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Cincinnati Reds: Mike Leake's Future More Bleak Than Bright

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson
Pete DymeckAnalyst IApril 10, 2014

No, Mike Leake is not getting better with age. 

At 26 years of age, the right-hander is not the heir apparent to Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos or even Homer Bailey. Not even close.

If anything, Leake is nothing more than an average arm triumphing via luck.

From 2011-2013, the Cincinnati Reds righty has tallied 34 wins, 25 losses and an earned run average of 3.94. For a major league starter, those aren't bad numbers. Over the same span, Cliff Lee has 37 wins and Ubaldo Jimenez has 39 losses. 

Customary statistics aside, there is more to the story with Leake. According to FanGraphs, "Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP) measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average."

Other than 2012, Leake's FIP has never been reflected within his conventional statistics. By conventional statistics, I am referring to wins, losses, ERA and those other numbers mainstream media outlets such as ESPN like to throw at you.

In other words, one can easily be misled about Leake.

Leake posted a 4.68 FIP in 2010, 4.22 FIP in 2011, 4.42 FIP in 2012 and 4.04 FIP a year ago, which results in a 4.33 career FIP for Cincinnati's young and so-called trustworthy righty.

When a pitcher's FIP is higher than his ERA, it means he hasn't actually pitched as well as his ERA suggests. On the other hand, if a pitcher's ERA is higher than his FIP, it usually means bad luck or bad defense (or some other variable not related to the pitcher) took a toll on the pitcher.

Leake is also a product of a high strand rate. Last year he posted a Left on Base Percentage (LOB%) of 77.7 percent. The average LOB% in Major League Baseball typically falls within the 70-72 percent range. Since Leake doesn't strike a lot of batters out, his high LOB% in 2013 is more a product of luck than anything. 

Some pitchers have less skill than others but still manage to make a way in MLB. Leake is an example of such a pitcher. He has similar stuff to Vance Worley, yet Worley can no longer hold down a major league rotation spot. 

2013 was the first time since his rookie season that Leake's average fastball topped 90 mph. Early in 2014, it is showing signs of regression. Unable to burn balls past the hitter, Leake has to rely more on his command and control. With less-than-appetizing stuff, the righty also leans on luck and grace.

So long as luck continues to stumble Leake's way, he will maintain his position within the back end of the Reds' rotation and push for another double-digit win season. Once lucks stops bedeviling the right-hander, he will have a mighty fall from the rotation. The future is more bleak than bright for Leake.

Then again, at least Reds fans have top prospect Robert Stephenson to look forward to.


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