Mike Leake is actually having a career year

If you’re like me, I was really excited at the prospect of bringing in Mike Leake. As I wrote last winter, my expectations for Leake were high because he’s a ground ball pitcher who is coming from one of baseball’s hitter’s paradises to one of the most pitcher friendly ballparks in the league. That should have meant the potential for a career year.

And he’s had it. The results just haven’t shown it.

When you look beyond his ERA, here are some fun facts about Leake’s 2016 season so far:

  • Best BB/9 in the league
  • 2nd best K/9 of his career
  • Best HR/9 of his career
  • 3rd best line drive rate of his career
  • Best ground ball rate of his career.

He has the lowest FIP of his career, better than when he had a 3.37 ERA in 2013 for the Reds. He has the second lowest xFIP of his career (behind 2011). He has the third lowest SIERA of his career (behind 2014 and 2011).

Those are the metrics of a guy having one of the best seasons of his career. Instead, he is enduring the worst.

He has been the greatest victim of the Cardinals’ shoddy defense this season. Opponents are hitting ground balls against him at a career high rate this year and they aren’t being fielded like they need to. His 10.2 H/9 rate is one of the worst of his career.

Just a recent example, last night, Leake faced 22 batters over 4.1 innings of work. Eight of those batters hit a ground ball. Four of those ground balls were hits, good for a .500 batting average. For reference, the league typically bats around .240 on ground balls. Two of those ground ball hits scored a run.

So the difference between the Mike Leake we hoped to get and the Mike Leake we are getting is probably about one play not being made per game.

As I was looking at Leake, I decided to check his performance by shortstop. If you’ve read Redbird Dugout for awhile, I did one several years ago looking at Jake Westbrook after he signed an extension with the Cardinals and there was a marked difference between his performances with and without a good defensive shortstop behind him.

For Leake, we see those same trends, but the distinction isn’t as great as I was hoping to see.

Greg Garcia – 2.96 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 24.1 IP
Aledmys Diaz – 4.47 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 114.2 IP
Jhonny Peralta – 8.18 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 11.0 IP
Jedd Gyorko – 8.31 ERA, 2.31 WHIP, 4.1 IP

There are small sample sizes here because Diaz has really been the everyday shortstop since the second week of the season until his injury, but I think we can still see the importance of a shortstop’s ability in those numbers.

The difference in WHIP from Garcia and Diaz to Peralta and Gyorko is large.

I think the fact that Leake’s WHIP is a little better with Diaz behind him, but the ERA is 1.5 runs better with Garcia tells a story there too.

Everything short of the actual results tells me that Mike Leake has had a very good season on the mound for the Cardinals. This is in contrast to a guy like Adam Wainwright, who has generally pitched poorly and gotten bad results.

Unfortunately, as I often say, the results matter most, but it should give us hope for this deal going forward. Give him a good defense behind him and those results should get back in line with expectations.