First Pitch: A History of Jeff Locke’s Delivery Changes

BRADENTON, Fl. – Jeff Locke debuted his new delivery in an actual game this week, and the results weren’t great. Afterwards, Locke discussed the new delivery, saying that it felt good, and walking through some of the history of his old delivery. A lot of this I already knew, since I covered Locke from day one when he entered the system after the Nate McLouth trade, and broke the news in 2012 that he was changing his delivery for a more Ted Lilly-esque approach.

After talking with Locke on Wednesday, I went back through my notes over the years and put together a timeline of his delivery changes, with some new input from his talk with the media, along with a one-on-one talk after that session. Here is the breakdown, going back to 2009.

2009 – Post Nate McLouth Trade

The Pirates have a “no touch” period with their prospects, where they don’t make any changes right after acquiring a guy. The period spans for the first few months a player is in the system, so that the coaches can evaluate him and see if any changes might be necessary. Maybe they didn’t have this policy in 2009 (I first learned about it in a later year) or maybe they made a few exceptions.

If the latter is true, then Locke definitely seemed to be the exception to the rule. His delivery with the Braves was similar to the delivery he is currently working on. He immediately made a change, after a conversation and a suggestion from Lynchburg pitching coach Wally Whitehurst, removing the part where he brings his glove over his head at the start of his windup.

“It was the first day I got here, that windup was gone,” Locke said. “To be honest, I was 21 years old, new pitching coaches, new teammates, new team. Anything they were going to want to do with me, I was all aboard. I had some tough times in Atlanta as of late. I thought maybe a new windup will help me. I think it really did. I felt great with it in the minor leagues, felt great with it in the big leagues.”

The turnaround from Locke was almost instant. He went from a 5.52 ERA in 45.2 innings with a 43:26 K/BB ratio in the Braves’ system, to a 4.08 ERA in 81.2 innings with a 56:18 K/BB ratio. The ERA was inflated by a few bad outings (long-time readers will remember that those coincidentally happened to be the outings where I was in attendance), but the control was gone, and in Locke’s final eight starts he posted a 2.58 ERA in 45.1 innings, with a 35:6 K/BB ratio. That’s a massive turnaround from his first 45 innings to start the year.

2012 – The Ted Lilly Delivery

The delivery change that Locke made in 2009 worked for him for a few years. He had success in Bradenton and Altoona in 2010, combining for a 3.56 ERA in 144 innings, along with an 8.7 K/9 and a 1.6 BB/9. He started in Altoona in 2011, and eventually made the majors after strong numbers in the upper levels. But the control problems returned, and the Pirates started looking for a change.

The Pirates brought in Erik Bedard for the 2012 season. He was a lefty who hid the ball well, and they used this as inspiration for Locke’s next delivery change. The goal was to become more deceptive. So they added more of a turn, taking it to extreme measures to try and model the new delivery after Ted Lilly. Here is a picture from 2012:

Jeff Locke

Prior to 2012, Locke was falling forward early, which led to some control problems. The new delivery in 2012 was not only aimed at getting deception, but also fixing the control by staying back on the mound through his windup, without releasing early.

“I really liked that delivery, because it was different,” Locke said. “Not everybody was doing it. Everybody is so conventional, lift the leg and throw the ball, and I liked it because it was so different. To this day, I still do like it. You can even do the same thing from [the new windup], just not as much.”

This delivery worked for him for a few years. He had success in Indianapolis in 2012, then went on a run in 2013 and 2014 where he had success in the first half, but struggled in the second half. And during this time, the delivery started running into problems.

Locke was turning to keep his weight back, but ended up turning his entire body back, which was throwing off his control. There would be times where no matter what mistake he made, he would throw a strike. And then when he was struggling, that’s when people started noticing and started thinking that a change might need to be made.

The release points weren’t consistent with his full turn, mostly due to the landing spot. One pitch would see him land to the left of the rubber, and another would see him land to the right.

“It was like the results had nothing to do with the windup,” Locke said.

The interesting thing about this is that when you think back to Locke’s second half struggles, he always said something along the lines of how he wasn’t doing anything different in the second half, and felt like everything was the same with his delivery. And maybe everything was the same, which could have created his problem where he’d be lights out at one point, and a complete disaster the next point, with no apparent solution at times.

After some trial and error, the Pirates determined that the turn wouldn’t work any longer, and another change was needed.

