TribLIVE
Blogs | Sports | News
Bucco Blog

« Font size »
Decrease | Reset |Increase

Monday morning mop-up duty: Jeff Locke laughs in the face of FIP

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – The advanced numbers and the sabermetric community contend Pirates lefty Jeff Locke cannot sustain the performance he has authored to date.  After seven shutout innings against the Astros on Sunday, Locke has lowered his ERA to 2.73.

 

Locke continues to strike out too few batters and walk too many. He’s throwing the same three-pitch mix as in prior years – according to Fangraphs.com – and the same three-pitch percentages as he did last year when he struggled.

 

His ERA is a sterling 2.73 but FIP – a metric of fielding-independent run prevention – suggests his ERA should be 4.47. His FIP last year was 4.43. The advanced stats think he’s the same pitcher he was last year.

 

But I contend that he’s not.

 

locke

(Jeff Locke has challenged FIP to a duel)

 

Advanced stats don’t always get it right.

 

*For starters, Fangraphs.com reports that Locke is throwing a four-seam fastball this year just as he was last year. Only Locke says 75 percent of the fastballs he has thrown this year are two-seam fastballs, an adjustment he has made to create more movement. He’s ground ball to flyball ratio has improved in each of the last three years.

 

*Locke said he doesn’t know what all these advanced numbers “mean” but he knows they don’t pick up on the slight delivery alteration he had learned form Erik Bedard, which he believes has added deception to his delivery.

 

*Advanced numbers don’t know that he’s a more confident pitcher, more willing to pitch to contact pitcher this season.

 

I have an appreciation for the numbers. I believe they are tools and they possess value. You will find I cite them often here. But they cannot replace the human element in the game, and the game will never be fully quantified.

 

I don’t think Locke will sustain a 2.73 ERA. I DO think he has to miss more bats and walk fewer batters to sustain anything near his performance to date. But I do think he’s been better than his 4.47 FIP. I do think he’s harder to hit. I don’t think numbers hold all the answers.

 

STARTING NINE …

 

9. When Pedro Alvarez uses the whole field, good things tend to happen.

 

He not only produced the game’s only scoring Sunday, sneaking a homer inside the left-field fole pole, but  he also drove a ball to the center-field track. Changing tendencies and approaches are not easy. The short porch in right is enticing at PNC Park. But Clint Hurdle indicated he hopes Sunday can be positive reinforcement for Alvarez.

 

8. The cut fastball has changed a lot of pitchers’ careers over the last decade – Cliff Lee, Rivera, Roy Halladay - and now it’s made Mark Melancon into a late-inning force. He’s increased his cut-fastball useage from 17.4% in 2011 to 55% this season (That’s assuming Fangraphs.com has it right … in this case I think they do).

 

Yes, Melancon blew a lead Saturday, but he’s going to give up a run here and there. Two runs in 25 innings is pretty impressive.

 

7. I like that Hurdle was going to bat Travis Snider in the lead-off position Sunday before Starling Marte was placed back in the lineup. It goes against convention to bat a 235-pound, non-basestealer there first, but Snider gets on base, and that’s what really counts. I like it even more because it was something we proposed in this space earlier this season.

 

Eventually Marte is going to hit further down an order and the Pirates need to find a lead-off replacement. I’m not suggesting Snider is the long-term answer, but he’s an interesting short-term fix if needed.

 

6. Hurdle thinks Marte needs a few days off. He said he saw something to indicate that, though didn’t go any further Sunday. My guess is he thinks Marte is fatiguing a bit after a tremendous start.

 

5: Helium watch on Pirates RHP prospect: Tyler Glasnow: eight more Ks in four innings in his last appearance; he’s struck out 50 and allowed just 14 hits in 34 innings. Did we mention the Pirates are loaded with right-handed pitching prospects? Might soon be time to flip one or two for infield help.

 

4. Andrew McCutchen said his knee is structurally sound and he should be in the lineup Tuesday. That’s a good thing because he’s starting to warm-up: three straight multi-hit games, raising his average to .281.

 

3. Miguel Sano‘s slash line would look good in Bradenton, wouldn’t it? .354/.448/.673. If clubs are willing to spend $8 million on back-end starters, why not got all out to acquire potential superstars?

