been no more consistent in AAA than Locke has been in the majors if you look at his line. Locke has plenty of strong back to back starts in his 3 year inconsistent career. In fact locke is usually good for a few months at a time……Richard is essentially the same type of pitcher as Locke by the way. You are replacing Locke with Locke

  • I’m not quite ready to give up on Locke right yet. He has had a couple good starts before this one. Plus he has no options. Hurdle said last night they are thinking about a change for Jeff Locke. Our options are Worley,Sadler,and Richard. Wish Taillon was ready :).. I think we need Worley in the bullpen as our long man. He does well in that role. I don’t think Ricahard’s quite ready and I think over the long run Sadler is not going to be much better than Locke or Worley. I think what Hurdle is going to do is skip his next start. There is a day off the next two Thursdays. So they can skip him once while they try to get him right and give him one more shot

  • It says in the article that the only thing that has changed is Locke’s soft hit rate, increasing this year about 5 percentage points but then later in the article says that his rate had actually decreased this year. If the numbers reported were true, however, the extra soft hits could easily be part of the bad luck explanation.

  • It says in the article ha

  • I wonder if the Rangers will trade us Wandy Rodriguez?

    πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  • Jeff Locke has a 1.545 WHIP. Is THAT supposed to regress, too?

    JL is walking way too many batters.

    • Considering the “H” in WHIP stands for hits, then yes. That’s exactly what you should expect it to do.

    • He always will, its dependant on the umpire, and the aggressiveness of the team he plays. He nibbles, he is always close, his walks aren’t from lack of command (usually) they are from his stubborn nature, aiming at the corners, and usually missing away from danger resulting in walks.

  • With all due respect, this is a pretty poor use of advanced stats to prove Locke’s worthiness. Locke has pitched 380 innings w/ the Pirates over the course of 4 years; his FIP is 4.30 w/ an xFIP of 4.11. He’s got a 6.63 K/9 and a 3.74 BB/9. While 380 innings is still only 2 seasons, *those* numbers are a hell of a lot more important and predictive than an xFIP over 2 months of the most recent activity.

    The truth is that Locke is only ‘serviceable’ when he’s locating his FB to the glove side; something, obviously, he has not been able to do in almost every start this year. In essence, he’s beholden to great defense in front of the plate and a generous strike zone behind the plate. He’s a pitch-to-contact pitcher w/ below average control and even lesser command; that’s not a recipe for success.

    The question, as I see it, isn’t whether Locke is a good 5th starter (he isn’t), but rather the effectiveness of any alternative. The Pirates, in my estimation, overreacted to Worley’s first few starts and actually benched the better pitcher primarily out of the fact that he’s better suited to the bullpen than Locke. That was a mistake. I’d re-insert Worley until the all-star break and see if his results from last year (3.44 and 3.54, FIP and xFIP, respectively) can be realized again. If we’re to squint to see how Jeff Locke could possibly, maybe be a decent 5th starter, we should first acknowledge – by those same metrics – that Worley is a much better option, on paper.

    If for some reason the Pirates aren’t willing to do that w/ Worley, then you must continue to throw Locke out there, as the options in AAA (until Taillon is healthy/able) aren’t any better. Sadler has no out-pitch and is completely dependent upon his defense, Richard can’t strike anybody out at the AAA level, and Sampson – outside of Pirates-centric sites – is seen as almost a non-prospect, primarily due to the fact that he’s Jared Hughes w/o the uptick in K’s that Hughes is having this year and therefore completely luck-defense dependent.

    It’s not a good situation at the #5 spot. But, keeping Locke over Worley is making it unnecessarily worse.

    • LOL.

      • Marty Morton
        June 1, 2015 9:41 am

        Stellar retort.

        • You need more to explanation to understand how funny it is for a guy to criticize Tim’s use of advanced stats when the outcome is a 0.04 xFIP difference?

          I’m not gonna spell it out for you.

          • Spell it out for me, chief. He’s using a normalized HR rated-metric over a 2 month time span to posit that Locke is somehow getting unlucky. Locke has been *worse* than his ‘unluckiness in 2015’ for the past 380 innings pitched. It’s not being unlucky anymore; it’s being a guy who can’t strike out enough guys to compensate for his below-average command/control.

            • No, that is the only metric *you* have chosen to focus on.