2015 – The Start of the New Delivery

The change Locke is working on this year actually came at the end of last season, or at least it was discussed at that point. Ray Searage brought up the suggestion to Locke, but they didn’t make a switch at that point, as he had two starts remaining, and they wouldn’t have enough time to implement such a big change.

The two got together over the off-season to discuss it again. Searage stressed that he didn’t want to take anything away from Locke in terms of his pitches, or what his pitches could do. The focus was finding a way to improve his control.

At the start of 2016, Locke and Searage began working on the new delivery, with Searage meeting Locke 2-3 times per week to work with him.

2016 – A Not So New Delivery

Locke is now to the point where he is pitching in games, and Wednesday saw the debut of his new delivery in the game setting. The first time through was encouraging from a feel standpoint, even if the results struggled.

“I love it,” Locke said of the new delivery. “I know that the results are a different thing, but you feel so much better on the mound. Feel like you can throw the ball on both sides of the plate. We had some pitches that were left up today, but that’s going to happen.”

Right now, Locke is mostly throwing fastballs, although he did mix in a few changeups and throw one curve in the dirt on Wednesday. At one point, Searage paid him a visit on the mound, telling him to keep trusting what he was doing, despite the poor results.

“It’s easy for us to want to get away from that,” Locke said. “It’s easy for us to get away from the things that we’re working on. Everything was encouraging. Everything feels good. I think we’re where we need to be.”

The extreme turn has now been removed. This allows Locke to see his target earlier. Previously, when he would turn, he wouldn’t be able to look back and see the plate. He would have to find his target on the way forward, and as you could imagine, that’s not great for control. He still has some turn to his delivery, but nothing extreme like before.

Locke also brought back having his hands over his head, which allows him to see the plate earlier as well.

“I’m picking up the target much sooner. I know I had the walk today, but that’s just Jeff trying to be a little too fine, like normal.”

One thing to be skeptical about is that Locke is kind of coming full circle here, going back to a delivery that he originally moved away from after struggling with Atlanta. But before struggling that season, he was an untouchable prospect, with the Braves refusing to deal him in rumored trades for Jake Peavy and Jason Bay in 2008. So was the delivery fine, and just hit a rough patch? Or is Locke going from one bad delivery to another?

I won’t say that everything is sure to work out in this case, and Locke definitely will need some time to get fully comfortable with the delivery, and have it be fully effective. But I’d have to defer to Ray Searage on this one and assume he knows what he’s doing. As I mentioned last night, not all of his reclamation projects will work. But he’s got a good track record, and he’s a widely respected coach, so if he’s in support of this change, then I’d at least give Locke a chance to see if he can make the switch. And looking at his history, he’s been very familiar with changing his delivery up, so that shouldn’t be a foreign concept to him.

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  • I still think Locke’s biggest problem is mental not physical. He isn’t willing to be 2 inches on the plate rather than 2 inches off the plate. So his success depends on getting calls from the umps to get ahead in the count. When he falls behind he is in trouble because his swing and miss stuff is inadequate.

  • As someone who teaches pitching mechanics, I’m glad to see this change. Its fundamentally better than “the turn”. There is a reason not too many pitchers turn like that – losing sight of your target is always a bad thing, and turning will throw off the consistency of your balance point. Always wonder why pro coaches go for funky deliveries.

  • I must say that I’m certainly not thrilled with Locke and Vogelsong as our 4-5 going into the season, but you look at what the Dodgers have going on and it brightens my day a little. Kazmir as their 2 and Mike Bolsinger as their 5? I guess that having all the monies doesn’t fix all the holes in your roster.

    • Yeah and now with Brett Anderson down they’re really gonna need Kershaw to step up.

    • I’d trade rotations with the Dodgers yesterday if I had the chance.

      • I wouldn’t. An injury and/or any kind of regression from Kershaw and woof…it is fugly.

  • HartHighPirate
    March 4, 2016 12:52 pm

    What Jeff is missing in 2016, his mentor AJ is gone.

  • Nice chronology of Locke’s wind alterations, the pitchers on the margins can be the most interesting. I’m left with a few questions but they are mostly unanswerable or unknowable.

    Locke is never going to be a great starter, the odd thing about Locke is he struggles mightily against left handed hitters, which is pretty abnormal. LHH crush both his curve and change-up. Some improvement in this area could really help his overall numbers.