 

2.  Micheal McKenry is now 2 of 24 in throwing out baserunners he ended his 0-for-19 streak Sunday, Maybe the extra throwing helped? If not Tony Sanchez is close.
1. It’s May 20th and your Pirates are on pace to win 96 games. Sustainable?  96 wins is probably not, but this team has the lineup and rotation depth – combined with a solid bullpen – to ends its 20-year losing drought.

 

FACTOID THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME:

 

McCutchen has cut his strikeout rate to from 19.6% last year to 10.7% this year. Is he becoming a better hitter? Is he sacrificing power for contact? It’s an interesting decline, and I think we have enough of a sample for it to mean something. If he keeps his K-rate this low while getting his power back (we’ve seen signs it’s coming on) … then look out.

 

HE SAID IT 

A.J. Burnett on if he’s trying to become more efficient by pitching more to contact. He’s gone seven innings in four straight starts.

“I ain’t changing nothing. I went seven innings (Saturday) what more do you want?”

 

HE SAID IT II

Hurdle on batting Snider lead-off.

“He is interesting the other seven guys weren’t so interesting.”

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION 

I had the “rustica” a clam linguini dish at Girasole in Shadyside last week. I highly recommend it if you like plus-plus Italian.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments

  1. kr70 says:

    +1 on the Blog….non baseball about the burgh is always appreciated

  2. T.S. says:

    Good stuff, Travis.

  3. NMR says:

    Love the Locke talk, Travis.

    Cracks me up when I read supposed sabre-savvy writers say his 2.73 ERA won’t last because of his 4.47 FIP. No, COMMON SENSE says his 2.73 ERA won’t last because he’s obviously not one of the best pitchers in baseball.

    Otherwise, FIP tells us absolutely nothing for a pitcher without an established track record such as Locke. Plenty of examples of guys pitching above or below their projections.

    The adnvanced metrics are nice, but over a sample sizes such as Locke’s give us no better accuracy than regular old common sense.

  4. Nate83 says:

    I agree completely about Locke. I think his ceiling is a solid number 3 with an ERA in the mid 3′s. You don’t have to regress to what the advanced metrics show. He has a track record in the minors of being pretty solid at every level.

    The fact that he has been solid for 4 or 5 starts now combined with his track record in the minors makes me confident he is better then a 4.50 ERA pitcher. For what is is worth I would take 4.5 ERA pitcher every year as my 5th starter. Anything more then that from Locke is just a bonus in my book.

    Agree on Synder/Tabata at lead off at least as a possible solution especially if Marte regresses to something more human. His OBP is helped by getting hit so many times and he still doesn’t walk a ton. If his average settles in around .290 I don’t think he should be leading off.

    It will be interesting to see haw Glasnow progesses as he moves up levels as well as Kingman.

    Sano is a bad topic that you should never bring up :)

  5. NMR says:

    Regarding the assumption that eventually Marte will be moved down in the order and a lead-off batter will need to be acquired, doesn’t the Pirates projected future roster make it hard for that guy to be found?

    If we assume that your prototypical leadoff hitter isn’t going to come from 1B, 3B, or C (none in all of baseball) and that Walker, Cutch, and Marte have positions pinned down, that leaves just an outfield spot and SS left. Considering the Pirates best two outfield prospects, Gregory Polanco and Josh Bell, are even bigger impact bats at this stage of their development than Marte was, it seems unlikely you’d want to put them at leadoff.

    By attrition, you could argue that the Pirates have to find not only a SS, but a leadoff hitting SS in order to move Marte out of the lineup position.

  6. In the Kingdom of the Blind, the one-eyed man is King.
    .
    It’s not so much that Travis Snider would be good in the Leadoff spot; it’s just that everybody else would be worse! Hurdle said as much.
    .
    I suppose if one is hung-up on numbers (I agree with your one sentence paragraph immediately following Locke’s picture), it would be better to have Russell Martin (On base % .364/OPS .881) or Gaby Sanchez (On base % .379/OPS .872) bat Leadoff rather than Snider.
    .
    Travis Snider’s stats: .279 batting average/On base % .342/OPS .729. Not very good stats for a starting corner outfield spot, much less for batting Leadoff!!!!!!!! Even Jose Tabata beats those numbers!