              Forget xFIP completely for a moment. Tim spent two paragraphs arguing that Locke’s BIP data does not support a 50 jump in BABIP. Factoring positive regression into BABIP and strand rate results in a FIP of 4.17, including those home runs.

              “Locke should be expected to perform closer to his 4.07 xFIP going forward.” -TW

              This is all Tim seems to be arguing; that Locke’s peripherals suggest he should be closer to a 4.07 ERA than his current 5.34 ERA.

              You haven’t come close to explaining why he’s incorrect.

              • Sure I have. I’ve cited a more relevant and complete history (380 IP) to show that Jeff Locke’s ‘bad luck’ (50 IP) is actually Jeff Locke’s ‘true talent’, or even worse. Sure, his ERA is out of whack, but no serious minded person uses ERA – especially over two months – to judge a pitcher’s effectiveness, as noise and random fluctuations can disguise an otherwise solid performance. The problem, however, is that over 380 IP, Locke has been appreciably worse even than his pretty bad FIP in 2015 would suggest. I understand that, relative to MLB, having a #5 that pitches at a 4 FIP isn’t a reason to fold the season. My point, however, is that I believe the Pirates have a better option (Worley) and that Locke’s underlying performance isn’t all ‘bad luck’; this is pretty much what he is, or worse. Is that the best they can do? I’d argue that it is not.

                • “Locke has pitched 380 innings w/ the Pirates over the course of 4 years; his FIP is 4.30 w/ an xFIP of 4.11.”

                  This year, Locke has pitched 50 innings; his FIP is 4.17 with an xFIP of 4.01. He also has a higher K-rate and basically the same BB-rate as the previous years.

                  If you can actually cite evidence of why he’s been “appreciably worse” than his FIP, I’m all ears.

                  Regardless, you and I do agree that his spot can and should be improved (although Vance Worley isn’t the guy to do it).

                • I also most certainly do not believe Locke’s bad performance has been *all* bad luck, but Tim never argued that point in the first place.

                  I was completely skeptical reading the headline of this article, but Tim’s batted ball evidence swayed me. I’m not convinced Jeff Locke is a 4.01 ERA pitcher moving forward, but I think he’s closer to that than 5.34.

                  • In my eyes, the only way Locke can be successful is if he starts pulling a Phil Hughes 2014 season and stops walking anyone. I prefer last years Locke, as his BB rate was a full BB-less than this year. He’s not going to ever K enough dudes to be ‘that guy’; he needs to limit base runners via free pass so the inevitable hits that he allows don’t do him in. A Jeff Locke that walks nearly 4 guys/9 IP is not going to be pretty, especially without a flukish HR/9 IP like he received in 2013.

                    I guess my final point is this: I think the Locke you see right now is pretty much the true-talent Locke. Not the ERA, which is useless, but the K/BB profile. His ERA will come down, but I don’t see the profile being a successful SP, or at the least, the best the Pirates can and should do.

          • Have you considered a refresher course in grammar? LOL

    • I DO agree that Worley is the only viable option. Sadler, Richard and Sampson are #6’s (ie, emergency one or two start pitchers) at best.

      However, I am still up for giving Locke a start or two more. He has been brilliant at time in stretches.

      • Worley in 2015 is not a viable option. He just isn’t the same pitcher right now. As up and down as Locke is, Locke is pitching the way Locke pitches, sometimes he is off by 2 inches the whole game and is behind in the count and gets crushed, other times he is dead on and pitches well, either way……he always pitches the same, he nibbles, he has decent stuff, and more often than not, he leaves you in a position to win the game.

        Worley, in spring training had no command, and still has no command so far this season, he is walking batters, he is behind in counts, and he really doesn’t know where his pitches are going. This is not whom you replace Locke with, every chance Worley has had this year to make a case for taking Locke’s position, he has fallen on his face. I think Worley can be as good as he was last year, but it needs to be worked out first, and right now……’s not worked out.

    • I agree with you, especially looking at Locke’s 28% hard hit rate compared to Worley’s 14% hard hit rate last year.

      • That was last year. This year Worley’s hard hit rate was amongst the worst in all of MLB for SP’s. That is why he was demoted to bullpen when Morton was ready physically.

    • “FIP is 4.30 w/ an xFIP of 4.11” – you throw out these stats for his lifetime, and then you say this is NOT a good #5 pitcher????? What planet do you live on exactly, your expectations for a #5 are just out of whack

  • The Pirates have a .500 winning % when Locke starts. I’m pretty sure every ML team would take that result when their #5 SP is on the bump.

