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May 31, 2010

On the Beat

Monday Update

by John Perrotto

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The first thing Bronson Arroyo remembers about seeing Mike Leake for the first time is being amused. The second thing Arroyo remembers thinking is that Leake looked familiar.

"I saw this kid in camp who looked like he was a 12-year-old with a goatee," Arroyo, the Reds' right-hander, said with a smile. "I asked (manager) Dusty Baker who the kid was and he said he was our first-round draft pick last year. I couldn't believe he had even been in college. I didn't think he was old enough to go to college. Then when I watched him pitch, I was impressed. He reminded me exactly of myself."

If Leake, selected from Arizona State with eighth overall pick, turns out to be Arroyo, then the Reds will have something good. Arroyo has been a double-digit winner in five of the last six seasons. So far, Leake has given the Reds every reason to think he can be a mainstay in their rotation for years to come, perhaps be even better than Arroyo, even if he certainly looks shorter than his listed height of 6-foot-1 and lighter than his listed weight of 190 pounds.

He is 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his first 10 major-league starts after pitching six shutout innings yesterday in a no-decision against the Astros, pretty impressive considering he is just the 21st player to go straight to the major leagues after being drafted. If not for presence of Braves right fielder Jason Heyward, Leake might be considered the favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year award at the one-third mark of the season. Leake has also helped the Reds get off to a surprise 30-21 start and a one-game lead over the Cardinals in the NL Central.

"He's done a great job," Baker said. "When you first look at him, he doesn't look like much, but he's a battler. He's a kid, but he doesn't back down from anybody. He goes right after the hitters and isn't scared of anyone. We didn't make the decision to bring him to the major leagues without any minor-league experience lightly. We talked about it a lot in spring training. The bottom line, though, was he pitched well enough to make the club, and we certainly have no regrets about our decision."

The Reds' decision to draft Leake last season was a little ironic considering that their general manager is Walt Jocketty. With the Cardinals, Jocketty was fired in 2008 after a 13-year run, and part of the reason was because ownership felt he was too beholden to old-fashioned scouting principles rather the more modern ways of taking statistical analysis into account in making his draft selections.

Yet Leake is the type of pitcher that statistical analysis are more likely to love than scouts, as he does not have the prototypical pitcher's build or a dominant pitch. Instead, Leake succeeds by mixing a fastball that usually tops out at 92 mph with a curveball, slider, cut fastball, and changeup. He is also a master of throwing at different speeds and from different arm angles to give batters the perception that he has a seemingly unlimited arsenal.

Leake also put up tremendous numbers at Arizona State, including going 16-1 with a 1.71 ERA last year. Beyond that, he also played shortstop and third base on days he didn't pitch.

"He's a ballplayer, man," Baker said. "He's not just a pitcher. He can swing the bat and field his position, too. He's a good athlete and nothing bothers him. He has a lot of poise for a young kid. That's what separates him."

That poise and confidence comes through when Leake talks about his sudden rise to fame. Ask him if he expected to come to the major leagues and perform this well at such an early age and he gives an honest answer.

"I thought I was good enough to make the team going into the spring training, but I didn't think I would make the team only because I figured the people making the decisions wouldn't take a guy who was just out of college and put him in the major leagues," Leake said. "I knew, though, if I got a fair chance that I could open some eyes and make the team. I was confident of that and I'm just thankful that everyone in the organization was open-minded enough to give me the opportunity."

Leake has certainly seized the opportunity after beating out two other touted pitching prospects, left-handers Aroldis Chapman and Travis Wood, for one open spot in the rotation in the spring. However, there are some statistical markers that indicate Leake will likely see some regression to the mean at some point, particularly a 4.12 SIERA. Furthermore, he calls one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the major leagues, Great American Ball Park, home.

However, Leake also has a 52 percent ground-ball rate. He believes that gives him a chance to succeed anywhere at any level.

"I'm a big believer in ground balls," Leake said. "If they hit the ball on the ground, they can't hit it out of the park. If I could, I'd have every hitter who comes up hit a ground ball. That would be a perfect game for me."

---

The Twins played another errorless game Sunday night as they beat the Rangers 6-3. The Twins have committed the fewest errors in the major leagues this season, being charged with just 12 in their first 50 games.

"It's not just guys standing in the same spot and catching everything," first baseman Justin Morneau said. "They're making good defensive plays. Sometimes those errors can be misleading, but not with those guys."

