(I couldn’t help myself.)
It seems that Mike Leake has taken the Reds’ fifth starter job, making him the first player to skip the minors since Xavier Nady in 2000 and the first pitcher since Darren Dreifort in 1994. (Shame on him for outpacing our crack staff here at FanGraphs, but his player page will be up as soon as he plays a game.) Prospect Maven Marc Hulet will be giving us a detailed scouting report on Leake shortly, so I will focus here on finding a good comp for Leake. That might help us appraise his chances for success in the coming year.
Darren Dreifort doesn’t really make a for a good comp because he had what was considered at the time to be plus-plus tools or stuff, and he also came up as a reliever. Nady’s obviously not a good comp, though with Leake taking the ball for Dusty Baker, he may have as many TJ surgeries in his future as the Cubbies’ outfielder (zing!). Yes he pitches with a different hand, but could Jim Abbott provide us the best comp for Leake?
Abbott was also a first round draft pick that skipped the minor leagues. Just as there’s some skepticism about Leake’s eventual upside, there were rumblings around baseball that the Angels decision to bring Abbott up so quickly was about ticket sales and publicity. Leake is considered a good athlete for his position but his tools are doubted. Abbott was a little taller than Leake (6’3″ to Leake’s 6’0″), but they seem to be of similar build, clocking in around 200-210 pounds each. Mariano Rivera once talked of Abbott hitting home runs in batting practice, and he tripled in a spring training game once, so Abbott was an athletic guy too.
Abbot’s bread and butter was a fastball-curveball combination and eventually succeeded for a while because of slightly above-average control. Leake’s best two pitches are a fastball and a curveball and has above-average command of those two pitches. If only they pitched with the same hand, they’d seem to make a solid comparison.
In some ways, the Abbott comp could be seen as a compliment. After all, Abbott is one of only fourteen left-handers to have more than 12 wins at the age of 21 in the last 80 years. But of course, that’s a terrible stat to use to measure a pitcher, and it’s the other statistics that we are more interested in. Abbott did win those 12 games with a below-average ERA (97 ERA+ in 1989), and aside from the inspirational aspect, his career was not particularly long or distinguished. Given the possibility of an above-average lineup behind him, Leake could win some games in 2010. But those picking him should probably not hope for much more from the Reds’ starter than Abbott gave the Angels in his debut season. Abbott had a 3.92 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, and 5.71 K/9 that year.
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