    • W/ no further context, you citing win % tells the reader nothing of the way Locke has pitched. As proof, Locke has been horrible yet they’ve won half of his starts. If that doesn’t tell you that win % during his starts is worthless, nothing will.

      • Scott Kliesen
        June 1, 2015 9:31 am

        He hasn’t been horrible every start. He has been horrible in half of his starts and decent or better in the other half. Of his 10 starts, 5 have been 6+ innings and 5 have seen him give up 3 or fewer runs. Unfortunately, we tend to only remember the bad ones like last night because they stand out more due to the competence of other Pirates SP’s.

        • You’re determining a ‘good start’ based on the outdated use of the ‘quality start’ and how many runs he happens to give up. For instance, his last start was 5.2 IP, 6 Ks/4 BBs, and 5 hits. Is that a ‘good start’? I’d say no, but he didn’t give up any runs, so most would say yes. Bad pitchers at the ML level are going to have starts where they seem decent because of luck, defense, generous K zone, etc leading to giving up few runs. It’s the *way* they’re doing it that people should be concerned about, as that’s the predictive part, not that he happened to keep them off the scoreboard.

          He had a great start vs. MILW on 4/18 (8 IP, 6/0 K/BB, and 4 hits) and a decent start on 5/20 vs. MIN (6 IP, 6/2, and 7 hits). All others are pretty poor K/BB rates and/or lots of hits/runs given up.

          I think we can do better.

          • The only way to do better is to trade prospects for a Hamels, etc.

            None of the options that Tim posted excite me.

            • If you think Pirates are going to trade the farm, literally, for a guy who is under contract to earn roughly 20% of total team payroll through at least 2018, than you are living in a state of lunacy.

              First off, there’s a good chance Hamels suffers a downturn in performance due to age or injury between now and the end of his contract. Second, Pirates have two guys close to providing Hamels type performance in the high minors in Taillon and Glasnow, and they won’t cost any prospects or payroll to have on roster. And lastly, trading for Hamels totally hamstrings organization to trade for a veteran to fill a hole caused by injury or performance from a payroll perspective in each of next 3 seasons.

              • Scott…I am fairly certain that they won’t trade the farm. Hence we are left with Locke or Worley or one of those fabulous Indy starters.

                Frustrating, but, outside of going to a 4 man rotation, our #5 SP will continue to be a source of frustration.

          • The start you reference is a perfect example of what one of his “good” starts look like when he benefits from a low BABIP and high strand rate as he did consistently in 1st half of 2013.

            Frankly, I’d rather have a Locke type in the #5 role, who alternates between having good and bad results, than a consistently below average #5 type. Locke will get Pirates more wins over the long haul than the other guy.

            The question is do you think Worley is better than slightly below average? His xFIP suggests he’s not.

          • Jim Garland
            June 1, 2015 10:51 am

            I agree completely. In order to conclude anything other than the guy’s a stiff, one has to go into these esoteric advanced metrics and array them to fit a lame argument. They belie the fact that Locke is pitching every 5th day because he’s a lefty, and they have no better options, not based on merit.

          • How about this, in half his games Jeff Locke gives the team a chance to win. He’ll go a decent number of innings and give up 3 runs or less. He wont outright win you a game, but half the time he throws he gives the team a reasonable chance to hang around. For a 5th SP, thats something. Its total homerism to say Locke only does well at times because of great defense or generous calls.

            You dont get consistency and quality from a 5th SP…thats called being a 3rd pitcher. Jeff Locke has periphs that put him as average for a 5th SP. Not great, not awful, not consistent.

    • Fair point, Scott.

      My argument for upgrading the #5 spot in the rotation isn’t so much that the spot itself is significantly below average, but that the spot is the easiest on the club to upgrade. If you’re going to improve this team, where are you going to do it? First base? Sure, but finding your “big bopping” first baseman is going to cost a lot. Bullpen? Sure, but how much value are you really going to gain?

      Seems to me, given the clubs ability to find pitching, that the #5 spot in the rotation is the easiest place to pick up a win or two.

      • Scott Kliesen
        June 1, 2015 9:36 am

        I agree with your premis this spot on roster could have biggest potential upgrade. And if you read between lines of Hurdle’s comments after game, he may be ready to give Worley a chance to see if he can be the guy to do it.

