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Player Profile: Mike Leake

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You’re buying high, but he’s still a great value.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Last year Mike Leake pitched 214 innings, had 11 wins, 164 strikeouts, a 3.7 ERA, and a 1.246 WHIP. Nothing about that seems very impressive besides his inning total, but there was more than what met the eye.

I got bored and played around with all starters underlying stats and wanted to see who did well in stats like K/9, BB/9, GB%, FB%, and BABIP. I was inspired to do this by Bret Sayre, a writer who was formerly here at Faketeams, and is now at Baseball Prospectus, he does an excellent job and he used to write an article called "the holy trinity of pitching." I’m not sure if he still does it (google says he doesn’t or renamed it), but it was an excellent piece, and I’ve done it on my own in years past because of his great idea. I’m not going to repost the list he would have had, but I have recreated it, and I thought I should show what I came across in Mike Leake. So before I get into this, thank you for the hard work and great idea Bret Sayre.

A pitcher can’t control more much more than his ability to strike batters out, walk them, and induce ground balls or fly balls. Obviously, ground balls are favorable to fly balls, so lets stick with GB%, although there were some interesting guys who consistently got players to hit fly balls, and have high infield fly ball percentages.

Last year he started his 5th pro season at the age of 26 and he continued to build upon his strength. Mike Leake’s best underlying stat last year was his 53.4% ground ball rate. 50% is an excellent rate and Mike was twelfth best in the MLB. Inducing ground balls at this rate is going to:

  1. Severely suppress your home run rates
  2. Help induce a higher rate of double plays than normal
  3. Allow your team to effectively use infield shifts

Both of those things are great for pitchers. But then when you move to our next barometer of skill, BB/9, Leake’s value continues to rise. Mike Leake was #32 in the MLB among qualified starters with a 2.1 BB/9. While strikeout rate is usually a top priority for fantasy players, great walk rates are frequently underrated. Out of the top 10 pitchers in BB/9, half were pitchers who greatly outperformed their draft stock (Phil Hughes, Iwakuma, Colon, Brandon McCarthy, Kuroda, and Henderson Alvarez). Long story short, limiting walks, limits damage, which in turn makes Mike Leake a safer pick that most pitchers, and definitely safer than the pitchers around him in ADP (297 in ESPN).

Before I get into the next part of this, If anyone wants to give me a lesson on how to use brooksbaseball.com’s tabular data and the velocity/movement charts more effectively, feel free to chime in in the comments. This is my first article about a pitcher after writing here for 6 months for a good reason, these charts aren’t easy to understand.

Anyways, the first thing I looked at were Leake’s whiff rates versus lefties and righties, courtesy of Brooks Baseball

Righties

Lefties

These rates aren’t spectacular, but they are something to work with. Like many pitchers, if he keeps the ball down, and lets the ball break more to the opposite side of his throwing arm (the bottom right of the whiff chart), he produces more whiffs. This is normal for pitchers who feature a slider or curveball (Leake throws both).

Now his velocity leaves something to be desired. His 92mph average fastball is nice, but his 85 mph change up doesn’t create enough of a gap to force hitters to really adjust for one or the other. When you look at his movement charts, nothing really jumps out at you as exceptional, either. Which seems normal for a pitcher who shouldn’t expect a K/9 of greater than 7.5 at best. But this leads us back to his BB/9. Mike Leake has excellent control of his pitches. He is going to throw strikes and they will consistently be on the edges. Major League hitters can hit strikes, but the closer to the edge of the zone you get, or outside the worse they become. Leake’s lack of exceptional stuff places a need for control, which he has, which in turn induces lots of weak contact, and quick at bats. If Leake can grow and even slightly improve upon his 2014, we could be looking at a pitcher with solid rates, who is an inning eating machine.

In review, Mike Leake is not the centerpiece of anyone’s team, but if you look at the champions of most fantasy leagues, great reliable pitching depth is frequently a characteristic of them.  Being elite in BB/9 and GB% gives a great opportunity for a player to have a high floor. Please give Mike Leake a look to round out your rotation this season.