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9 IP, 3 H, K. Yep, that’s the line from Jeff Locke’s most recent start against a Marlins offense that ranks fifth in team TAv and sixth in VORP (no, Giancarlo Stanton wasn’t in the lineup, or Dee Gordon for that matter, but the Fish can still hit, somehow). Locke has actually been quite useful in the month of May as a streamer, with clunkers @CHC and home against the excellent D’backs—neither of which should’ve seen him in anyone’s active lineup anyway—mixed in among four quality starts in which he pitched to a 2.48 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP across 29 innings. Are those stats cherry-picked? Kind of. Not really. They’re the whole point of streaming, and Locke’s been a dandy of an option lately. And I suspect he’ll continue to be an option on most of your waiver wires over the next several weeks, as is his lot in mixed league fantasy baseball life. He’s currently the fifth-most added player in Sportsline leagues, however, so perhaps we should dive in a little bit and figure out what’s going on with his recent production. Most importantly, is he worth the add? Should we expect him to remain a viable option through his next few turns?

Locke has manipulated his pitch mix significantly in the early going, and it’s been a key driver of his sporadic success. He’s back to throwing his four-seam for more than a third of his pitches, and that heavy rotation marks the first time the pitch has been in the ballpark of his two-seamer in terms of deployment frequency since his All-Star campaign back in 2013. The four-seamer’s got significantly less horizontal movement than your average four. All of his pitches stay a lot truer on their east-west axis than batters are used to, in fact.

Locke has faced about 75 percent right-handed hitters thus far, and when he faces right-handed hitters he’s throwing a lot of four-seam fastballs, and he’s backing them up with a steady diet of changeups as usual. Locke’s change is no different than any of his other pitches, in that it doesn’t move much horizontally. In fact, it has less fade than any other left-handed changeup in baseball. Two results of that: a lot of swings—the second-most generated by any left-handed changeup—and an above-average rate of contact against the pitch. It’s not good contact though. He’s generating a well above-average groundball rate with the pitch, and in tunneling it off his four-seamer exceptionally well he’s managed to limit the overall quality of contact. His exit-velocity rate is well above average, comparable to the likes of John Lackey and Hisashi Iwakuma, and he has similarly suppressed the average batted-ball distance against him.

The contact profile is being put to good use, too. The Pirates shift frequently, and they do so in about 30 percent of the plate appearances batters make against Locke (league-average is just shy of 20 percent). In those plate appearances hitters have put up a .250/.260/.342 line, which translates to an OPS 80 points south of league-average.

All of this is to say that Pittsburgh has yet again managed to figure out a way to make pedestrian left-handed stuff play up into a useful rotation piece. Locke’s margin for error isn’t particularly large, and the lack of strikeouts limit he overall fantasy value. But Locke’s recent run of deep league utility has been supported by his pitch mix and the defensive strategy behind him.

Ah, but the road ahead. Starters like Locke are really only all that useful if and when they match up favorably, so what’s on tap for him? Well, projecting things out too far is always a fool’s errand for Major League pitching matchups, but as things stand now he’s in line for some annoying luck in the coming weeks:

Date

Opp

TAv

VORP

GB%

K%

4-Jun

LAA

18th

19th

30th

23rd

9-Jun

@COL

11th

10th

6th

27th

15-Jun

@NYM

9th

7th

14th

5th

20-Jun

SFG

7th

3rd

11th

15th

25-Jun

LAD

14th

8th

13th

2nd

Yuck. In the event that the Pirates’ five-man rotation holds uninterrupted, his upcoming start against the Angels marks his one and only likely appearance against a below-average offense this month. And Anaheim is one of the worst matchups in the league for him on paper: Angels’ batters make a lot of contact, they hit hit the ball pretty hard overall when they do, and they hit the fewest number of ground balls in baseball. The Coors start’s a non-starter despite six shutout innings he hurled there in April, and then both the Mets and Giants are quality offenses.

I like Jeff Locke and what he’s managed to do this year. He’s made some strategic shifts in how he attacks hitters, and he’s managed to stay reasonably ahead of enough of them adjustment-wise to maintain steady, back-end production for the Pirates. He’s performed quite well in the fantasy situations in which you’d lean on him to perform, too. Unfortunately, you’re probably best served looking elsewhere for back-end NL-only production or mid-depth mixed streaming this month, and given the two absurd talents lurking ever-closer in the high minors, a poor month for Locke against tough opponents may just mean the last of Jeff Locke: streaming option.