  7. Jim S. says:

    FIP says he can’t sustain 2.73. I guess I can’t fight that. He is not striking out a lot of batters, and he has probably walked a few too many. His BABIP against is extremely low. So, I’ll agree that if he pitches just as well the rest of the year he might end up a run higher – in the 3.75 range. That would be great for a #5. What I will say about yesterday is the Astros’ swings did not merit more than 3 hits in 7 innings. No one on their team could drive the ball, and very few guys even hit the ball hard. He earned every bit of his 7 inning, 3 hit performance yesterday. 5 baserunners allowed in 7 innings. It wasn’t because the Astros were hitting rockets right at our fielders. Now, the Astros pitchers gave up hard hit balls all game long. Several long drives that were caught, and even a bunch of the groundouts by the Bucs were hit hard.

  8. Jim S. says:

    Maybe the Brewers can help them find Jean Segura II somewhere, NMR. I think, for the reasons you cited (Polanco’s imminent arrival, mainly) Marte may very well end up staying at leadoff. I think he is maturing, and is #2 in the NL in HBP. Adding the HBPs to his walks, right now he is getting on base via free passes enough. He may never get to more than 50 BBs in a season, but if it is accompanied by 25 HBP, a .285 average, 20 HR & tons of 2b/3b, who cares? That would put him among the best leadoff hitters in MLB. Actually, it would make him the best, I think. And he is ridiculously good in the outfield. That throw to 1b on the attempted DP yesterday was scary good.

  9. Jim S. says:

    Snider and Tabata are both living on borrowed time as starters in Pittsburgh. Polanco appears to be can’t miss, and 2 years from now neither of the current RFs will be starting and only one will even have a spot on the roster. & I’m not saying that to take a shot at them, but they are mediocre and Polanco will not be.

  10. Nate83 says:

    What is Marte’s OBP? What is it over the last 20 games? He is coming back down to earth and he just doesn’t walk enough to be a leadoff hitter. The move needs to be made sooner then later in my opinion. I say give it 10 more games and if it doesn’t start turning around then make the move.

  11. NMR says:

    Considering only two SS in all of baseball posted an OBP of .350 last year, finding that prototypical guy is gonna be pretty darn tough.

    Also considering 25 HBP would’ve been 8 more than the league leader last year, I think Marte’s OBP numbers are skewed by those early HBP’s. Another reason he’s likely to “regress” in that department, if you will.

    Either way, we’re still in agreement that Marte will be just fine in that spot with a .330-340 OBP given the power numbers he’s likely to rack up. That was my main point.

  12. NMR says:

    @Groat: League Average RF for 2013 as of today is .256/.322/.414

    @Nate: Make the move and replace him with who? Snider/Tabata?

    WHEN Marte “comes back down to earth” he could easily post a .330 OBP with a .280 AVG and 5% walk rate. Tabby/Snider, at their absolute peak, will probably only be at .350.

    How much are you really gaining by flipping their spots in the lineup?

  13. justin says:

    I agree that he seems better than an eventual 4.75 ERA. While the 2.73 ERA is from a small sample size, so are the strikeout and walk numbers he’s put up that contribute to that high xFIP. Throughout the minors, he’s put up more K/9 and lower BB/9 than he’s shown so far this year.

    He definitely looks like a nice starter.

  14. Nate83 says:

    I know what you are saying but if you can gain 20 OBP and move a run producing bat to a more productive spot in the order why not do it. It’s not what you are gaining by moving Tabata/Snider up it’s what you are gaining by having Marte in front of Alverez. Pitchers are not afraid of going after Tabata or Snider because they are unlikely to hit a home run. They are going to become much more cautious with Marte up.

    Plus who’s to say Tabata’ peak is .350 he had .349 as a rookie and why is 10 more times getting on base a year not significant enough especially if Marte is better equiped to drive runs in later in the order then Snider and Tabata.

Other blogs
Sports: Rob Rossi | Steel Mill | Chipped Ice | Bucco Blog | Sitting Ringside | Pitt Locker Room | Penn State Sports | H.S. Sports Insiders | Trailing Off
News: This Just In | Trib List
» Top TribLIVE.com Sports
» Top TribLIVE.com News
» Top TribLIVE.com Breaking News