Cincinnati Reds in Review: SP Mike Leake


Mike Leake is a rare breed. If you’ve watched him just once over the span on the past five seasons, that much becomes obvious right from the start. Once the curly-haired youngster from Arizona State that skipped the minor leagues entirely, Leake is now the poster boy for a dying breed of pitcher, one that doesn’t overwhelm hitters as much as he craftily works around them.

Who knows how much longer Leake has in Cincinnati? As his career has precipitously improved year after year, he will be in for a major payday when he hits the free agent market next summer.

Mike Leake – Starting Pitcher

It’s hard to believe that Leake has already been a member of the Reds staff for five seasons. When looking at his talent level, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t continue to have a wildly successful Major League career over the next decade plus.

Where he spends those years is what becomes intriguing. The Cincinnati Reds are not lush and plentiful with their cash. Leake will be due for a payday, but for how much no one can quite say. His whole career he has been looked at as a five starter due to the fact that A.) The Reds have had some really solid rotations, and B.) He doesn’t throw very hard. In baseball’s modern age, giving pitchers who don’t throw in the upper-90s big contracts has proven to be the exception, rather than the rule.

In 2014, Leake lost double-digit games for the first time in his career. For most of the season, he led the league in hits allowed, one of the few categories pitchers don’t ever want to pace the league in. Yet, it could be argued that it was his best season yet.

Over his five Major League seasons, Leake has steadily increased his innings pitched total. On a limit in his first year, he threw only 138.1 innings before being let loose this season to the point that he tossed 214.1. This from a “#5 starter.” According to everyone’s new favorite advanced metric, FIP (fielding independent pitching), this was Leake’s best season yet, and also the first time his number dropped below four. So while some may see it as a negative that Leake’s FIP was still higher than his ERA, that should actually translate well at the bargaining table, considering how tremendous the Reds defense is. Another club with a lesser defense may be hesitant to pull the trigger with a long-term deal, opposed to the Redlegs who know what they’ll be running out there behind a pitcher who is dependent on contact.

Leake’s 2014 season was the true model of consistency. After his June 5 start, his ERA would not deviate from starting with a three the remainder of the season. He would not miss a start. Until his 29th start on September 4 in Baltimore, in every single start Leake had gone at least five innings and allowed five runs or less. The one night in Baltimore would be the only start of the season that wouldn’t fit that mold.

Leake’s Stat Line:

11-13, 3.70 ERA, 214.1 IP, 217 H, 164 K, 3.88 FIP, 1.25 WHIP, .263 OAV

Top Mike Leake Moment:

Despite his ultimate model of consistency, that also meant that Leake failed to go the distance at any point in 2014. This certainly wasn’t due to his inability, but rather a combination of how starting pitchers are handled in the modern era, and the presence of Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman at the backend of the bullpen.

While there would be games when he wouldn’t allow any runs at all, the best game Leake pitched all season was on June 26 against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. On that night, no one would have guessed that would be the lineup that would go on to win the World Series in four months time.

Leake would outduel Ryan Vogelsong and toss an eight-inning, 12-strikeout gem. His only blemish would be the first home run of Adam Duvall’s career in the bottom of the seventh inning. Punching out Hunter Pence twice and Pablo Sandoval once, Leake would rack up his season-high in strikeouts before turning the game over to Chapman, who would slam the door and deliver him the victory.

Low-Point of the Season for Mike Leake:

That one night in Baltimore. While that may sound like the start to a bad story told over family dinner, for Leake, it cost him his model of consistency. The Orioles jumped all over him quickly with two first inning home runs from Nelson Cruz and Nick Hundley that would put a six-spot on the board before Leake knew what hit him.

He would go only four innings in that game, when in accordance with his seven runs allowed, would serve as his only start of the season where he didn’t go at least five and allow five or less. Although, at that point in the season, keeping his team in the game would have taken a whole lot more.

Final Grade: B

Each time Leake takes the mound, there is this sense of “Is this the time he implodes?” After years of waiting for a self-implosion to come, Leake has shown fans that he’s a legitimate big league starter and not just a number five.

Whether he has just one more season in Cincinnati, or one more decade, Leake has served as a first-round draft pick well spent. Expect for him to only improve as 2015 approaches.