2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Gradeout – Jeff Locke
By Tyler Waite
The offseason is unfortunately here and so we are simultaneously tasked with reflecting on the 2015 season and looking forward to next spring. As part of Rumbunter’s off-season coverage, we will be grading out virtually every member of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent substantial time on the team’s 25-man roster over the past season. We will look at their seasons as a whole, show you their relevant stats, and assign a final grade to each player. Today’s entry: Jeff Locke
To the disappointment of many Pirate fans, Jeff Locke returned to the rotation again in 2015. Locke has been one of the most universally disliked Pirates over the past few seasons for his on-field performance, and while the reasons for that dislike haven’t always been completely justified in the past, they became justified this past season. To sum it up, Locke has regressed since 2013, and he was arguably one of the worst starters in all of baseball this year. But before we throw out a letter grade and call it a day, however, let’s take a closer look at why Locke may not receive the best grade for his play in 2015.
Above are the stats for Locke over the past three seasons. As you can see, Locke’s ERA went up from 2013 to 2014, and from 2014 to 2015, and his WAR has gone down from 2013 to 2015. Giving Locke a full starting shot in 2013 was understandable. The team still hadn’t had that first winning season, and Locke hadn’t been given a full season of work yet. Bringing him back in 2014 also made sense, especially as a back of the rotation starter, considering the promise he had shown in 2013. But after he regressed in 2014, it made sense that seeing Locke in 2015 yet again frustrated some people. In my opinion, Locke deserved one more shot to prove himself. He had always shown the ability to have the occasional great start, and he had two great first halves in 2013 and 2014. If he could put it all together for one full season, he could be a serviceable back-end starter.
Locke started out the year as the number-five starter in the rotation. Many were surprised (myself included) to see him beat out Vance Worley for that fifth spot. And he certainly pitched like a number five starter. Locke had two good starts to begin his season, but then pitched poorly for the majority of the rest of the season. His season ERA never dropped below 4.00 after April 23rd, which was just his third start of the season. He had a good stretch towards the end of June and into early July, but he again fell back down to earth after that. By the time the season was over, Locke finished with a 4.49 ERA, good for third worst in the National League, and a 1.42 WHIP, also good for third worst in the NL.
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The Pirates were hoping that Locke would at least pitch like a serviceable back-end starter in 2015, but he didn’t deliver. While he did have the occasional good start, and arguably the best outing of his career on July 4th against the Indians (eight innings, no runs), Locke’s biggest problem all year long was his inability to pitch deep into games. Giving up three or four runs would be decent for a number five starter if he could last into the seventh or even just the sixth inning, but he couldn’t do that very often. He averaged just 5.60 innings per outing, and pitched seven or more innings just four times all season long. And just like Charlie Morton, Locke seemed to regress as the season went on. After pitching to a sub-four ERA in June and July, he had a 5.46 ERA in August and a 4.67 ERA in September. If the Pirates had made the NLDS or had gone further, it wouldn’t have been a shock to see Jeff Locke not on the playoff roster.