Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The Pittsburgh Pirates should probably move Jeff Locke to a safe house somewhere because, after A.J. Burnett was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday, Locke is the last man standing.
Burnett's torn calf muscle has made him the third member of Pittsburgh's Opening Day rotation, and seventh starter overall, to hit the disabled list this season.
Currently, Wandy Rodriguez is out with left forearm tightness, James McDonald is on the DL with right shoulder discomfort, Jeanmar Gomez is sidelined with right forearm tightness and Jeff Karstens is out with right shoulder inflammation that required surgery.
Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton also started the season on the disabled list due to a fractured right arm and Tommy John surgery, respectively.
Jonathan Sanchez started the season in the rotation, but is no longer with the team. There was no injury; he's just awful.
That leaves Locke, who won a spot in Pittsburgh's rotation this spring with a 2.63 ERA, as the lone wolf. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Locke has been fantastic this season, going 6-1 with a 2.19 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP. He has given up no runs in six of his 14 starts.
He allowed just two hits and no runs over seven innings Friday against the Dodgers in his latest gem. Perhaps sensing that they have to keep this guy safe, the Pirates removed him after just 75 pitches.
Locke was never expected to last this long in the rotation; he was supposed to be a placeholder until Liriano, Karstens and Morton returned.
Baseball America ranked Locke as Pittsburgh's No. 10 prospect in November 2011 after his sixth season of minor league ball, and he went 10-5 with a 2.48 ERA with Triple-A Indianapolis in 2012, but he wasn't considered to be in the class of 2011 No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole or 2010 No. 2 overall pick Jameson Taillon coming into this season.
However, Locke has performed like an ace this season even though certain stats predict he'll fall off the cliff eventually.
Locke's fielding-independent pitching (FIP) is 3.81, and his -1.62 ERA minus FIP is third worst in baseball this season. He has a 3.94 BB/9, but has benefited from a BABIP of .233 that is unsustainable with a 20.9 line-drive rate.
While the lefty has been sensational with runners in scoring position (RISP) -- batters are 7-for-52 (.115) with an 11.9 percent line-drive rate and a 59.5 percent groundball rate with RISP against Locke -- his .136 BABIP in those situations also is unsustainable, even with that incredibly low line-drive rate. Some of those grounders are going to find holes, and his 84.4 percent strand rate, fifth best in baseball, will drop.
Even if Locke finishes with a 3.50 ERA over 200 innings this season, that still means the lefty is going to post a 4.44 ERA in his next 117 2/3 innings. And a 3.50 ERA might even be generous, especially if you trust his FIP.
Locke may be a marked man in Pittsburgh's rotation given all the injuries this season, but for fantasy owners, regression is a much bigger concern.
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