Mike Leake's Key to Success: Mental Toughness

Kevin BerthaCorrespondent IApril 25, 2010

PITTSBURGH - APRIL 16:  PITTSBURGH, PA- APRIL 16: Mike Leake #44 of the Cincinatti Reds pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on April 16, 2010 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Mike Leake is not your typical pitcher. Leake, 22, has made the jump straight from the draft to the major leagues. Aroldis Chapman and Stephen Strasburg have made more headlines with their 100 mph fastballs, yet they are not in the major leagues and Leake is.

Leake is only 5'10" and 180 pounds. His fastball barely tops out in the low 90s. Now how does a right-handed pitcher who puts up average numbers on the radar gun get to the major leagues before two flamethrowers such as soon-to-be teammate Chapman and highly-rated and hyped Strasburg?

Leake is major league ready, and he has been for a while. Leake is one of the most mentally tough pitchers in the game, and that is the key to his success.

Leake has stuff, he has four A-plus pitches. His fastball isn't exactly what you would call a gasser, but it gets the job done. The biggest thing is that Leake has command, of his pitches and of his thoughts on the mound.

The key to pitching is not speed. Hitters will catch up with 100 mph fastballs down the middle any day. The key to pitching is not movement. The best slider, if put into the wrong location, will end up in the upper deck in the left field seats. The key to pitching is not change of speeds. If a hitter adjusts to a 75mph change-up, you can kiss it goodbye.

The key to pitching is the mental side. Pitchers must execute their pitches perfectly for perfect results. To do this, they must hone in on the catcher's mitt as a sniper hones in on a target 600 yards away.

According to the book The Psychology of Baseball: Inside the Mental Game of the Major League Player , pitching a baseball from 60 feet 6 inches away requires more accuracy than throwing a dart directly into the bullseye from 7 feet 9 1/4 inches away.

As you can see, focus is a key part of the mental game of baseball.

Mental toughness is also a key part to the mental side of pitching. When Greg Maddux pitched, he was a robot. Maddux always knew what location to throw the ball. He simply executed pitches.

Low and away here. High and inside there. Tailing away from the plate here. In on the hands there. Emotions never overtook Maddux. Maddux did not mope after bad pitches, he simply recognized his mistake and made sure he didn't throw the same exact pitch to the same exact batter next time.

Mike Leake, at only 22 years old, has basically mastered these two key components to the mental side of pitching. Leake has command of his pitches and command of himself on the mound.

The thing Leake remembers the most from his first week in the majors is not his first strikeout. It is not his first pitch. It is not his first double-play thrown.

Leake will remember the most the seven walks he had against the Cubs on April 11, his major league debut.

Leake stated, "I've never walked that many—and I don't plan to ever again."

Even though Leake will probably never be a Stephen Strasburg or Aroldis Chapman, Leake is already something better—a Greg Maddux. Leake has mastered his command of himself and of his pitches, as Maddux did when he was a perennial Cy Young Award winner with the Braves.

He doesn't have the gas. He doesn't have the height. He doesn't have the weight. But Mike Leake is one good pitcher who has mastered the mental side. He's a thinker, and that is why he has jumped straight from the draft to the majors.