The Leake Situation

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No, this isn’t about what you think. We’re talking about Mike Leake the pitcher, not the shopper.

Before the recently finished Cubs series, a few things Dusty Baker said to the gathered flock struck a chord with me…and they stuck even until this morning. And they will until I get this all off my chest.

We recently conducted a poll here on BRM. We asked for readers to pick two pitchers that should go to the bullpen once Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto return form the disabled list. Your answers were not even close. The most number of votes tallied were Sam LeCure. Considering he was to be the long man coming out of spring training, that didn’t surprise me. But your second choice did…a little.

Your second choice (by almost a 2 to 1 margin) was Travis Wood.

LeCure was moved to the pen (and has looked a bit comfy there) and so was Leake. Leake, for the record, was your third choice since we all pretty much knew Bronson Arroyo and Edinson Volquez (despite the cries to completely ship him out of town earlier in the season) were staying put.

Why Leake? I’ll get to it, sort of, I swear.

When the Reds drafted Leake as the #8 overall pick in 2009, they most likely did so in the hopes he could improve on his production from his days at Arizona State. His college numbers were beyond impressive: 40-6, 2.91 ERA, .235 OBA. He also notched a couple of saves. Oh, and he can hit. A career slash line of .299/.402/.485 made hi m just a tick more appealing. So far, Leake has done pretty good for himself after a little more than a year in teh bigs.

OK. Dusty’s remarks. He was asked about Leake and the long term.

"“I don’t know what we have planned for him. It’s too far down the line, number one. I think he’d be a very good long man. He stays in shape, comes in and throws strikes. When he’s keeping the ball down, can throw up double-plays. I don’t have to hit for him if he comes up like you do with a lot of relievers, because he can hit. He can extend that part of my bullpen, unlike a lot of guys. In the second half [2010] and this year, he’s had a little trouble getting through the lineup the third time around. To me, that equals, in theory, a perfect long man.”"

And Dusty didn’t stop there either. He also added to this plus as to why this move was done.

"“We were going to start the season with him as our long man and sixth starter. The way my starters have been going, I’ve got him and [Sam] LeCure. I’ve got two long guys, which is what we need right now. We’ll deal with that when we get there. They [starters] need to start humming first. I could make a projection, but that’s a little too far out right now.”"

I got a lot out of this…

First, Leake, as I had thought, Leake was going to the pen to start the season. That was thrown atilt when Bailey and Cueto hit the DL (more so with Cueto).

Second, Dusty is right here. He told everyone that Leake was losing his effectiveness as the game the progressed. We pick on Dusty when he makes a move and “the numbers” or “the stats” are involved. This is such a case. All you have to do is look at them. Here are Leake’s numbers from last year and current as of this season on how opponents do on their first, second and third time in facing Leake.

For 2010…

And here’s those for 2011

As much as some Reds fans despise agreeing with Dusty, this looks like a case, in numbers, that he’s is correct.

The fact that this all falls into pitch counts is right in line with this data as well. Leake does decent until his pitch count goes above 50. Yes, 50. After that, the slash line goes up. For 2011:

If only Leake would not have to throw those pitches 51-75, all would be just fine.

Now in comparing Leake’s numbers to Wood’s would make the decision more mind boggling. In most areas, Wood’s stats are even more gaudy than Leake’s, win-loss record and ERA aside. Here’s the stats for Wood thus far in 2011.

In comparing here, Wood, as you that voted suggested, should have been slotted in the pen.

But here’s where the real difference comes into play.

The Mike Leake we’ve seen in 2010 and so far in 2011 is not the Mike Leake we want to see on down the road. That’s a point to which we can all agree. We all want him to be no worse than a good starting pitcher. Right?

If so, three things to consider here going forward.

One. Leake is learning how to pitch at the major league level more on the fly than any other pitcher that has come through the Reds organization in quite some time. Even more than Homer Bailey did a couple of years ago. Way more. In a taped interview with Thom Brennaman that aired yesterday, Bailey stated that was best for him at that time due to the Reds not being a very good team. By winning the division last season and the fact that the Reds are considered a contender (and the favorite in preseason by some) makes this is a different situation concerning Leake.

Two. He has never spent a day in the minors as we all know. Send him Louisville? If it will increase his arm endurance by pitching every fifth game so that he’s better in the future, sure. Have him in the bullpen as a long man and “sixth starter”? The numbers would suggest this, but he will not become a better starter there. Back to those long range plans…don’t know is what we heard.

And that answer bugs me a bit.

Three. In this day and age, the desire to achieve quick returns on players that are high draft picks can, in some cases, stunt their development and growth. This may be one of those cases. Players, as a whole, aren’t permitted the ample time to develop and mature due to their overwhelming talent and/or athleticism.

In all three of these “issues”, Wood had these “opportunities” and made the best of them. While he is still developing, he has learned a thing or two that Leake has not. Leake, due to his talent, by-passed them and I believe in the long run, it could serve more as a detriment.

So, I ask. Is this situation actually evolving into a dilemma?