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2015 Red Report - Mike Leake

A look at the presumptive 3rd starter in the 2015 Cincinnati Reds rotation, Mike Leake.

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Fast Facts (parsed largely from 2013's Leake Report):

  • Mike Leake, born in San Diego, California was a member of the San Diego Sting - a youth team that featured Stephen Strasburg, Brett Bochy, and 2014 Louisville Bats OF/1B Thomas Neal. Leake remembered Strasburg as "the kid who used to cry when he struck out."
  • Leake attended Valley Center High School for two years before transferring to Fallbrook High School for his junior and senior years. His ERA in his final two years of high school was 1.87, where he won the Avocado League Pitcher of the Year Award both seasons.
  • In 2006, Leake was drafted by the Oakland A's in the 7th round of the draft. He chose not to sign and attend school at Arizona State University. There he began his freshman season as the team's closer, but somewhat ironically, was moved from the bullpen to the rotation. As a sophomore, Leake won the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year Award after going 11-3 with a 3.49 ERA, and racking up 104 Ks in 121.1 innings. In his junior year, Leake shot up draft boards by turning in one of the most dominant seasons in Arizona State history (16-1, 1.71 ERA, 162 K, 24 BB, 142 IP), and won the Pac-10 PoY award for the second consecutive year. He was no slouch at the plate either, slashing .299/.402/.485 in 97 collegiate at-bats.
  • The Reds selected Leake 8th overall in the 2009 draft, and gave him a $2.3 million signing bonus. Other 2009 Reds draftees include Brad Boxberger, Billy Hamilton, Donnie Joseph, Josh Fellhauer and Tucker Barnhardt.
  • In 2010, Leake won the 5th starter battle over Travis Wood becoming the 7th Reds player to skip the minor leagues. Leake was the first major leaguer to bypass the minors since Xavier Nady of the Pirates did it in 2000, and he was the first pitcher to accomplish the feat since Jim Abbott in 1989.
  • Leake started the 2010 season undefeated in his first 12 starts (5-0) before tallying his first loss on June 16th against the Dodgers. He wore down as the season went on and made his last start on August 14th against the Marlins. He was placed on the DL with shoulder fatigue in late August, after two awful bullpen appearances, and was eventually shut down for the season.
  • Statistically speaking, 2011 was the best season of Leake's young career to date, but it was not without it's share of conflict. On April 18th, Leake was arrested by the Cincinnati Police for allegedly shoplifting $59.88 worth of T-shirts from the downtown Macy's store. Leake claimed it was all a misunderstanding, and eventually pled to a lesser charge. Leake also made his first and only trip to the minors in 2011, as he was sent down to make room on the roster for Jose Arredondo. He threw 7.1 innings over two games before getting called back up to the Reds.
  • In 2012, Leake posted the highest ERA (4.58) of his career. His rate stats were all right around his career norms, with the exception of his HR/FB which jumped up 3% in 2012.
  • Leake's 2013 trumped his 2011 in most every traditional stat, and his 14-7 record, 112 ERA+, and 3.37 ERA still rank as career high marks.  However, most every peripheral stat - WHIP, FIP, K/BB, and BABIP, etc - was right in line with the rest of his career, suggesting that there wasn't really much at all that he was doing differently to make those things happen.  However, his offense fell off a cliff, and only 27% of the Reds fanbase still wanted him as the everyday SS or CF.
  • Last season, Leake cleared 200 IP for the first time in his career (214.1), kept his ERA under 4 (3.70), and posted career best marks in G (33), GS (33), FIP (3.88), K (164), K/9 (6.9), and K/BB (3.28).  While today's age of dominant pitching only saw that add up to a league-average ERA+ (99), the 1.5 bWAR from his pitching and 0.7 bWAR from his bat and glove helped make him a slightly above-average pitcher yet again.

Organizational History:

  • June 6, 2006: Drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 7th round of the 2006 amateur draft, but did not sign.
  • June 9, 2009: Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1st round (8th pick) of the 2009 amateur draft. Player signed August 17, 2009.

Contract Status:

Signed 1 year, $9.775M contract on 01/16/15 (avoided arbitration in his final year of team control)*

* via Cot's Baseball Contracts

Career Stats:

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Ratings via The Baseball Cube

Control K-rating Efficiency vsPower
75 46 60 34

2015 Projections:

Depth Chart 10 10 29 29 182.0 6.45 2.14 1.05 .299 3.90 4.04 1.6
Steamer 10 10 29 29 182.0 6.59 2.19 1.03 .291 3.86 4.00 1.7
Fans (10) 12 9 33 33 206.0 6.60 2.05 0.96 .299 3.70 3.81 1.9
ZiPs 10 10 31 31 194.1 6.30 2.08 1.07 .297 3.94 4.09 1.6

Pitch f/x Pitcher Profile (career):

Pitch f/x Pitcher Profile (2014):

2015 Outlook:

Mike Leake's ERA+ by year since 2010 has been 96, 102, 90, 112, and 97 for a cumulative five year mark of 99, meaning his park adjusted career has placed him as a firmly average hurler while on the mound.  Combine that with solid range on defense, plus hitting as a batter, and the kind of health and durability every team would envy, and he's had a five year run of being an above average middle-of-the-rotation starter.  Fortunately for the Reds, he's spent the bulk of those years as a back-of-the-rotation starter while being relatively inexpensive, and he's been quite the valuable asset for them throughout.

That changes in 2015, though, as Leake will finally be tasked with being a front-line starter, and he'll do so while making a hair under $10 million.  If his 2014 is any indication, Leake's peripheral stats suggest he may be capable of rising to the club's wishes, as he posted career best marks in K/9, K/BB, FIP, HR/9, and IP, all while posting a WHIP below his career mark.  Batters also sustained a .301 BABIP off Leake in 2014, which suggests there was no significant luck fueling those career best rate stats, either.  It's worth noting that he also posted career highs in velocity on most every pitch in his arsenal while also using his fastball significantly more often than in the previous three seasons.  That coincided with a drop in usage of most every one of his breaking/secondary pitches - including cutting the use of his change-up nearly in half - and that helped to produce a career best GB% nearly 10% better than his career mark to that point.

In other words, he started using the pitches that he'd historically had the most success with more often, and cut back on using the pitches he'd had the least success with.  Smart kid, that Leake.

There may be no pitcher in baseball easier to create stock projections for than Leake, since he's been steady and predictable since he rolled into the majors straight from Arizona State, and most every system sees his 2015 much the same way they've looked at each of his seasons.  About 200 innings of 4.00 FIP ball with an ERA slightly better than that due to the remarkable defense behind him, and with his plus pitcher's bat and plus defense, he's probably going to be a 2.5 WAR player.  Leake, of course, will be hoping for a bit more than that since he's heading towards free agency at just 27 years of age, and he surely knows that any significant uptick in that performance will be extremely lucrative.