Jeff Locke has been given every chance to succeed in a major league starting staff, and he hasn’t taken advantage of those opportunities. Yes, he made the 2013 National League All-Star team after a stellar first half of the season (8-2 with a 2.15 ERA). But he collapsed in the second half, going 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA after the all-star break before losing a spot in the rotation. He was given another chance in 2014 for a starting spot, but it was the same story all over again. He went 2-1 with a 2.89 ERA in the first half and 5-5 with a 4.66 ERA in the second half. This season, he’s 2-2 with a 4.71 ERA and is obviously not off to a great start.
Yes, he can be a serviceable number four or five starter in many rotations in baseball. But the Pittsburgh Pirates do not have one of those rotations. Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, and A.J. Burnett have each pitched like aces early on this season and have rotation spots more than locked down. Jeff Locke has pitched alongside Vance Worley at the back of the rotation ever since Charlie Morton went on the disabled list earlier this season. Before long, however, Morton will be done rehabbing and he will return to the rotation, whether he deserves to or not. He’s making too much money to pitch out of the bullpen and won’t be designated for assignment. When he’s been healthy, Morton’s been a solid number three starter. The issue is that he’s never healthy; he’s only started more than 20 games three times in his seven-year career.
Someone has to sit for Morton, and Locke should be that guy.
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There are those that will say, “But Locke had a great last start!” To them, I say, “No, he didn’t.” He gave up three runs over 6.2 innings, which is average at best. He’s been all over the map this season in general, and has fallen off since his first two starts. The earned runs he’s given up per outing from his first start to his most recent one, respectively, have been two, one, four, five, four, and three. Those last four starts have me questioning whether Vance Worley wouldn’t be a better alternative.
Locke has a 4.71 ERA this season; Worley has a 4.63 ERA. Both are 2-2 and have similar strikeout totals, but Worley’s WHIP is 1.54 to Locke’s 1.35. Worley’s had three starts in which he’s allowed two runs or less; Locke’s had two. Essentially, however, both players have had similar seasons, but many fans and analysts will point to each pitcher’s most recent start as to why Locke should remain a starter and Worley shouldn’t. Let’s not have recency bias. How many chances is Locke going to get?
Worley has better career numbers than Locke (3.81 ERA for Worley vs. 4.07 for Locke) and is coming off a much better season than Locke (2.85 ERA and 1.6 WAR for Worley vs. 3.91 ERA and 0.3 WAR for Locke). Worley deserves to be given a chance to replicate the success he had last season; Locke has already been given multiple chances. Unfortunately, management isn’t on Worley’s side (Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette agrees). Manager Clint Hurdle awarded the final rotation start to Locke to start the season despite Worley’s 2014 success and a better spring training than Locke (4.71 ERA for Worley vs. 6.27 ERA for Locke). Maybe it’s because Locke is a lefty, or maybe it’s because he’s been with the team longer. Maybe it’s because he traditionally has success early in the season. But that success hasn’t come yet this year, and the apparent “need” to have a certain number of lefties in a rotation is outdated (see: right-handed success of the St. Louis Cardinals).
Jeff Locke should sit when Charlie Morton returns from his rebab assignment. Vance Worley deserves a shot this season. But that won’t happen. Hurdle will delegate Worley to the bullpen and sent a reliever down, and this writer will vehemently disagree.