While left-handed pitcher Jeff Locke spent much of his Pittsburgh Pirates career as a punching bag for many fans, he was a National League All-Star for the Bucs in 2013.
In June 2009, former Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington made a trade that changed the franchise in many ways. This is a trade we will examine in deeper detail later in the week, but in this trade the Pirates sent center fielder Nate McLouth to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for outfield prospect Gorkys Hernandez and pitching prospects Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.
While all three of these players made an impact on the Pittsburgh Pirates making the postseason in three consecutive seasons, today we will focus on just one of these players. That player is the left-handed pitcher of the group – Locke.
Locke made his MLB debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2011 when he pitched in four games. He pitched in eight more games in 2012, before beginning the 2013 season in the team’s starting rotation.
Beginning with that 2013 campaign, Locke became a stalwart with the Pittsburgh Pirates for the next four seasons. While Locke was far from perfect, he started a combined 81 games for the Pirates in 2013, 2014, and 2015, three seasons that ended in postseason berths. This included a pair of 30 start seasons.
While an argument can be made that 2015 was his best season as a Pirate, the 2013 season is the one we will focus on today. That is because during that 2013 season Locke appeared to be emerging as a long term anchor in the Pittsburgh Pirates starting rotation.
2013 was Locke’s first full MLB season. He started games for the Pirates, and posted a 3.52 ERA and a 4.03 FIP in 166.1 innings of work. His HR/9 was a minuscule 0.60, however, his 17.6% strikeout rate was below league average while his 11.8% walk rate was much higher than you ever want to see from a pitcher.
Locke’s efforts in 2013 landed him his first and only NL All-Star nod of his career. The problem was, following the All-Star Break Locke was a completely different pitcher than he was before the break.
Prior to the break, Locke averaged 6.1 innings per start and posted a 2.11 ERA and a 3.76 FIP. He allowed just six home runs (0.47 HR/9), struck out 17.3% of batters faced and walked opposing batters at an 11.1% rate.
The big issue was Locke was benefiting from a .223 batting average on balls in play. Average BAbip is .300, so whenever a pitcher has a BAbip that far below .300 it indicates that he is due for some seriosu regression. That is exactly what would happen to Locke following the 2013 All-Star Break.
In 12 starts after the break, Locke averaged less than 5 innings per start while posting a 6.12 ERA and a 4.46 FIP. His home run rate remained strong, but still rose to 0.78 HR/9. While his strikeout rate rose to 18.9%, his walk rate also rose to 13.5%. His poor second half led to him being left off the postseason roster for both the NL Wild Card Game and the NLDS.
While Locke was not as good as his results pre-ASB, he also was not as bad as his post-ASB results. After Locke benefited greatly from his BAbip before the break, after the break his BAbip rose to .365.
A BAbip that far above .300 indicates that a pitcher was the victim of poor luck, poor defense, or both. Locke’s 4.46 FIP also pointed to a pitcher that was better than his 6+ ERA that he posted after the ASB in 2013.
The 2013 season was a tale of two seasons for Locke. For as good/lucky Locke was before the ASB, he was that poor/unlucky after the break. While 2013 season was a wild one for Locke, it is also one he will never forget as it led to him being named a NL All-Star.