Professional athletes are not that different from us other civilians. They are human, and they are prone to failure just like anybody else, which makes writing this article a bit of a tough chore.
Jeff Locke seems like a decent enough human being. He has been the bulk of many a critic over the past two seasons, and he has managed to keep his head through it all. That being said, his critics have a point, and the Pittsburgh Pirates need to realize that the chances of Locke being a valuable asset in the pitching rotation are next to none. All Pirate fans know Jeff Locke’s story. Yes, he was an all-star in the 2013 rotation, but his success didn’t even last a full season, as he fell off during the second half of that year. From there, Locke’s performance has gradually deteriorated, as he posted a 3.91 ERA in 2014 and a 4.49 ERA in 2015. So, I think it would be fair to say that 2016 is a ”now or never” year for Locke.
After three starts, it looks like ”never” will be the story. Locke pitched well enough in his first outing in Cincinnati, going six innings while allowing just one run. His next start was worse, as Locke walked seven guys in a loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. His latest outing has been his worst of them all. He pitched three innings and allowed eight runs in a blowout loss to the San Diego Padres. Now granted, some of Locke’s earned runs on that night can be attributed to a poor defensive effort, but I think it is crystal clear that Locke’s days are numbered. My message to the Pittsburgh Pirates is very simple: Get Jeff Locke out of the starting rotation.
As a matter of fact, I think it’s fair to say that Jeff Locke has no place on this team. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, has poor command, and he can get lit up like a pinball machine. Not to mention the fact that he is 28 years young, hardly a raw and up-and-coming prospect. I try to think of ways that Locke can realistically improve, and it is not an easy task. As inferred earlier in this paragraph, it would be much simpler to have confidence in Jeff Locke if he was, say, 22 years old, threw 98 on a regular basis, and was just a raw talent with a lot to learn. Unfortunately, Locke is a veteran pitcher who’s fastball tops out in the low 90s and has shown precious little promise over the past two seasons. Now, the question is, who shall replace Locke in the Pirates rotation should he be given the boot?
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You could argue that Jameson Taillon has earned a spot in the rotation. The 2010 #2 overall draft choice has had a hard luck career in the minors with injuries, and he would likely be in the Steel City as we speak if not for the injury bug. Taillon has plenty of experience in the minors, and has been mowing down hitters in AAA Indy in a small sample size in 2016. But let’s just assume Taillon won’t be up until early June. If that is the case, Ryan Vogelsong is the most likely candidate from the big league roster to fill the shoes of DJ Jazzy Jeff. Yes, I am well aware of Vogelsong’s age (38 going on 39) and the fact that his short run of being a stud in San Francisco has probably gone bye-bye. However, Vogelsong showed great promise in is lone start this season against a good Detroit Tigers lineup, and could be another one of Ray Serage’s treasures, albeit on a smaller scale as the likes of AJ Burnett and Edinson Volquez. The main reason Vogelsong deserves a shot at the rotation lies in a simple question: Could he be any worse?
Right now, a 5+ ERA is in the realm of possibility for Jeff Locke should he continue to provide the Pirates with his services. Should Vogelsong be given a shot, I could forsee him posting an ERA in the high-3 range, which wouldn’t remind anybody of Doug Drabek, but would be an upgrade over Locke. Unfortunately, what Clint Hurdle will likely see if and when he compares Locke and Vogelsong is that Locke throws the baseball with his left hand while Vogelsong throws the ball with his right. It seems silly, but the league’s thought process is that a bad left-handed pitcher is of greater use that an average right-handed pitcher. There is a good chance the Pirates think this way as well, and that would be absurd.
What would make it more out of line is that the Bucs already have two left-handed arms in their starting rotation, both of which are better than Jeff Locke, so another lefty just is not necessary. As many of you have probably complained about, Locke has been given a long leash, and I have a hard time imagining that the leash wouldn’t have been cut down if Locke threw with his right hand. I don’t know how you guys see things, but in my eyes, an effective starting pitcher is an effective starting pitcher no matter what the hand. One can only hope that Clint Hurdle and Neil Huntington realize this and finally pull the plug on the Lockeness Monster.
Reverting to this posts’ opening paragraph, I generally hate to see professional athletes fail, especially ones that perform for the teams I love. However, when an athlete can’t cut it, he can’t cut it. I don’t think Jeff Locke cuts it.