Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mike Leake Scouting Report

With reports of the Reds re-signing Jonathan Broxton, reporter John Fay believes that it will be easy for the Reds to move Mike Leake, as this most likely signals that Aroldis Chapman is finally moving to the rotation. Fay believes that Leake still has decent trade value despite having a rough season.

When you actually look at Mike Leake's advanced metrics, he was really no different in 2012:

2010: 115 FIP -, 104 xFIP -, 4.33 SIERA

2011: 108 FIP -, 95 xFIP, 3.76 SIERA

2012: 111 FIP -, 98 xFIP, 4.01 SIERA

Along with his career ERA - of 106, it appears that Leake is a slightly below average starter. It does seem, if his xFIP and SIERA are any indications, that he has some pretty major home run issues and would benefit from a more pitcher friendly park. The Reds' park has a 107 park factor over the last 3 years, and Leake has a career 1.26 HR/9IP and 14.6 HR/FB %, certainly supporting that point. Since the HR/FB % spiked in 2012, it made his ERA worse and got him left off of the playoff roster. When Johnny Cueto injured himself in the first start of the post-season, Leake was added to the roster and started game 4. At the Great American Ballpark against the Giants, the start didn't go well, as Leake gave up a homer on the 2nd pitch of the game and gave up 5 runs in 4.1 innings, striking out just one and walking 2 (2 homers in all).

Leake was drafted 10th overall by the Reds in 2009 out of Arizona State as an advanced pitcher that didn't have a high ceiling, but didn't need to pitch in the minors either (making his MLB debut before his MiLB debut, and pitching in just 2 MiLB games so far). The 25 year old right-hander's stuff is certainly below average, with an average fastball under 90 MPH, using more cutters and sinkers than 4-seam fastballs. It seems that he is relying less and less on his slider that averages a little more than 81 MPH (dropping from nearly 18% usage to 8-9% usage in 2012), along with a change and a (not slow) curve. In going back and reading old scouting reports, it seems that it was unclear as to what was his best pitch. His sinker is really similar in velocity to pitchers like David Pauley, Wandy Rodriguez, and Ian Kennedy. The horizontal movement on it is similar to those like Cliff Lee, Jarrod Washburn, and Ryan Vogelsong. Vertically, his sinker breaks a lot like the sinkers of Roy Halladay and Jerome Williams. His cutter breaks horizontally like former teammate's Travis Wood and the Houston Astros' Lucas Harrell. Vertically, it is like Matt Harrison's and Chris Carpenter's. These are some pretty good names. The curve breaks like the curves of Stephen Strasburg and A.J. Griffin (two curves I like) horizontally, and Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy, and Paul Maholm vertically. The slider's horizontal movement is similar to Zach Greinke and Jake Arrieta and vertically like Ricky Nolasco, Brandon Beachy, and Johnny Cueto. His change is also similar to Beachy horizontally, as well as Gil Meche and John Danks. Vertically, it is like Barry Zito's and Roy Oswalt's.

Just from times I have seen him, it seems that his sinker occasionally drifts up and that is why he gives up so many homers. The lack of stuff makes the occasional mistake more costly. When he throws it down and away at the bottom of the strikezone against righties, it is a really nice pitch. However, when it gets up, it is straight and pretty hittable. Because of his stuff and lack of a real 4-seamer, he really can't live high in the zone, though he sometimes does (ineffectively), which limits his ability to move the hitters eyes and makes him less dangerous when it comes to missing bats (which is one of the reasons that his strikeout totals are so low). The closest he comes to throwing a pitch high is when he throws his cutter (to right-handed hitters especially) in the somewhat middle of the plate (height-wise, it usually stays off the plate, and even though the velocity is usually a little lower, it seems like a less hittable pitch). It seems that he would rather go away from both lefties and righties, not wanting to go inside.
The slider is somewhat of a frisbee slider, almost knuckling with some pretty soft (but dramatic and sweeping) break to the left-handed batters box (it is so soft that Pitch F/X often confuses it for the curves when it dips to 80 MPH or lower). His curveball is a pretty hard curveball that drops quickly without big loop.

There is a little evidence from his overall release point chart that he has raised his release point slightly since coming into the Majors, but from looking at a bunch of individual game date, it seems he has actually just been more consistent (something you would expect to see as a pitcher matures and develops. An alternative explanation would be, something I saw in at least one report, that he used to occasionally drop his arm angle, whether unintentional or intentional. He could simply no longer be doing this, which would make the release point data pretty noisy). Because he is "just" 6 foot tall, he doesn't quite get the downward plane that most pitchers do (although he releases the ball higher than Johnny Cueto) because he lets go of the ball below 6 feet high.

Known for his pitchability, Leake doesn't discriminate when it comes to who he throws his cutter to, and still throws his change to righties about 6% of the time (just short of half the time he throws it to lefties). If he has a pitch he really likes to go to for a strikeout, it is the slider against both lefties and righties. Interestingly, he throws the curve more against lefties than he does against righties. It is the only pitch that he throws for strikes less than 60 % of the time, with the cutter being the pitch he throws for strikes the most (perhaps the reason that there isn't much variation when he throws it, throwing it somewhere around 20-24% of the time regardless of the situation). The slider, which makes sense considering that he throws it so much two strikes, is the only pitch he gets many whiffs with. He gives up more contact than league average and gets far less swings and misses than average. So his game has to be weak pop-ups (it isn't) or ground-balls (48.9 GB % in his career, very solid). This is why he throws so many sinkers and cutters (his slider also gets a lot of ground-balls). These pitches have also helped him have basically no platoon splits, about equally effective against both lefties and righties.

So far, Leake has not reached 200 innings in a season, setting a career high in 2012 with a 179. To be a valuable mid-rotation starter, one needs to be a good innings eater, something Leake has not been so far. He was put on the DL in 2010 thanks to shoulder fatigue, but I am not convinced that is something to be concerned about. It also doesn't look he wears down a the end of the year, at least as far as effectiveness goes. At his age, I think his new team has to let him really eat up innings in 2013. As mentioned above, the hitter friendly Great American Ballpark has really hurt Leake, as he has an ERA of almost a full run higher at home in his career. One of the less friendly home run parks would make Leake a significantly better pitcher. Especially if the team has a good infield (which would seem to be what he had with the Reds) that would turn a lot of Leake's ground-balls into outs. I think he can be a guy in the middle of the rotation and pitch at a league average rate with a new team. He is first year arbitration eligible this off-season, and according to MLB Trade Rumors, he is projected to make 2.9 million for 2013 (not to mention two more years of control after that). That is a bargain for a middle of the rotation pitcher, especially considering what Scott Feldman got (6 million), an injured Scott Baker (5.5 million) got, and especially what Jeremy Guthrie got (3 guaranteed years for 20 million. This doesn't mention that Bartolo Colon got 3 million and he is coming off a suspension and is 39). I think Leake has quite a bit of trade value (even if he is a slightly below average pitcher because of his lack of stuff) and the Reds should get a good package for him.

1 comment:

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