In 2011 Mike Leake made three relief appearances with Cincinnati. He was sent down to Triple-A for two weeks in May. He is projected at best to be the Reds’ fourth starter. He is most known for some bad behavior off the field. All this aside, he is an important name for every fantasy player to remember.
Last year Leake combined a 3.00 K/BB ratio with a sub-1.20 WHIP. Many pitchers achieved this combination, but most will cost a great deal more on draft day. Leake’s big change was a reduced walk rate, he slashed it from 3.19 to 2.04. As a five-pitch pitcher with an 89 mph fastball he relies on deception to record outs. In 2011 he was significantly more deceptive as hitters swung more and the increase was based almost all on pitches outside the strike zone.
Leake has a career 1.54 GB/FB ratio, and that mitigates the dangers of Great American Ballpark’s short fences. Considering the surroundings his 13.6% HR/FB is neither lucky nor unfortunate. His .269 BABIP against suggests a stroke of luck, but looking deeper reveals the role of the Reds’ defense. Using UZR/150 Joey Votto was third in the league, Brandon Phillips fourth, Scott Rolen second, and the team’s shortstops were second as well. 2012 starter Zack Cosart piled up a 56.3 UZR/150 in 77.1 innings, which is of course unrepeatable, but still a very positive sign. As long as Leake keeps generating grounders this flytrap of an infield defense can convert them into outs.
Often young pitchers have pronounced weaknesses, but Leake does not display any glaring vulnerabilities. Last year his K/BB against left-handed hitters was 2.90, against righties it was 3.35. The difference in xFIP was also small, 3.60 vs. LH, 3.75 vs. RH. With runners on base his xFIP only rose from 3.55 to 3.87. He also showed growth as the season went on. His K/BB by month (2.60, 1.33, 4.80, 3.57, 3.43, 3.67) reveals clear improvement starting in June. Leake, like all Cincinnati pitchers, gets to face a weak offensive division. Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Houston all finished 19th or worse in runs scored. St. Louis and Milwaukee each lost a first baseman.
Targeting pitchers with big K/9 numbers in the middle rounds is a great way to build a strong staff, but not without some risk. Pairing Brandon Morrow, Gio Gonzalez, or Ubaldo Jimenez with Leake balances out issues created with their higher walk rates. Drafting strategy aside, Leake will perform better than Edinson Volquez (235), Brett Anderson (274), Carlos Zambrano (273), or Erik Bedard (259).
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