First Pitch: Jeff Locke Having Another Poor Second Half, Only This One is a Surprise

Jeff Locke is currently having another poor second half. Last year it was predictable. He posted a 2.15 ERA in 109 innings during the first half, with a 4.21 xFIP that suggested things wouldn’t go so well in the second half. And things didn’t go well. Locke’s control bottomed out in the second half, with a 5.8 BB/9 ratio, helping to lead to a 6.12 ERA and a 4.14 xFIP.

This year it looked like Locke would be getting over his control issues and avoid any second half struggles. He posted a 2.89 ERA in the first half, with a 3.31 xFIP that suggested a slight regression, but which also suggested that he would be one of the better pitchers in the rotation going forward. A big reason for that was the total elimination of his walks, with an 0.96 BB/9 ratio.

So far, Locke hasn’t been the same pitcher in the second half. He has a 4.34 ERA and a 4.19 xFIP in 64.1 innings. While he totally eliminated the walks in the first half, that hasn’t been the case in the second half. Locke is walking 4.06 batters per nine innings in the second half. It was the same situation tonight, as Locke walked three batters in 5.1 innings.

The second half hasn’t been all bad though. There have been some good outings, specifically when Locke’s control is better. His last start saw one run in seven innings, after no walks were allowed. Two starts before that he gave up one run in 7.1 innings, with two walks. Two before that he threw 5.2 shutout innings, walking two.

Locke has basically been a number four starter in the second half, after pitching like a number two starter in the first half. Fortunately, when he’s on, he’s really on. And he’s not just beating up on weak teams. Two of his biggest performances came against the Cardinals and Nationals.

The question you’d have to ask is whether Locke is good enough for the playoff rotation. Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole would be locks for that rotation, even though Liriano is the only one of the two who has pitched like a top of the rotation guy. Edinson Volquez has an xFIP that says he’ll probably be a number four starter going forward, although it would be hard for the Pirates to move away from him as long as he is getting the results of a top of the rotation guy. Vance Worley has been better than Locke in the second half, and has been solid all season.

Locke is going to be a frustrating player to watch if he keeps up his second half performance. He can help the team, especially when the control is on, but there will also be outings where he hurts the team. I guess that’s the life of a number four starter. I think the Pirates will have better options for the rotation than Locke heading into a playoff series. But for the regular season, they’ll need his help, and will hope for more of the start we saw last week, and less of the start we saw last night.

For more on Locke, check out Jeremy Tepper’s article from the game.

Links and Notes

**Jeff Locke Struggles With Fastball Command

**Starling Marte still out of the Lineup

**Morning Report: Stetson Allie Offers a Rare Combo of Power and Plate Patience

  • Guess who’s turn in the rotation it will be for the WC game…

    Fortunately, Bucs should have a day off in between, so they have flexibility. Although to pitch Liriano would mean he’d have eight full days rest, so you don’t know if that will help or hurt. Cole is scheduled for last game of regular season, but so far he’s only proven to be a 5 inning pitcher. Worley did shut out the Giants (and beat Bumgarner in the process) last time he faced Giants. He and Volquez would be the natural choices to replace Locke as they’d be on more or less regular rest.

  • You would think Locke is wearing down, but the last two starts he has hit 93 a few times and even a 94 a couple of games ago. IMO, Locke is totally dependent on the plate umpire, if the umpire gives him the outside of the corner he is tough, when they take that away he has to catch too much of the plate and he does not have enough movement on his fastball at 91 or 92 to catch a lot of the plate without getting hit hard. Even so, most of the games he starts the Pirates have a chance to win, normally he keeps his team in the game, 3 runs is not a lot of runs and had the Pen not pitched poorly the Pirates might of won last night. Cole is the one that worries me, he is getting hit far to hard IMO.

    • From what I could tell, the ump was giving the outside strike (to RH batters) but not the inside strike early on – for both teams. But you are correct in that Locke is more dependent on the ump’s zone than anyone else in the rotation.

    • leadoff: Locke is the guy who lives on the inner third of the plate – when he is on he will paint the black inside. If the batters are not swinging and the umpire is “tea-cupping”, he has to move to the meat of the plate or the outside, and those are his least effective zones. Most lefties have that runner against RH batters that starts on the outer third and finishes just off the plate, but Locke does not have much of that screwball effect. And, as we saw again yesterday, a few runs can make a huge difference.

  • Well Locke has been very poor in second half. He ranks 109th out of 111 pitchers with an FIP around 5.2. That’s pretty horrible. Walking about 4 per 9.

  • Locke pitched as well as anyone on Monday at Philly going 7 innings with 0 Walks and 9 K’s in a game we needed badly. Last night, like Cole the night before, he was not sharp, not getting ahead in the count, but unlike Cole Friday night, he was getting no support whatsoever from the offense. Yes, he walked 3 batters, but none of them figured into the 3 runs he gave up through 5.1 innings. And, “Having Another Poor Second Half” is overkill. I can handle “inconsistent” especially when you look at his body of work in his 2 starts this week.

    Our best SP’s in the 2nd half are Volquez, Liriano, and then Worley; Cole and Locke are 4.31 and 4.34 since the AS Break, and Morton brings up the rear at 5.73 in limited action. We do not have the Rotation in 2014 that we can rely on pitching alone. It has to be pitching, hitting, and defense. Locke has had games where he has been lights out, and then games like last night. But, IMO, none of the guys in the Rotation this year (since Wandy left) deserve a description of their work as “poor” for any period of time.

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