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Stats Corner: Locke improves control, becomes vital rotation cog

| Saturday, June 28, 2014, 9:10 p.m.

Over the past year, Jeff Locke has been a major league All-Star, playoff spectator, struggling Triple-A starter and now a vital fill-in for a Pirates rotation that scarcely resembles 2013's dominant group. All but forgotten after registering a 6.12 ERA during the second half of last season, Locke is earning his keep by cutting his walk rate to Cliff Lee-esque levels.

The Pirates left-hander always threw strikes in the minors, issuing just 2.5 walks per nine innings, but that control never translated to the big leagues. Locke had the fourth-highest walk rate (4.3 BB/9) among starters tossing at least 200 innings from 2011-13, besting only Francisco Liriano, Hector Santiago and Edinson Volquez. This year, however, Locke places among the game's best at limiting free passes (minimum 30 innings pitched).

Top strike-throwers

Pitcher Team BB/9

Phil Hughes Twins 0.85

Doug Fister Nationals 0.85

Hisashi Iwakuma Mariners 0.96

David Price Rays 1.02

Jeff Locke Pirates 1.07

Source: Baseball-Reference

Locke virtually has eliminated walks with a two-pronged approach. He's getting ahead in the count, then expanding the strike zone with secondary pitches once hitters are at a disadvantage. Locke threw a first-pitch strike just 58.5 percent of the time last year, below the 60-61 percent MLB average, but he's jumping ahead of batters 62.4 percent in 2014. Working ahead has allowed Locke to induce more swings on pitches off the plate.

Hitters are chasing Locke's stuff out of the strike zone 33.8 percent of the time overall according to Fangraphs, up from 27.7 percent last season. They're having an especially hard time laying off Locke's changeup and curve. The changeup has become his out pitch, as he's throwing it 26.6 percent of the time (16.3 percent in 2013).

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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