  • Mark me down for Jeff to get 12 wins this year. Go Jeff!

    • I have a couple of bets ongoing regarding Bucco baseball and their successful entry into this years playoffs. Two of them are for George T. Stagg straight Bourbon. It’s about $550.00 per bottle. So I’ll go under on the 12 wins with you to arbitrage my position. So we are on! One bottle for under 12 wins (my bet) and if you win I’ll give you an Autographed Jeff Locke Photo with the new Teddy Lily pitching pose.

  • Tim,

    Are you trying to tell us something with the top picture—i.e., Searage turning his on Locke because he is beyond fixing?

  • Remember when Paul Maholm and Zach Duke were the Pirates best pitchers… Yeah, Locke is better than both of them.

    • I thought Maholm and Duke had decent careers (10 years each) . Locke being a lefty will probably hang on until he replicates Lefty Grove. After that he will cash in on his MLB pension like the other two.

      • Duke is still toiling in the ChiSox bullpen. If you compare stats on Fangraphs, Locke is clearing a better pitcher than both of them. I’m pointing it out as to how much our perspective has changed.

        • Not when taking the different offensive environments and innings pitched into account. Maholm averaged 1.8 WAR per 180 IP, Locke barely cracks 1 WAR per 180 IP.

          I originally agreed with you, but Locke has a ton of ground to make up before that’s anywhere close to being true, particularly relative to Maholm.

          • I think this one situation though where WAR doesn’t measure the true value of the pitcher. Locke has consistently had a much better K/9 and xFIP during his career than Maholm. Now, granted Locke is pitching in a more suppressed offensive environment and has a much better team behind him but he’s not as bad as so many Pirates’ fans make him out to be. He gives the Pirates a chance to win most games. He does happen to lay a stinker occasionally and with our expectations higher due to winning alot more and the fact that a bad game for Cole or Liriano is 3/4 runs in 5/6 innings, we remember his bad games alot more. If Locke can marginally improve his command and durability, he’s gonna carve a decent career for himself.

            • Folks remember Maholm being worse than he was.

              He was never an ace, but he played on really lousy teams.

              His last three years with the Bucs, Maholm put up a 3.93 FIP. That translated to a 23-38 record.

              Over the last three seasons, Locke has notched a 4.10 FIP and sits at 25-24.

              Locke might give the impression that he gives a team a chance to win, but, I think, that has a lot to do with the players in the batting order.

              • Imagine Maholm benefiting from the run prevention strategies Locke enjoys under competitive Huntington teams.

                • Definitely…the shifts were coming in just as Maholm was on his way out. Add to that the emphasis on framing and I think 2011 Maholm would slot into this rotation just fine.

                  Looking back at that 2011 roster makes me wince, though…McHenry/Doumit, Overbay, Cedeno, Tabata, and Jones were 5 of the 8 regulars. Pedro was there, too…that was the year he managed 4 HR’s in 262 PAs and had a .561 OPS.

            • Kozy, very few people say Locke “is a bad pitcher” what he is, is an average #5. He IS bad, when you slot him as your 4th starter on a team that is trying to win the most competitive division currently in baseball. Its a matter of perspective, not absolutes.

            • Oh don’t get me wrong, I’m a shameless Jeff Locke fan and don’t my admitting it.

              I just also think Maholm in particular put up one of the more thankless stretches of baseball in this club’s history as a solid pitch-to-contact guy who unfortunately played in front of some truly awful baseball players. His five year run between ’08-’12 of being a league average (99 FIP-) pitcher averaging almost 190 IP per year is something we’d all LOVE to get out of Jeff Locke.

              • I kinda feel like that’s what we’re getting from Locke now with the exception of the IP.

                • Locke’s career ERA- and FIP- are both 114, significantly above league average. Really puts into perspective just how much good pitching is out there right now!

    • No….quite frankly, he’s not. Maholm was usually pitching against a teams’ 1-3 starting pitcher, which makes his lackluster success seem amplified, but Maholm, even today, is probably still as effective as Locke, or Vogelsong. Zach Duke in his rookie or second year is way better than Locke, but after that he wasn’t really our best pitcher, at that point Ohlendorf or Snell was (if my memory serves correctly)

      • Maholm was, during his prime, better. But Duke really never was, he had 80 good innings and then a starting pitching career of terrible. His periphs were just ugly.

