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June 20, 2013 posted by Josh Kay

Buying Into Jeff Locke?

Buying Into Jeff Locke?
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Is Jeff Locke too risky?

Is Jeff Locke too risky?

Jeff Locke is surprising the entire fantasy industry this season with an unbelievable performance through his first 14 starts. Locke is 6-1 with a 2.19 ERA a 1.14 WHIP and 60 strikeouts in 87 innings. As we dig deeper into Locke’s season we find huge red flags; a .233 batting average on balls in play and an 18 percent strikeout rate to go with a 10 percent walk rate.

Given those numbers, it is incredibly unlikely that Locke maintains this level of success throughout the season. However, Locke does have something going in his favor; a 60% ground ball rate and some very intriguing first pitch strike splits.

We know how important it is for pitchers to be ahead in the count, but that importance can fly a bit under the radar until we see the staggering statistics. Here are the stats from 2013 so far.

Count: Triple Slash HR Per PA BABIP
After 0-1 .224/.264/.341 2.09% .293
After 1-0 .269/.378/.441 2.93% .299
Batter Ahead .295/.461/.502 3.27% .298
Even Count .269/.274/.424 3.00% .298
Pitcher Ahead .204/.212/.299 1.67% .290

 

Jeff Locke has room for improvement in his first pitch strike percentage. He currently sits with a 57.7 percent rate which comes in five percentage points lower than his mark last season. Locke must increase his first pitch strike percentage because he actually sports some pretty impressive statistics after a first pitch strike.

K% after 0-1 K% after 1-0 BB% after 0-1 BB% after 1-0 xFIP after 0-1 xFIP after 1-0
27% 13.5% 7.2% 17.7% 2.68 5.57

 

If Locke can increase his first pitch strike percentage back up to the 62 percent it was last season,  it would give more weight to his xFIP through 0-1 counts. His xFIP would be calculated like this:

(2.68 x .62) + (5.57 x .38) = 3.77

While future prognostication does not work this way, it’s important to note the effective changes in Locke’s xFIP should he throw more first pitch strikes. Locke also does a much better job of limiting hard contact resulting in extra base hits through 0-1 counts as opposed to 1-0 counts.

ISO after 0-1 ISO after 1-0 wOBA after 0-1 wOBA after 1-0
.076 .170 .205 .365

 

Fantasy Baseball is about percentage plays; we play the percentages because no matter how much we know, players will perform as they darn well please and we just have to try to make the best decisions we can with the information available to us.

In the right situation Jeff Locke can be a buying opportunity for a struggling team acquiring him from an owner who thinks he is fleecing you. Locke does have a history of excellent strikeout to walk rates in the minors and it’s worth noting that he’s only 25-years-old. He recorded a 24.6 percent strikeout rate and a 8.2 percent walk rate in 2012 over 30 innings as a starter in his first call up. Locke has upside worth tapping into because we’ve seen this before. Let’s compare Jeremy Hellickson’s first two seasons with that of Jeff Locke.

Player Year IP ERA WHIP K% BB% XFIP
Jeff Locke 2012 30 6.30 1.53 23.0% 7.4% 3.61
2013 82.1 2.19 1.14 18.1% 10.9% 4.04
Jeremy Hellickson 2010 36.1 3.47 1.10 22.2% 5.4% 3.83
2011 189 2.95 1.15 15.1% 9.3% 4.72

 

Locke’s struggles (in terms of peripherals) through his first full season are very comparable to those of Hellickson’s. If Locke can tap into those skills of 2012 and parlay them to his second half of 2013, we may see another classic scenario where a pitcher outperforms his skills with a low ERA but then improves his skills in the second half making for one magical season. Does this remind anyong of Doug Fister in 2012?

Owners near the bottom of the standings should embrace risk and target Jeff Locke as a trade candidate or waiver add.

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