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?
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.