A Mike Leake Update

Mike Leake went from Arizona State to the Arizona Fall League to Goodyear, Arizona to Cincinnati in the blink of an eye. The Reds selected the 6-1, 190 pound right-hander with the eighth pick in the 2009 draft, and after impressive fall league and spring training performances, Leake cracked the major league rotation to open 2010.

Leading up to the draft, Baseball America said the following about Leake:

What he lacks in pure physicality, he makes up for in athleticism and results. Leake pounds the strike zone with a fastball that sits 88-92 mph. He can dial it up to 94, but prefers to work at lower speeds to get more movement. Throwing from a lower three-quarters arm slot, he gets a lot of armside run and sink on his fastball that results in a lot of groundballs. He also throws a changeup, slider and cutter that grade out as above-average offerings.

In five starts so far, Leake has posted rates of 5.88 K/9 and 4.28 BB/9, with a strong 54.5 percent ground ball rate. His ERA (2.94) outpaces his expected FIP (4.37), as Leake has benefitted from a low .263 batting average on balls in play, a 6.9 home run per fly ball rate (the big league average is around 10-12 percent) and a 77.7 percent strand rate that’s probably going to come down some. That’s not to take a negative outlook on his start: for a guy with very limited professional experience to reach the majors and perform at a league-average clip from the get-go is quite impressive.

Leake has placed 48.2 percent of his pitches within the strike zone (right at the MLB average), while getting a first pitch strike 58.9 percent (57.7% MLB average). After issuing 12 free passes against the Cubs and Pirates, Leake has shown much better control over his last three starts. Hitters are making contact 82.8 percent of the time (80.7% MLB average), and tallying swinging strikes 6.4 percent (8.3% MLB average).

That BA scouting report noted Leake’s laundry list of pitches, and the Sun Devils star hasn’t been bashful about mixing all of them into his game plan. According to Trip Somers’ Pitch F/X Tool, Leake is showcasing an 88-89 MPH sinker, an 80-81 MPH slider, an 83 MPH changeup, a 77 MPH curveball, an 89 MPH cutter and an 88-89 MPH four-seam fastball (it could probably be lumped in with the sinker, but the pitch has slightly less tailing action in on righty batters). Here are the strike and whiff percentages for the pitches so far, compared to the major league average:

Leake’s sinker is getting strikes, if few whiffs. His slider and changeup have been excellent, getting batters to swing and miss at rates well above the major league average. Those hitters are having a hard time laying off the slider and change: they have swung at the slider 54.1 percent (47.7% MLB average) and the changeup 60 percent (48.1% MLB average). The less-utilized curve and cutter aren’t hitting the mark or fooling opponents.

Overall, Leake’s beginning in the majors has to be considered a success. He’s throwing strikes after a bumpy beginning and getting plenty of grounders. The 22 year-old hasn’t missed a lot of bats, and he might not be a huge strikeout pitcher in the long run. But with an expansive repertoire, average K rates, good control and a tendency to keep the ball down, Leake could become a poor man’s Tim Hudson.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

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Eric H.
Eric H.

A poor man’s Tim Hudson? Wow, what a compliment. I hope the kid doesn’t let it go to his head.