Search Archives
Follow Us

Featured Sponsors


Mailing List
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for our Email Newsletter
For Email Marketing you can trust
Twitter Feeds

This site utilizes the MLB analytics platform powered by TruMedia Networks

Entries in Jeff Locke (3)

Friday
Feb212014

Gerrit Cole Stays Strong in Late Frames

Last year, the Pittsburgh Pirates rode a high-strikeout, homer-preventing starting rotation to the club's first playoff appearance since 1992. The Bucs' 2014 rotation, however, is far from a lock to post another top-five ERA. A.J. Burnett took his National League-leading strikeout rate and wicked curve to Philly. Francisco Liriano eviscerated hitters last year, but has yet to log back-to-back great seasons during his eight-year career. Charlie Morton mauls righties with his turbo sinker, but turns every lefty he faces into Shin-Soo Choo. Wandy Rodriguez is 35 and has an arthritic left elbow. Jeff Locke walks hitters like Liriano, without the strikeout stuff. By comparison, Edinson Volquez makes Liriano and Locke look like Greg Maddux.

With Burnett gone and the rest of the rotation volatile, the Pirates desperately need Gerrit Cole build upon his excellent rookie year and become a dominant, durable ace. The first overall pick in the 2011 draft looks up to the challenge. Cole quickly progressed from a guy who chucked little more than mid-to-high-90s fastballs in the over the plate to a pitcher capable of expanding hitters' zones with a pair of sinister breaking pitches. Cole struck out just 10.9% of batters faced in June, but he nearly tripled that whiff rate by September (31.2%) and earned a win-or-go-home start over Burnett in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cardinals.

At 6-foot-4 and 240-plus pounds, Cole looks the part of a workhorse. But, more importantly, he performed like one during his rookie season. Most starters get hit harder while facing hitters for the second and third time during a game, losing zip on their pitches and no longer fooling opponents now familiar with their stuff. Not Cole, though. The 23-year-old tasked with leading the Pirates back to the playoffs in 2014 didn't waver in the late innings:

Opponent OPS 1st time through the lineup: .713 (.699 MLB average)

Opponent OPS 2nd time through the lineup: .550 (.730 MLB average)

Opponent OPS 3rd time through the lineup: .612 (.760 MLB average)

Cole started a little slow, with an opponent OPS about two percent worse than the major league average for starters while facing hitters the first time. But then, when lots of guys tail off, Cole smothered hitters. His opponent OPS was 25 percent better than average while facing batters the second time during a start, and 20 percent above average while taking on the lineup a third time.

How does Cole stay strong as his pitch count piles up? He never loses his top-flight fastball. Cole threw his fastball an average of 95.6 MPH in 2013, trailing only Miami's Nathan Eovaldi (96.1 MPH) among all starters. Check out his heat by inning:

1st: 95.7

2nd: 95.5

3rd: 95.7

4th: 95.3

5th: 95.6

6th: 95.7

7th: 95.1

8th: 94.8

When hitters face Cole, they're getting mid-90s gas from beginning to end. And as the game progresses, his fastball gets nastier. Cole got swings and misses 15.2% of the time during the first three innings of his starts. In innings 6-8, he induced whiffs 23% of the time. That's seventh-best among starters throwing at least 200 fastballs during those frames, just behind Yu Darvish and ahead of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.

His command of the pitch improves, too: Cole threw 27.2% of his fastballs to the horizontal middle of the strike zone in innings 1-3, but just 18.2% in innings 6-8. That matters because fastballs left over the middle of the plate get plastered (hitters slugged a collective .496 versus middle fastballs last year).

The Pirates surrendered the second-fewest runs (577) in the majors last season, but all of Clint Hurdle's defensive shifts and Ray Searage's reclamation work with broken starters likely won't be enough to keep them at that level (Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA, for instance, expects them to give up 678 runs next year). If Pittsburgh has any prayer of another Buctober in 2014, they'll need to ride Cole's resilient right arm deep into games.

Monday
Jul082013

The Inside Story on Jeff Locke

Jeff Locke has made the leap from fifth starter to Pirates ace in a few short months, anchoring the NL Central leader's starting rotation while A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez heal. The lefty takes the mound tonight against the Oakland A's with a 2.12 ERA, trailing only Clayton Kershaw among qualified starters. Locke has been better at preventing runs than Stephen Strasburg. Better than Matt Harvey. Better than Adam Wainwright. Not bad for a guy battered for a 5.82 ERA in short stints during the 2011-12 seasons and dubbed "The Intern" by manager Clint Hurdle during spring training.

