Jeff Locke is not really a good pitcher, but he has occupied a certain usefulness for most of his Pirate career. Locke has decent stuff for a lefty, but relatively poor command. In some of his starts, he looks great (remember that he’s a one-time All-Star and he really did deserve that nod based on first-half stats in 2013), in others he looks bad. Generally, though, through 2013 and 2014 and 2015, even on his bad nights he kept the Pirates in games. In 2013, he made 30 starts and the Pirates went 15-15. In 2014, he made 21 starts and the Pirates went 12-9. In 2015, he made 30 starts and the Pirates went 16-14. Record is a bad way to measure the performance of a pitcher, but teams generally only ask their bottom-of-the-rotation guys to give them a chance to win; the Pirates were 23-7 in Gerrit Cole starts last year and 20-11 in Francisco Liriano starts. Winning about half of Jeff Locke’s starts is fine.
The Pirates are 9-9 in Locke’s starts this year, but Locke has been asking for much more help from the bullpen both last year and this year. In this year in particular, the “good” Jeff Locke hasn’t been as good, and the “bad” Jeff Locke has been really bad. In 2013, Locke had a 0.99 ERA and a .458 OPS against in his wins, a 4.02 ERA and a .757 OPS against in his no decisions, and a 7.29 ERA and a .900 OPS against in his losses. In 2014, those numbers were 2.83/.649 in wins, 3.10/.654 in no decisions, and 6.89/.907 in losses. In 2015, they were 1.90/.515 in wins, 5.01/.781 in no decisions, and 6.32/854 in losses. This year, he’s at 2.17/.605 in wins, 4.26/.808 in no decisions, and 14.23/1.173 (!) in losses.
All of these numbers can jumble together, so let’s simplify a bit: Locke’s bad starts are burying the Pirates this year. In Locke’s 30 2013 starts, he had 13 no decisions and the Pirates went 5-8 in those no decisions. He had eight no-decisions in 21 2014 starts, and the Pirates went 5-3. He had 11 no-decisions in 30 starts last year, and the Pirates went 8-3. This year, he’s got four no-decisions in 18 starts and the Pirates are 1-3 in them.
A lot of people, myself included, have tended to look at Locke and defend him with those good starts, saying that the reason the Pirates keep him around is that the good starts are more than a team would normally get from a fifth starter. Looking at all of this, though, I’m not sure that’s right. In both 2014 and 2015, Locke made a ton of middling starts and got out of the way for the bullpen and the offense. He’s not making those starts this year; he’s mostly all good or all bad. The Pirates have, from a record standpoint, mostly gotten away with keeping this version of Jeff Locke in the rotation this year. His bad has been much worse than his good, though, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to hold out. With Kuhl and Brault in the minors and the trade deadline looming, I think it’s finally time for the Pirates to consider replacing Jeff Locke in the rotation.
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