The Argument for Mike Leake

Mike Leake is an average Major League starting pitcher. He has a pretty high ceiling, or at least “used to”, and is relatively young. The problem with being young and average on a team obsessed with being nearly perfect is becoming a mere afterthought to potential All-Stars.

The offseason has been dominated by the question: Should Aroldis Chapman start or close? I’ve written multiple articles here at BRM on the issue, and it has been one of the hot topics on MLB talk shows and speculation circles. Chapman this, Chapman that. I’m not saying the 105MPH-slinging Cuban isn’t worthy of the hype — he is truly a once in a generation player, if not for his accuracy, for his dominance.

But what about Mike Leake? Fans and front office alike are seemingly tossing him aside. We’re treating him like a veteran. Surely since he didn’t have a sub 3.00 ERA last year he can’t possibly ever do it ever. The same people who still believe Homer Bailey’s best days are ahead of him have all but forgotten that Leake is a year younger, and a whole lot less experienced at the big league levels.

The fact about Leake is that he can straight up pitch. Rarely do you see a guy drafted straight to the big league team. In fact, Leake has only pitched 7.1 innings in the minor leagues. You don’t get to the MLB without having solid stuff. And Mike Leake got to the big leagues without any minor league training.

What I’m trying to say is that this kid is still growing. Sure, a 4.58 ERA isn’t exactly desirable now, but we’re forgetting about a few key words: potential, development, promise.

For as much as bloggers (I especially) write off these words, not wanting to rely on them for our “expert analysis”, they still exist. Without potential or development, what’s the use of minor league systems? Did Joey Votto come straight to the big leagues after the draft? Jay Bruce? Todd Frazier?

Oct 10, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake (44) in the dugout in the fourth inning against the San Francisco Giants in game four of the 2012 NLDS at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The point is, when comparing him to almost any other ballplayer’s ETA at his age, Mike Leake SHOULD still be in the minors, but he’s holding his own at the major league level. A kid who realistically could still be down in AA or AAA is a part of one of the best rotations in the game.

So why are we asking for his removal? Because one of the two most dominant closers in the game last year can “maybe” start? Because the possibility of having a dominant closer start games for us has us salivating? Probably. Chapman is the sexy answer, and when the sexy answer also has a real possibility of potentially working out, it becomes the “right” answer.

Mike Leake will be on the 25 man roster on Opening Day if the Reds want any chance of touching the World Series. This is true for multiple reasons. For one, we still need a guy to pitch the extra 70-100 innings Chapman will be shut down for. Whether that be at the beginning or the end of the season, we’d be stupid to believe that Leake won’t start at least one game for the redlegs this season. Two, I’m not convinced Chapman is better than Mike Leake as a starter anyway. Reports out of Spring Training say Chapman is a bit wild, and his fastball is seeing a sharp decline in velocity, topping out at around 94MPH. That’s not the exciting 98MPH average we saw last year. That’s not 105. That’s major league average nowadays.

Quietly, Mike Leake is having a pretty good spring. Through 5 innings he’s surrendered one run on six hits and 5 strikeouts. That’s good for a 1.80 ERA. Again, as stated about a thousand times on every blog on the face of the earth, spring training stats don’t mean much. But what they do mean is that Leake is healthy, he’s locating his pitches, and he’s getting some guys out.

My prediction says Mike Leake starts the year in the rotation. The Reds will want to avoid the Stephen Strasburg mess the Nationals had to deal with last year, so they won’t be starting Chapman out from the start. If this isn’t the case, I think Leake still deserves a bullpen spot. He could be good as a long reliever, at least until Chapman is eventually shut down.

There are almost an infinite number of ways the Reds can go from here. But two things are for certain: 1) Mike Leake, right now, is an average Major League starting pitcher, and 2) Aroldis Chapman throws really hard, but only out of the ‘pen.

If you ask me, sometimes Major League average isn’t all that bad.

Topics: Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds, Mike Leake, Spring Training

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  • Cliff@RedsToTheBone

    I agree. I just read yesterday that the Aroldis Chapman Experience is not yet a done deal. I like Leake and always have. Problem is if they close with Chappy they have a way too expensive setup guy in Brox.

    • Josh Bresser

      And then a way too expensive middle reliever in Sean Marshall

      • johnvrouse

        Marshall had a good year, and i guarentee he isnt making 7 million a year like Broxton…

        • Josh Bresser

          No disrespect at all towards Marshall. He’s a great reliever. He’s just making setup/closer money for being a middle reliever. Plus, Marshall actually makes more than Broxton in 2013 (Brox- 4m, Marshall- 4.5.)

