June 9, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Reid Compton-USA TODAY Sports
We’re all very excited to have Gerrit Cole debuting for the Pirates, and with good reason. It’s hard not to get excited about a big right-hander who has the kind of fastball and slider combo Cole has. In our excitement, let’s not forget the Pirates have another exciting young pitcher on the roster who’s been playing stellar baseball this season. Jeff Locke has been awesome, to the tune of 5-1, an ERA of 2.39, and a WHIP of 1.208. Some of his numbers lead many to believe he won’t be able to sustain his success over the course of this season(his FIP is 4.47), and that may very well be true. So far, the advanced statistics have been wrong though, and we hope that continues.
Obviously Pirates fans are sick of hearing about the future. We’ve been hearing about the future for years on end, without any real results. But let’s think about what the Pirates have on their hands with Locke right now. Locke is a lefty with a good low 90s fastball, a two-seamer that is his best pitch (an excellent pitch for inducing lots of groundouts, which he’s getting tons of this year). That two seam fastball along with a delivery that he’s changed to be a bit more deceptive have fed his success so far this year. He’s not throwing as many strikes as he usually has(his prospect reports often mention decent to above average command), but when pitchers make mechanics changes, it usually takes a while for them to get the same feel for the strike zone that they may have had before.
Locke’s numbers this year might be unsustainable, but what about the fact that he’s only twenty-five? This is his first full season in the big leagues, and while his FIP might suggest he shouldn’t be having the success he’s currently enjoying, he’s still working well. At his current age, and how early this is in his career as a big leaguer, we ought to be even more impressed with Locke’s success. He won’t be a free agent until 2019. We all want positive results from the Pirates right now, but what about all the years to come?
There are a lot of contingencies, but if Locke maintains success like he has at this point, and Cole and Taillon both become the pitchers we expect them to be, the Pirates rotation is still going to be very dangerous over the next several years, even given the inevitable losses of Wandy Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett. Locke should only continue to improve for the next several years, and the front three of a rotation featuring two fire-balling righties, and a lefty with the kind of stuff to perfectly fit in the crafty lefty model would be a great foundation to build a pitching staff around.
Of course right now most of this is just speculation, but the Pirates are putting themselves in a healthy position with their current development of pitching, the overall quality of the farm system, and an offense led by bright young talents like Andrew McCutchen, and Starling Marte. They’re not an elite team yet, but if they continue to develop as they are right now, the Pirates will be a scary team to play over the next several years, all thanks to the young arms that are being developed right now.