SOUTH HILLS COMMAND CENTER – Jeff Locke was never a lock to make his next scheduled start, Sunday, for the Pirates.
You’re probably aware his struggles. Locke has a 6.18 ERA in the second half of the season, after posting a 2.15 mark in the first.
You might be aware of his walk rate by month: 3.31 May, 4.18 June, 5.22 July 6.3 August.
Connect the does.
It’s clear Locke was becoming a liability until he relocates his command.
This image has become to familiar to Clint Hurdle and Jeff Locke
While Locke was a candidate to go from All-Star pitcher in July to demotion to bullpen in August the regression was even more dramatic on Wednesday. He went from All-Star pitcher in July to Double-A pitcher on Aug. 28 as the Pirates sent him down to clear a spot on the 25-man roster spot and ostensibly to give Locke some rest.
Is Locke fatigued?
He’s never thrown this many major league innings but he did throw more combined professional innings in 2011 and 2012. His velocity has slightly increased throughout the season. He shouldn’t be a fatigued pitcher, but maybe his command suggests he is.
Locke says he hasn’t changed his approach that he’s simply a pitcher who lives on the edge and has a small margin for error. Maybe Locke is subconsciously pitched a little more off the plate. Maybe major league hitters have made an adjustment. Maybe it’s something else. But something has changed.
The question is now what to do with Locke for the rest of the season. Even though he won’t be on the 25-man roster on Sept. 1, he can still be eligible for the postseason because the Pirates have a number disabled players that can be swapped out for.
But Locke seems hardly guaranteed of a potential playoff roster spot at this point, yet alone a starting assignment in September.
Should he come back and join the rotation on Sept. 3?
Should he work out his issues in the bullpen?
Should he be perhaps moved to the disabled list and be given more rest?
I’m not sure. But what Locke has morphed from is an All-Star starter to a $64,000 question.
ABOUT THE 2014 ROTATION …
Looking a bit ahead, Locke’s decline has put into question one spot in the 2014 rotation.
A.J. Burnett puts into question another.
Burnett indicated in spring training that he would mull retirement after the season. In San Francisco I asked Burnett if he’s come to any resolution on his future.
Said Burnett: “I’m only thinking about my next start.”
So stay tuned on that front.
What also has to be in mind is this: Burnett is listed as the 18th best free agent this offseason by CBSSports.com, and with the amount of new national TV money flowing into the game he could be looking at a two- or three-year deal at $15M plus per season. Tough to walk away from that. And I’m not sure the Pirates would make that financial commitment, though Burnett said he wants to stay in Pittsburgh if he keeps pitching.
So the Pirates could be looking at two rotational holes going into spring training.
It will be interesting to see how the Pirates attack this but due to their interest in Matt Garza at the tradeline, I have to think they’ll be in the free agent market for a starting pitcher. My guy is still Phil Hughes, who could have a rebound similar to Burnett and Liriano in the NL.
BLACK COMPLETES BYRD TRADE
Vic Black is reportedly the final piece to the Byrd/Buck trade.
Black is an interesting guy. A pitcher who struck out Matt Holliday on a 98 mph fastball this season. But also a late-inning bullpen arm that has mechanical issues and it’s fair to question whether he’ll ever harness his stuff. Dilson Herrera and Black are nice pieces for the Mets. But given the Pirates’ needs and historical context of the season, this was a fairly easy trigger pull for Neal Huntington.
Byrd is already making an impact (see: three-run shot last night) and it ends the narrative that the Pirates didn’t do anything to improve this team in season. While this trade will likely go down as a long-term loss, in the short term it makes too much sense.