Don’t look now, but Jeff Locke has a 2.83 ERA in 28.2 innings so far this year in the majors. That number is probably too low for his actual skills. He has a 4.60 xFIP, which suggests his overall performances have been nowhere near the actual result. But Locke is starting to show some improvements.
We saw some of those improvements last night against the St. Louis Cardinals. Locke had a strong start, going seven shutout innings and allowing just three hits and two walks, with four strikeouts. That followed a start where Locke threw six shutout innings against the Philadelphia Phillies, allowing two walks and two hits, with six strikeouts.
You would like to point to those starts and say that Locke is starting to figure things out at the major league level. He’s thrown in each of the last two seasons, but both trips to the majors came at the end of the season, after a full year in Indianapolis. This is the first year he’s been in the majors from day one, throwing at 100 percent. The hope would be that he’s going to perform better this year than he did in his short trips in previous years.
While you’d like to point to these last two starts as a sign that Locke is figuring things out, the reality is that he gave up nine runs in 15.2 innings over his first three starts, with nine walks and six strikeouts. He’s obviously trending in the right direction, but he has just as many poor starts as good starts this year, and it would just be selective to only consider the good outings. There are some positive signs from his recent starts that do show signs of encouragement going forward.
For one, he’s gotten more swings and misses. Locke had just six swings and misses in his first two starts, which represented 3.5% of his pitches. In his last three starts he’s gotten a swing and a miss in 8.7% of his pitches. By comparison, Wandy Rodriguez has a 6.7% swinging strike rate on the year. Locke is now up to 6.8% after his last three starts.
In Locke’s first two starts of the year he was throwing a first pitch strike around 50% of the time. In his next two starts he was around 61%, and in his last start he was 76.9%.
We talked about Locke last week on the Pirates Prospects Podcast, with James Santelli reviewing how he looked in the St. Louis start. My points on the podcast were that Locke is a guy who isn’t going to dominate opposing hitters, and will need to get by with pitching. He’s got a good mix of pitches, but none of his options stand out as a plus offering. His strong point is his control and command. That’s why the above numbers are encouraging. Locke has success by getting ahead of hitters (first pitch strikes), and by fooling them with his stuff and placement. His stuff can be very hittable if it isn’t located well. If he is locating his stuff well, that’s when he’s going to get swinging strikes, fewer walks, and better overall results.
That’s what Locke has shown over his last two starts, and even a bit during the Atlanta start, which didn’t have the best outcome. It’s too early to say that he’s starting to figure things out, since that would be based off two starts. He is doing what he needs to do to have success going forward. In his recent starts he’s looking like he’s doing a better job of commanding his pitches and getting ahead of hitters. If he figures out how to continue that at the major league level, then that combination will keep him in a major league rotation going forward.