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

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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.

 

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