I will be the first to admit that Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris have been fairly disappointing this season and I’m not writing this post to try and say otherwise. Their performance this season illustrates why Charlie’s reservations about trading Freddy Sanchez straight up for Tim Alderson are valid concerns (though trade strategy is another subject to talk about on another day … tomorrow, for example). That being said, I’ve been looking at their numbers with the Pirates’ affiliates this year and I think it’s still too early to write either of them off as a poor acquisition.
Developing a pitcher is much different than developing a hitter. There are more moving parts and things to consider and it seems to me that a pitcher can be progressing while still putting up numbers that aren’t necessarily great. It seems to me that both pitchers are working through things that could explain their rough numbers in Lynchburg this year. It’s still incumbent upon them to work through their struggles this year and progress as pitchers, but I don’t know that it’s an impossible pipe dream to think that they will. More after the jump.
Morris’s struggles are both easier to explain and more troubling than Locke’s, so we’ll start with him. Since coming off of Tommy John surgery seemingly fairly well in 2008, he’s suffered a strained biceps, needed surgery on his big toe, and had a bit of shoulder trouble this spring. Of those three injuries the shoulder problem is by far the most concerning, but it seems to me that the team played it very cautious with him, so hopefully it won’t be a long-term trouble. One thing to certainly keep in mind with pitchers is that one injury often leads to another; rehabbing from his TJ surgery could have lead to his biceps trouble if it changed his delivery at all and having big toe surgery is certainly something that could lead to a change in mechanics and, by extension, shoulder trouble.
What I think is interesting is this quote from Kyle Stark in the Post-Gazette’s story evaluating the trades:
Of Morris’ potential, Stark said, “He has arm strength, touching the mid-90s, and solid breaking pitches, but he’s still refining his changeup and his delivery to aid fastball command and promote his long-term health.”
I’m speculating a bit here, but it seems likely to me that Morris is still being restricted pretty heavily by the coaching staff this year and maybe even being told to focus on his just his fastball and change-up until he’s completely healthy. He’s getting absolutely destroyed by lefties this year, which kind of supports that theory (a righty with just a fastball and a change he’s not comfortable with would presumably have a ton of trouble against left-handed hitters). It’s hard to know what the team is doing with a guy that’s had so many injury problems and until he’s healthy for a year (or until he gets hurt again), it’s hard to write him off completely
Explaining Locke’s problems without speculating is harder to do since there’s no injury there, but I’ve got a pretty good guess as to what’s going on with him. Since arriving in Lynchburg, his walks (previously his biggest problem) have dropped 5.1/9 innings to 2.6/9. His strikeouts have dropped from 8.5/9 to 6.0/9 and his hits have leaped from 9.3/9 to 11.5/9. We’re dealing with small sample sizes here, but I think the drop in walks is really encouraging and could be due to something similar to what they did in State College last year; focus on fastball command and let everything stem from there. Locke’s last start was great and I’m very interested to see how his next few go, to see if something’s clicked for him after some time with the Pirates’ coaches.
The point here isn’t to say that Locke or Morris will or won’t come out of their 2009 funk, just that there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to developing young pitchers and with regards to these two guys, we really don’t know what all of those factors are right now.