However, is that really the case? Because of the breakthroughs that have been made in defensive metrics in recent years, traditional fielding statistics have been found to be quite lacking.

Alas, the Twins don't stack up nearly as well in Defensive Efficiency, as their .695 mark ranks seventh in the American League and 14th in the major leagues. Furthermore, just two Twins players rank in the top 50 in the major leagues in FRAR2, as Orlando Hudson is 12th with 14 and center fielder Denard Span is 32nd with 12. Manager Ron Gardenhire has his own metric to measure his team's defensive prowess.

"I don't worry about the errors. We're not making the mental mistakes, which is a good thing," Gardenhire said. "We're throwing the balls to the right bases, we're catching the balls we're supposed to catch and not giving many extra outs."

Morneau says that moving into Target Field this season from the Metrodome has actually helped the Twins' fielding despite going from an artificial surface to grass. The only dirt in the Metrodome infield was at the cutouts around each of the three bases, and Morneau said those often resulted in less than true hops.

"In the 'Dome, you were in trouble with the lip on the infield," he said. "Here, the lip is a little further out; it gives you more chance to read it. There's probably an extra split second to react rather than just sit there and hope you don't get hit in the face."

---

Padres manager Bud Black is an honest man in a profession where people often give different shades of the truth. Never was Black's integrity more evident than in last Friday night's loss to the Nationals at Petco Park.

Black looked down at his lineup card during the top of the first inning and had a sinking feeling when he saw that Adam Russell had been listed as the starting pitcher rather than Clayton Richard. Russell had been optioned to Triple-A Portland earlier in the day and bench coach Ted Simmons inadvertently copied his name onto the card.

Black approached the umpires at the end of the first inning and Nationals manager Jim Riggleman also joined in. Riggleman then played the game under protest on the grounds that the Padres had made an unannounced substitution, which became moot when the Nationals won. However, Riggleman certainly felt for his counterpart.

"It's my nightmare. It's Casey Stengel's nightmare. And it's the future managers of the world's nightmare, that you get that wrong name on there," Riggleman said. "I look at it 10 times. I have the coaches look at it over and over, and every now and then, one gets by. I don't think the protest would have held up, but I'm just glad it never got to the stage to find out. I didn't want to play the game under protest or embarrass anyone, but I had to do so to protect my team. It was a tough situation and Bud Black handled it with a lot of class. He is the one who pointed it out."

---

MLB Rumors and Rumblings: The Angels have expressed interest in Astros right-hander Roy Oswalt, and now there is talk they may also try to get first baseman Lance Berkman in a potential blockbuster trade now that Kendry Morales is out until at least September with a broken leg. The Astros are said to want major league-ready prospects, and among the players they might be interested in are left-hander Trevor Reckling and catcher Hank Conger. … Bengie Molina will continue to be the Giants' starting catcher despite the callup of top prospect Buster Posey over the weekend. … Carlos Zambrano will be limited to 75-80 pitches when he returns to the starting rotation Wednesday night against the Pirates at PNC Park following a stint in the bullpen. … The Yankees plan to limit right-hander Phil Hughes to 175 innings this season by giving extra rest throughout the season rather than radically altering his schedule like they did Joba Chamberlain last season. … The Mets know that getting Oswalt to agree to waive his no-trade clause to come to New York is a longshot and will instead try to focus on swinging a deal for left-hander Cliff Lee if the Mariners decide to trade him.

---

Three Series To Watch (all times Eastern):

Phillies at Braves, Monday-Wednesday May 31-June 2
Joe Blanton vs. Tommy Hanson, 1:05 p.m.; Cole Hamels vs. Tim Hudson, 7:10 p.m.; Kyle Kendrick vs. Derek Lowe, 1:05 p.m.

Reds at Cardinals, Monday-Wednesday May 31-June 2
Bronson Arroyo vs. Jaime Garcia, 4:15 p.m.; Johnny Cueto vs. P.J. Walters, 8:15 p.m.; Sam LeCure vs. Chris Carpenter, 8:15 p.m.

Rays at Blue Jays, Monday-Wednesday May 31-June 2
Matt Garza vs. Brandon Morrow, 7:07 p.m.; Jeff Niemann vs. Brian Tallet, 7:07 p.m.; David Price vs. Shaun Marcum, 7:07 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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