So, just like that, the Marlins starting rotation would appear to be set. Adam Conley, Wei-Yin Chen, Edinson Volquez, Tom Koehler, and now Locke bringing up the rear. Conley has flashed a bevy of promise, and he’s backed by a boatload of innings-eating experience. Locke has pitched over 120 IP in four straight seasons, has an All-Star campaign under his belt, and was a key cog for a team that made the playoffs three of the past four years.
But was he signed to be a starter necessarily? I’m not convinced that’s a slam dunk.
Last season, Locke had his worst year since 2012, posting a 5.44 ERA. That’s only marginally better than Jose Urena‘s mark of 6.13, which is concerning since one is an established veteran, while the other is still a developing player. Volquez is coming off a down year as well, but has the track record to suggest it could have just been a blip. Locke has been on the downturn for three consecutive seasons.
However, there is one interesting caveat to his dismal 2016 production: he was actually better as a reliever.
At least in terms of ERA, to the tune of a 3.38 to 5.86 disparity between relieving and starting. Batting average, WHIP, and on-base percentage do slightly favor him as a starter, which are all better metrics to go by, but all the same I think it would be wise to not pencil him in as the fifth starter until we see how the rest of the week plays out.
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If the Marlins sign one of their rumored top targets, and ink either Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen to elevate an already good bullpen to truly elite status, then Locke is likely the only external competition you’ll see brought in for the fifth starer spot. But I do think even in that scenario, it will be a true competition with Urena, whether Locke’s contract is an MLB deal or not.
On the other hand, if the Marlins can’t lure one of top two closers to Little Havana, then I’d expect the club to not only go after a couple of those Koji Uehara– Brad Ziegler type targets, but to make a run at bringing on another slightly higher upside starting candidate as well. In that event, look for Locke to serve as the long reliever, spot starter out of the bullpen.