Acquired as part of the Kevin Plawecki trade ahead of the 2019 season, Walker Lockett’s Mets career didn’t get off to the best start. Despite being reasonably successful in the high-minors, the big righty struggled mightily in his 22.2 major league innings, posting a ghastly 8.34 ERA. Now, with Noah Syndergaard out for the year, significant injury risk in the current rotation, and a very thin depth chart in the upper minors, the Mets find themselves one break away from Lockett getting significant innings in this abbreviated season—if Lockett himself is healthy, as he was placed on the injured list recently with lower back discomfort.
Lockett was pretty much who we thought he was when he was acquired from the Indians. His low-90s fastball doesn’t move a ton or induce whiffs, nor does his curve or changeup. He did an okay job of keeping the ball on the ground, though it’s worth noting he had more success in the minors in that regard. Most importantly, Lockett demonstrated that the disastrous control he exhibited during his brief major league debut in 2018 was just a blip, and he got the free passes back under control last season.
Per Baseball Prospectus’ advanced metrics, 2019 was actually an significant improvement for Lockett at the major league level. In 2018, Lockett registered a 9.60 ERA backed by a 135.1 DRA- (35 percent worse than league average). Compare that to 2019, where his ERA didn’t shift a whole lot but his DRA- came in at a much more playable 101.9 (two percent worse than league average). In other words, DRA thinks that Lockett showed real improvement and just got unlucky.
There’s certainly some merit to that idea. Lockett allowed a .365 BABIP in 2019, and while he’s allowed high BABIPs in the minors and gave up an above average amount of hard-hit line drives, that number remains a bit extreme. What was also extreme was a 23.1% HR/FB rate, something that would almost certainly regress given a larger sample. None of this is to say he’s a budding ace, but with some slightly better luck, Lockett could probably exist in the 110-120 DRA- range - not good, but perfectly usable as a depth starter type.
While it wouldn’t be ideal for Lockett to get significant starts, it probably wouldn’t be the catastrophe you might expect from just a cursory glance at Lockett’s stat sheet. The Mets starting depth certainly isn’t good (if you want an example of that, take a look at the Braves) and giving any innings to a below average arm is never great, but having a cheap, young-ish option that can keep you in games is more than the Mets have had in plenty of seasons. Hopefully that’s what Lockett can be if called upon in 2020.