          • Shelby Gilligan

            Marshall is still the best 8th inning pitcher in baseball. Leake commands the baseball when he is on it, as he grows he will command it even more. I see him topping out as a #2 on some teams and a definite #3 for any team. Anyone who can throw 4 pitches for strikes is worth a spot on the rotation. Chapman will be closing and I don’t think we will see him as a starter at all this season if ever. I am not a fan of Brox, I think he cost us in the series against the Giants. He looked like a deer in headlights out there, serving up meatballs. He will be an Eric Gagne/Trevor Hoffman type, where they got shelled once and it changed their whole setup and they just continued getting shelled out of the stadium into retirement.

          • Josh Bresser

            Broxton didn’t allow any earned runs in the playoffs last year..

  • JD Rentz

    The interesting point of contention may be the Chapman velocity thing when it ultimately comes to Leake’s role. If Aroldis can’t hit the higher end of the gun (much like a Justin Verlander can and does), he doesn’t become any more valuable than anybody else. His velocity will still be better than Mike Leake but probably not enough to differentiate him from most fastballs typical hitters are used to seeing.

    It’s a perplexing issue. I still like the idea of Chapman starting the year as a starter. Realistically he can’t do any worse than Leake did at the beginning of last season. Broxton isn’t the most “perfect” closer when it comes to conversion, either (why I like a guy like JJ Hoover around as well). I’m torn because I think a great starter is still better than a great reliever and a closer is overvalued. We’ll see how it plays out, but no doubt Leake is roster-worthy as a long man (at a minimum) who will pitch much differently than guys like Latos or Cueto … and throwing hitters off-balance is really the key.

    • http://twitter.com/JordanBarhorst Jordan Barhorst

      I agree. I meant to touch on that fact. Last year’s rotation was good for many reasons, with one being balanced. Latos and Bailey brought the heat, Arroyo and Leake brought the finesse, and Cueto did everything well.

      At the end of the day, an 89mph strike is better than a 94mph ball. Chapman’s inhuman velocity is kind of what makes him a good pitcher. He isn’t killing people with his nasty junk pitches. I don’t think you can throw 94 past major league hitters anymore BECAUSE of guys like Aroldis.

      You’re right. He doesn’t bring much to the table at 94mph. I think the front office has images of Verlander in their heads, but I don’t think that’s the kind of pitcher Chapman is or can be, at least for now.

      But who knows. Maybe the season will roll around and he’ll be throwing 98 for strikes for 6 innings. Weirder things have happened.

    • beeker

      I won’t disagree that Starter > Closer. I also won’t disagree that closers get paid more than they are truly worth. But I am not convinced that Chapman as a starter is better than Chapman as a closer. With Rivera retiring after this season, AC could be the best closer in the game (or at least one of the two best). I just can’t see Chapman being the same kind of dominating pitcher with a mid-90s fastball.

      As for Leake, I am annoyed by the implication by fans that if a guy isn’t an ace, he’s junk. Leake will never be an ace, but he is a whole lot better than a lot of Reds fans will admit. He has a nice repertoire, is crafty with his stuff and is durable. If a guy like that is your #5 starter, you’re rotation is in great shape. (Had he been on the team in 2007, he’d have been battling Kyle Lohse as the #3 starter.)

  • GeorgeStGeorge

    A “major league average” pitcher is FINE for your #5 guy.
    And a point not brought up yet: Leake can hit. Has Chapman even held a bat, yet? This IS the National League, after all.

    • http://twitter.com/JordanBarhorst Jordan Barhorst

      Good, good point. And he’s fast — I remember someone saying last year he could give Drew Stubbs a run for his money in a sprint. Dusty can bring this guy in to pinch hit OR pinch run. It almost hurts to not have him on the roster.

    • Josh Bresser

      Chapman’s apparently pretty good with the bat, actually.

  • http://twitter.com/cinematicsoul Michael Keating

    I’m a bit late to this but nice to see Mike getting some support. Good article Jordan. Amazing that people keep forgetting his path to the majors and his age. He’s two full seasons under his belt already. He found his feet quicker than Homer did and look how he’s starting to shape up now. All that and haven’t even mentioned his bat. Most teams would snatch your hand off for a guy like Leake.