        Duke had us all excited after that first half year, and then reality came.

        • I’m impressed you remember that run Duke pulled off after being called up! You’re pretty young, right?

          • 24. Yeah its more vague than crystal clear, but Duke was right about the time of my first “im excited about this guy and old enough to actually get whats going on”.

            I do specifically remember discussing about how he was gonna be the big arm we needed going forward. Started off with a solid prediction right off the bat and never looked back.

            • If it makes you feel any better, I came of age around the time of the ’97 Freak Show / #1 system in baseball after being little league age in ’92. Needless to say, I’m still working out those scars with my therapist.

        • he was still okay the second year….just okay, but not worse than Locke really……

          • His xFIP was consistently at Locke’s worst levels, including that 2nd year. He basically lived at mid 4 xFIP, something Locke hasnt seen outside of the SSS 16 innings his first call up.

            That 2nd year was, arguable, akin to Locke’s worst type years. It isnt really okay unless you are the 5th SP or just on a crappppy team. Duke essentially became Locke without the Ks, and thats terrifying.

            • Locke has only had one good year- or actually 1/2 of one good year. I’m not sure what you mean when you say “his worst years”

              • It helps to actually care enough to look at his stats.

                Jeff Locke had 2 years with a sub 4 ERA, 4 years where his xFIP was better than anything Duke saw outside of his rookie SSS.

                You cant go “well Duke was okay his second year” and then go “Locke only had 1 good year” without being a giant hypocrite. Zach Duke had 1 half season better than Locke, and then a career of worse. Which isnt saying Locke is great, but that he was always better over a full season than Duke.

                I loved Zach Duke, but sucked. He was only useful on a team not trying to contend for anything as his stats went from tons of promise to below #5 SP in a flash.

                • Luke we’ve had this conversation before. As much as I love stats, I am not a slave to them. You can throw stats at me to make your point, and I honestly welcome that because it furthers the debate, but don’t cast aspersions at me if I’m maybe possibly using something else . An “okay” year for Duke and a “good” year for Locke are quite obviously different things. I don’t think Okay and good mean the same thing to most people. I mean if you want me to quantify a remark i’m making, simply ask me before the snarky comments, it isn’t that hard. I was never saying Duke was good, and you are arguing trivial details for the sake of boredom, just stop it. Please 🙂

                  • If you call Duke’s 2nd year okay, then Jeff Locke has been okay the majority of his career. Thats my point.

                    But you didnt, you called one thing okay and one not. You let the name dictate what was and wasnt okay. Ill be snarky when i see that bias occur.

                    You didnt say Duke was good, and thats never been the discussion. You can talk down to me or acknowledge what i was arguing. If Zach Duke’s 2nd year was okay, then Locke (by stats) has been that same okay most of his career.

                    If you dont like stats enough to use them to judge what happened in the past, its impossible to discuss the past with anyone. Im not a slave to stats, but i am going to use stats as the only fair way to judge a players production from a decade ago.

                    • No. I called one okay, and one not “good” In what world does okay=good?

                • Zach’s second year FIP was 4.13 – To me, that is as close to “okay” as you could have possibly been in 2006. I’m sorry but there was more offense in the league in 2006 than in 2015, so a 4.13 on the garbage Pirates of 2006 is probably better than the shift laded, offensively weak NL in 2015 for Locke leading to his 3.91 FIP, definitely way worse than his 4.37 FIP in 2014 and probably still worse than his All-star season (and his ONLY other season) with about a 4 flat FIP. If you disagree that’s fine, but your stats really are not proving your point

                • 2006 Average runs scored per game: 4.86 2015 Average runs score per game 4.25, 2014 4.07 2013 4.13 Locke’s FIP was basically .1 better than league runs average per game in the 3 years he was in the rotation. Duke’s was better by .7 runs per game in 2006, on a garbage last place team. *drops the mic*

                • Jeff Locke has only been a major league pitcher in the rotation for 3 full years. I’m really not sure what the heck you are looking at

                  • Im looking at his periphs and not disliking him based on a feeling.

                    His xFIP has been better than Duke his entire career. Hell, im not arguing either of them are good. But i detest this narrative that Locke is not good for silly reasons. Zach Duke was not as good of a SP as Locke, and that doesnt make Locke good.