        Unfortunately Pirates plan to baby Taillon back from TJ surgery makes it unlikely he is going to be called upon this season to be the best upgrade option.

      • I disagree….none of the options that Tim cited (outside of trading for Hamels) excite me. And even IF Taillon was healthy, there’d be no guarantees that he’d pitch any better.

        #5’s pitch a good game, then pitch a bad one. It is their nature.

        • Foo, this is the same logical fallacy that some fans have argued for years.

          No, you do not need to go get the very best starting pitcher on the market to improve on Jeff Locke. You just don’t.

          I could care less if that “excites” you or not, but at this spot on the win curve the Pirates should be doing everything reasonable to add wins, even if it’s only one or two.

          • NMR…that is the point I am making…what we currently have in our system MAY do better, but I think everyone outside of JT is a #6 starter.

            To me, the only viable option is to keep running Jeff out there or try Worley. There’s no way we ever trade for a Hamels or Cueto type of pitcher.

            And, I couldn’t care less if that excites you or not. πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜‰

            I’m glad to hear that you COULD care less. πŸ˜‰

            • You continue missing the point by bringing up Hamels and Cueto. Those guys aren’t the only ones available that can upgrade Jeff Locke’s spot in the rotation.

              But you already knew that, of course. You’re just purposely being obtuse because you want to hold onto all the prospects.

          • Hold on, so if you dont go get a TOR arm how exactly are you so certain you get better results? Thats betting a whole lot on things going right. STL went out last year and avoided overspending by getting a reasonable option in Lackey. He went on to have a terrible few months (particularly August) and was no better than a Locke type.

            I agree that 5th spot is the best option to try to upgrade, but i see no reason why its not a gamble unless its a TOR arm. If you dont add a 1-2 type arm, there is at least a not insignificant chance that he underperforms in SSS and you dont see a significant upgrade if any. If you go out and get a non 1-2 upgrade, its entirely possible you see little upgrade. You pay inflated prices at the deadline as it is.

            • Another awful argument. Nothing in this game is guaranteed, Luke, except the status quo. You stay with Locke, you’re guaranteed to get what you see.

              GM’s don’t improve teams by being afraid to make a mistake.

              • Sure, only *your* arguments aren’t awful. LOL

              • What Locke gives is overall an average back end pitcher. So you basically are willing to give up something for a chance to upgrade, but with no guarantee as you say. You admit you arent going after a TOR arm, the much larger odds of actually getting a better arm, so the trade isnt a sure thing. GMs dont improve by being afraid, but they also dont improve by making a move just to make a move.

                Jeff Locke is not so terrible that you absolutely cant have him throw and win a division, so if you are gonna upgrade do it in a way that gives you a large chance of increased production. 3-4 arm guys are going to cost normal 2-3 arm price at the deadline. Dont be afraid to make mistakes, but also dont be afraid to admit that Jeff Locke isnt much worse than many back end arms. Then, determine how quality you think arms like Sadler and Richard are.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    June 1, 2015 8:52 am

    I disagree….I am fairly confident that Sampson or Sadler could be better than a 5.34 ERA, not to mention having much better control…being better than Locke right now would not take much…

    • What is fair to expect from Sampson or Sadler is better consistency. The issue is Locke can be much better than either one, but is somewhat of a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde SP.

      I would let Locke make his next start or two and re-evaluate afterwards.

    • Except that’s not the argument Tim presented.

    • What about Worley??? Huntington will not approve the switch.

  • Frustrated? Yes, but does anyone expect the Pirates to win with the horrible defensive play at 1B? And does anyone really expect it to improve? Every night it’s at least one play that give extra outs. Good teams do not give extra outs, let alone extra outs every night from the same position.

    • Definetely agree about our first base play. He is atrocious.

    • This defense has been bad. Even the outfield hasn’t performed like we expected. Polanco’s made quite a few bad plays He’s screwed up 2 plays where it’s meant the game and Marte has been caught loafing a couple times. Of course we forget abut the great plays those guys make. Harrison’s made a lot of errors at 3rd as well. Hurdles gotta get better play out of his defense or this team is going to struggle.

  • I watched the first three runs score and then it was time to catch up on some reading, I am no fan of Jeff Locke or Charley Morton but CM has pitch better his last two starts. These two represent the “good old boys” of the Pirates along with Jose Tabata. A friend of mine and I will never travel 100 miles one way to watch either of these two pitchers.