Pirates’ Jeff Locke has been lights-out early on this season


As someone who paid relatively little attention to the Pittsburgh Pirates ahead of this winter, I had little knowledge of how much of a ‘love-or-hate’ relationship fans had with left-hander Jeff Locke. After Saturday’s outing, there’s bound to be a lot more love for Locke in the Steel City.

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Taking on the Milwaukee Brewers, the southpaw turned in eight innings of one-run ball, striking out six and walking none. On the season, Locke has walked just one in 14 innings of work – as his command has been spot-on through his first two outings.

So what’s made the 2013 National League All-Star so dominant early-on this season? Apart from his command being spot-on, Locke has altered his pitch make-up from last season, with percentages falling much more in-line with his breakout 2013 campaign.

What does that mean? It means Locke is throwing more curveballs and fewer change-ups. Last year, the lefty threw his change-up a career-high 24.1 percent of the time, according to Fangraphs. However, this season, he has backed off that particular offspeed pitch – throwing it just 21.1 percent of the time.

What’s surprising, though, is that even though Locke has been throwing his change-up less this season, our very own Jason Rollison broke down the ‘best’ pitch of each starting pitcher on the Bucs staff last month and found that his change was actually his most effective pitch. Either way, for Locke, it all comes down to control – something he struggled with last season.

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In 2014, Locke got hitters to swing-and-miss on pitches outside of the zone just over 32 percent of the time. That mark was actually better than his 2013 campaign numbers, and in just two starts this year, he’s improved that clip yet again. Opposing batters are swinging and missing on pitches outside the strike zone over 40 percent of the time.

Across the board, contact percentages – both inside and outside the strike zone – are up so far this year. You could make the case that Locke is flirting with danger, but – as Jason pointed out before the season began – for the left-hander, it’s all about location.

If he’s hitting his spots and mixing speeds effectively, another All-Star-caliber campaign in 2015 isn’t out of the question for the Pittsburgh Pirates southpaw. But if he starts missing, another 2014 could easily come to fruition.

Next: Jeff Locke dominant as Bucs win again