Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching Debate: Jeff Locke vs Vance Worley
It’s well known at this stage that the 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation will begin with some combination of Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole and A.J. Burnett. After that, the waters get considerably murkier. The Pirates find themselves choosing between Charlie Morton, Jeff Locke, and Vance Worley for the remaining two spots in the rotation.
All reports indicate that Morton will be ready for Opening Day, and despite pitching to the tune of a 3.72 ERA, a 1.27 WHIP and a 6-12 record in 26 starts, he still can eat innings. He doesn’t give up home runs, and actually improved his strikeouts per 9 innings to 7.2. Provided he doesn’t have any setbacks, he will be your fourth starter.
That leaves us with two pitchers for one spot. Barring any last-minute Neal Huntington-magic, the choices for the Pirates are Jeff Locke and Vance Worley. On first glance, these aren’t good options, or at least exciting ones, for a lot of fans. Looking a bit deeper, the decision becomes a little bit clearer.
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Vance Worley came up from the minors in June of 2014 and quickly gained the trust of Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage with his efficiency. Out of 1,578 total pitches in 2014, Worley threw 68% (1,078 strikes). His walks per 9 innings was a scant 1.8, down from an average of 3.0 the past two seasons. Yes, Worley clearly enjoyed his time hooked up to the Searage Rejuvenation Engine, posting career lows in ERA (2.85), WHIP (1.21), and his lowest walk total in any season in which he had at least 15 starts (22).
All Pittsburgh Pirates fans know what a magical first half of the season Jeff Locke had in 2013. All Pirates fans recoiled in horror at his second half that same year. Locke started the season in 2014 in the minors, fixing his issues. Or did he?
Overall, Locke’s 2014 numbers were not bad, but not great. Certainly they were “good enough” for a fifth starter. A 3.91 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and 89 K in 131.1 IP do not show that this guy was an all-star in 2013. It clearly shows someone who belongs on major league staff, however. Looking a bit deeper, he was just not as efficient as Worley. Locke labored through the year, throwing 1,962 total pitches on the year, almost 400 more than Worley while only having 4 more starts than Vance. Despite this, Locke did successfully work on his number one problem from 2013: walks. He lowered free passes to 40, down from 84 the year before, an average of .7 walks per game. Then there is the ever-scientific “eye test.” You just never know what you are going to get from Locke with each start. Fans were left to guess: Which 2013 Locke is going to show up?
Taking all of that into account, I have a lot of trouble trusting Locke to take the ball every fifth day, and I suspect a lot of other Bucco fans do as well. To me, the choice is clear. Give the ball to the guy who has a good work rate, keeps batters off guard, and can do just as much as Locke while being more reliable. Give the ball to The Vanimal.