May 13, 2010
Will He Spring A Leake?
Mike Leake surprised many by making his way into the Red's rotation from the start of the season, but that is basically why he was drafted by Cincinnati in the first place. They felt he was nearly a finished product, one that could help at the big league level almost immediately—after a stint in the Arizona Fall League and an impressive spring training performance, the 22-year old was named the fifth starter.
Leake started the year out a little questionably with seven walks against five strikeouts, but he's been much better than that with keeping the free passes in check since. While his season numbers show him to be at 6.2 strikeouts per nine with 3.8 walks per nine (just a bit above the league average of 3.6), cutting out his first major league start has him at 6.1 whiffs per nine and 2.6 walks per nine, a figure that's much easier to deal with. He allowed five walks in his second start, but has given up 1, 2, 1 and 1 in each of his last four starts, and has gone at least seven innings deep in four of those five.
We're just talking about a 34 inning sample here when you ignore his debut, but given he is 22 and skipped the minor leagues entirely, it's hard not to be impressed already. His SIERA, even with those seven walks back, is 4.07. Given Leake was considered nearly a finished product as far as development goes, it's hard to picture him getting significantly better than he is now, but a pitcher capable of a SIERA in the high 3's has a lot of value in both real life and in fantasy.
The take on Leake thus far has been to wait it out and see how much better he does before picking him up—he's owned in just under 22 percent of ESPN leagues, and I was able to scoop him up in one of my own leagues just this weekend via FAAB. Yes, he has a BABIP of .251, which is well below the league-average, but as you can see from his SIERA there is no reason to hide from him. He's not going to overwhelm you with strikeouts, but 6.2 per nine is solid enough, he's kept the ball in the park, and his walk rate (and WHIP) drop each time out. Sure, the hits might start falling and his BABIP will rise, but as long as his walk rate is more like starts two through six and not like his first, then you don't need to worry about that anyways.
Leake is going to get groundball outs, and he's going to strike out enough hitters to get himself out of jams and keep his ERA down. He may not be available in NL-only leagues, but he's worked his way into becoming an option in mixed leagues. When Aroldis Chapman gets his eventual call-up, Leake will not be the guy losing his spot in the rotation if his first 40 innings have anything to say about it.