Whether Locke's success continues, however, is much less clear. His ERA is sparkling, but he doesn't induce a lot of strikeouts (6.1 per nine innings pitched) or limit free passes (3.9 BB/9). His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) -- what you'd expect his ERA to be based on Ks, walks and home runs allowed -- is 3.86.

The disconnect between Locke's expected and actual results is most pronounced when he throws inside -- supposedly a cardinal sin for soft-tossers. Few do it more often -- or with more success.

Locke looks like the stereotypical "crafty lefty" who avoids confrontation at all costs. He's on the small side, standing six feet and weighing 185 pounds, and he only tops 90 MPH with a gust of wind at his back. Despite his so-so velocity, the Pirates lefty has thrown more inside fastballs (47% of his total heaters) than any National League starting pitcher this side of Scott Feldman (48%), now in the AL with Baltimore. Among AL starters, only Derek Holland (55%) challenges hitters inside more often. Locke's thriving on the inner third, too:

Locke's opponent slugging percentage on fastballs vs. left-handed hitters

Locke's opponent slugging percentage on fastballs vs. right-handed hitters

Locke has limited hitters to a .186 slugging percentage when he tries to jam them with a fastball. That ties him with Cliff Lee for the third-lowest mark in the majors, trailing just flame-throwers Harvey and Jose Fernandez.

Lowest opponent slugging percentage on inside fastballs among SP (min. 50 PA throwing inside)

Locke's success in busting batters inside with his fastball is baffling for several reasons:

  • Locke has the lowest average fastball velocity (90.1 MPH) among pitchers on the list above, and Lee (90.7 MPH) and Alex Cobb (90.4 MPH) are the only other guys who throw under 92 MPH. Pitchers with Locke's fastball velocity tend to get spanked when they go inside. Pitchers throwing 89-91 MPH fastballs inside have a collective .464 opponent slugging percentage this year, compared to .475 for those throwing 92+ MPH heat.
  • Locke hardly ever gets hitters to whiff against inside fastballs. Hitters are swinging and missing just 8.6% of the time, well below the 12.4% MLB average. Even fellow soft-tossers Lee (16.3% miss rate) and Cobb (11.9%) induce more swings and misses on inside fastballs.
  • He doesn't back off even when he falls behind in the count, throwing his fastball inside 42% of the time when the hitter has the advantage. The MLB average, by contrast, is 26%. His opponent slugging percentage in such situations is .400, compared to the .585 MLB average.

Can Locke keep thumbing his nose at conventional pitching wisdom, beating hitters inside with not-so-fast fastballs? Or will he get his head handed to him in the second half? Stay tuned as we learn The Intern's ultimate fate.

Monday
Jul012013

Nine to Know: June Pitching edition

 

  1. No team's pitchers went full more frequently in June than the Royals staff who had 158 full-counts, BUT, they held batters to a .170 BAA on full-counts, second best in baseball to the Giants pitchers who held batters to a .150 BAA on full-counts. 
  2. Angels pitchers produced the most swings and misses in June with 460, 133 more than the Twins who had the least.
  3. Oakland's pitchers only issued 60 walks in 27 games. The Rays pitchers threw the most strikes with 2668.
  4. Which pitcher was better in June, Miami's Jose Fernandez or Pittsburgh's Jeff Locke? Each starter had five starts, each averaged 6.47 IP per start, and each had a 1.67 ERA.

 

5.  Chris Sale induced 88 swings and misses, the most in June, but was 0-5 with 3.15 ERA.
6.  A.J. Griffin produced 20 pop-ups, the most in baseball.
7.  Yu Darvish had the most strikeouts with runners in in scoring position in June with 14, James Shields was next with 13.
8.  Ian Kennedy allowed five homers in June with runners on base, the most in baseball, but teammate Trevor Cahill allowed 24 hits with runners on base, the most in June.
9.  In five starts in June, facing the 3-4-5 batters in the lineup, no one had a lower BAA than Jacob Turner who held batters to .119, Shaun Marcum of the Mets was next at .129.