SOUTH HILLS – On Aug. 22nd in Milwaukee, Jeff Locke walked six batters in six innings. He did not strike out a single batter. So Milwaukee batters either walked or put the ball in play and miraculously scored only two runs in six innings against
Locke. Afterward, Locke said this: “It was a lot like last year’s first half. There were so many games we had four-plus walks, two or three hits” …. So many games in that first half Locke somehow avoided disaster.
It was almost if Locke thought it was a good thing he had just pitched as he did last year. After all, I suppose he surmised he was a first-half All-Star. Clint Hurdle had theories why Locke was able to strand so many runners in the first half last season – that Locke’s heartbeat slowed down, that he was better under pressure. What really happened was math: Locke was extremely lucky as he was leading baseball in stranding runners in the first half. In the second half of the season he regressed to reality. FIP happens. He was briefly demoted to the minor leagues. The problem for the Pirates is this year’s Locke is beginning to look like last year’s Locke When Locke was first recalled this year, I thought he had changed. He was pounding the strike zone. He said he had given over complete game-calling and opponent-scouting control to Russell Martin. He said he wasn’t going to nibble anymore. His first half walk rate? 0.98 walks per nine innings. Outstanding.
But at some point along the way, Locke started nibbling just as he did yesterday in getting bounced earlier from a start against the Cardinals, a start that including a stern mound lecture from pitching coach Ray Searge.
Searage probably isn’t real pleased with Locke’s second-half walk rate: 4.58 It’s not just the raw walk rate, look at Locke’s first-half pitch vs. second-half location from BrooksBaseball.net and PITCHf/x data:
You’ll notice there is a lot more red in the strike zone in the first half – meaning pitches in the strike zone – and a lot more blue in the strike zone in the second half. Quite simply, Locke has shown the ability to throw strikes but he too often appears to fear contact by living on the edge of the strike zone.
If Locke wants to remain a major league starting pitcher, he must attack the strike zone with more confidence.
With Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole not consistently pitching like 1s and 2s, the Pirates need more from the back end of their rotation. But if Vance Worley can’t consistently find his fastball plane and if Locke can’t consistently throw strikes, it’s going to be a long September for the Pirates. -TS