A Tale of Two Good Starts

by Bill M on May 25, 2013 · 0 comments

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Jeff Locke

Locke’s been a revelation for the Buccos so far this season, going 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA.  He wasn’t a top prospect (was not a familiar name on Top 100 lists), so this success begs the question: is he for real, or is he smoke and mirrors?

He has a 4.21 xERA and a 4.40 FIP, meaning he’s outpitching his stats.  He has a ridiculously low 0.223 BABIP, which is pretty much luck.  That is going to regress to the mean (~0.300) at some point, meaning he could have a terrible stretch to get back there.  Then again, it might not completely correct until next season.  I’ve seen that happen a lot since I started paying attention to the indicator 7-8 years ago.  He doesn’t strike out a ton (5.5 K/9) and he doesn’t have great control (3.8 BB/9), putting in question his command.

I went ahead and put together some league average/aggregate stats.  The NL overall ERA is 3.77; the average NL starter is approximately 3.85 (there are some relief performances captured in that calculation).  So, he’s a bit below average if he was performing at the expectation of his indicators, but honestly, he was closer than I would have expected just glancing at the stats.

This all points to “smoke and mirrors,” but there’s more to the story.

There is some good news, too.  He keeps the ball on the ground well (49% GB rate), which is good for sustainability, and his pitch chart is heavy red in the lower half of the zone, so this makes sense.  He throws FB 56% of the time, but he has three other pitches (sinker, curve, change) that he throws anywhere between 10-18% of the time.  That’s a pretty good mix.  He only averages 91 on the FB, 90 on the sinker, but his other two are less than 80 MPH, so there’s a ton of separation to keep batters off balance.

There are also some nice trends.  He’s stopped giving up the long-ball in his last 31 days, (0.2 HR/9), supported by his better than average GB rate.  He’s also brought the K/9 over 6 while lowering the BB/9 from the high-3s to the low-3s, resulting in 2.0 CMD, which is the baseline between good and bad command.  His Baseball HQ Pure Quality Starts (PQS) DOM/DIS rates are 44/11, which is not great but is solid.  Put it this way, there are a lot of pitchers with far worse ratios.  4 of his last 6 starts have been DOM.

So, 2.73 ERA?  Definitely not.  Decent back end starter?  I say yes…

Francisco Liriano

It’s a very small sample of just 3 starts and 18 innings pitched, but Liriano has been absolutely fantastic in his start as a Pirate.  He’s currently boasting a 1.00 ERA with a 12.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9.  Those are otherworldly ratios.

What do his indicators say?  Well, he has a 0.311 BABIP, well within a reasonable norm.  He has a 1.18 FIP.  He’s throwing his fastball and sinker in the 93 mph range, slider and change 85-86.  He’s also mixing his pitches very well, throwing all four of his between 18% and 31% of the time.

This is looking very legit…but as with Locke, there’s more to the story.

His red zones on the pitching chart are primarily in the middle, which is potentially a dangerous place to live.  He also has a startlingly high line drive rate of 33%.  He’s obviously withstood it so far, but you have to think it will bite him if it continues.  I tend to think it’s a small sample outlier, but it cannot be ignored.

Overall, things look very bright for Liriano, with the obvious caveat of his health.  He’s also not going to maintain his 1.00 ERA, but I see him being closer to the top of the rotation than the back end.

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