                    But sugar coating history doesnt do any good when we quibble over the level of bad Duke might have been in his 2nd year before the following 3 were awful.

                    Zach Duke pitched about 1 total year worth of better than Locke, and then 3 worth of total crap. Jeff Locke is better, which isnt a feather in his cap at all. He’s better than a crappy SP.

                    • Luke- I never said Locke wasn’t better than Duke- you might want to not lose track of the original argument. We are simply discussing whether Duke’s second year was “okay” and whether or not that “okay” year was better than Locke other than the first half of his all-star year. I’ve made my case based on the FIP numbers I put up that Duke’s second year was in fact at least okay, and by comparing those FIP’s vs. The league average runs scored in both periods to actually take away some of the variability, as well as comparing both pitchers years. I’m sorry, but I won this case. Lets move on to another topic.

            • I’ll give you that Luke…..

  • Hopefully, the Teddy Lilly approach doesn’t include 3 counts of auto insurance fraud.

  • “I’m picking up the target much sooner. I know I had the walk today, but that’s just Jeff trying to be a little too fine, like normal.”

    Did he just go into third person? AJ would be proud. 😉

    Very good article, with the only thing missing being data to back up the narrative. How do you quantify deception? And how do you isolate how much additional command could be achieved by simplifying a delivery? Hell, how do you even pull causation from correlation in order to determine if this change even *needs* to be made?

    Locke’s first half/second half splits are well documented, but even more drastic and less discussed are his splits with men on base vs. bases empty, i.e. from the stretch vs from the windup. Last year in particular, Locke posted almost exactly the same xFIP between halves and even threw *more* strikes in the second half yet was at least a full run worse by FIP/xFIP, threw less strikes, got *far* less strikeouts, and was hit much harder from the stretch. Without the turn in his delivery.

    I don’t mean for any of that to be definitive, but it’s obviously a massive risk to remove deception from a guy with marginal stuff. Simplifying the delivery of a guy like Edinson Volquez throwing 95 with plus life or Frankie Liriano with three easy plus pitches is a no brainer, but for a guy averaging 91 on his fastball without an above average secondary? That’s scary.

    If the above quote turns out to be a microcosm of this change, improved control but still not good enough to limit walks and develop plus command, this change could be awful.

  • Re: Locke and Lilly……Just like Morton and Halladay, while your delivery can LOOK like a good pitcher, doesn’t MAKE you that good pitcher. 🙂

    I REALLY hope Locke can get more consistent, but I really have doubts. If both he and RV are going in a particular series, opponents have to be licking their lips.

    • In Locke’s 30 starts last year, the Pirates went 16-14. Vogelsong isn’t chopped liver either. I’m sure most teams would rather faces the Phillies or Rockies with their 3 best pitchers than the Pirates with their 2 worst. I hope the Bucs finish the season with both Glasnow and Taillon as part of the rotation but with the Pirates’ bullpen, defense, and offense they’ll win a few games even when Locke and Vogelsong aren’t at their best.

      • Kozy…are you trying to make me optimistic about those two? 🙂 🙂

        • As you should be. It’s still spring. Now if we go into the season and they continually suck then we’ll call for their heads.

      • No offense but:

        a 16-14 record from our 5th starter last year- whom we subsequently have basically promoted to our 4th starter- frankly isn’t good enough. If you think it is, then we are never going to win the division.

        • I’m trying to be optimistic here. You’re ruining it…. I’m not happy with having Locke and Vogelsong at 4 and 5 as much as anyone else. I’m just going to complain about it one week into spring training. It’s who we have and I’m trying to find a silver lining.

  • Tim,
    With the full circle move back to the old delivery, has he given up the “hide the ball” deception that was a factor on his good control days? What do you think the goal is here….increased control? confidence?

  • The article reminds me of Charles Barkley and his golf game. He had every swing guru on the plant work with him. He still has the worst swing on the planet. Oh how I wish PBC kept Volquez.

  • In theory this appears to be a smart change. He is going back to the basics which he literally grew up as Pitcher using, and it sounds more mechanically correct. The key is developing confidence, which can only come with success.

    Hopefully by the end of ST he’ll be comfortable with it so he doesn’t have to think about what he’s doing and can just execute pitches. If that’s the case, I believe we’ll see an improved Jeff Locke from the one who struggled with consistency down the stretch last year, and the year before, and the year before.

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