Mike Leake and the Importance of Showing Up

Mike Leake is going to be paid $16 million dollars a year for the next five years. It seems to have people up in arms. This is why MLB ticket prices keep rising!

Mike Leake isn’t an elite pitcher. But he’s not the completely mediocre pitcher that he’s made out to be. He is a professional pitcher that has a track record of showing up to pitch. That holds a lot of value. There’s not many out there.

There are 30 teams in major league baseball and, generally, they all use 5 man rotations. The best 150 pitchers would be all we would consider in a world with no injuries. We don’t live in that world.

We live in a world that has produced 851 qualifying pitcher seasons over the past 10 MLB seasons. A qualified pitcher needs to throw 162 innings, or one inning per game. In the case of starting pitchers who averaged 5 inning per appearance, that would be 33 starts. Essentially, to qualify you need to be on the mound consistently.

Since 2011, Leake’s five full seasons in the majors, there have been 195 pitchers who have combined for 429 qualifying seasons. That’s a little over 86 qualifying seasons per year.

Mike Leake has five of those seasons. Over those five seasons Leake has accumulated 8.9 WAR, or about 1.8 WAR per year. If we roll with the assumption that a win goes for between $7.5–8 million on the open market this deal makes perfect sense. But, this deal makes sense beyond that simple reason.

The Cardinals were a 100 win team. Their best pitcher from the prior year (Carlos Martinez) missed the playoffs with an elbow issues (not encouraging) but their best pitcher (Adam Wainwright) will be back healthy this year, which may compensate for some level of trepidation about Martiniez’s durability and availability through 2016. Lance Lynn is done with Tommy John surgery and John Lackey has moved on to the Cubs. And while Leake hasn’t ever performed to the level Lackey did last year, or the level Lynn has over the past four years, he has shown the ability to eat innings at an above average rate while throwing as an above average pitcher.

Moreover, the things that Mike Leake doesn’t do well seem to be correctable and the Cardinals are an organization that tends to correct things.

First, Leake’s changeup is terrible. It may be time to consider scrapping that pitch all together considering he possesses a slider and curveball that he uses regularly. The chart below, taken from BrooksBaseball.net, shows opponents’ slugging percentage against each of Leake’s offerings. As you can see the changeup hasn’t served any good since 2011. On the other hand, Leake’s slider has been improving where his changup has been declining.

A look at opponents’ batting average against tells the same story:

Leake’s second issue has been homeruns. This is odd because Leake throws a sinker that often achieves its desired results. He has a 50.2% groundball rate for his career and 2014 and 2015 saw him induce the most groundballs in career, with 53.4% and 51.8% rates in those respective seasons. But when hitters put the ball in the air on Leake, they hit homeruns at a 13.7% rate. This has been a consistent problem throughout Leake’s career, so it’s not as simple as looking at his xFIP and seeing hope for improvement.

This is where Leake’s biggest fault lies. If the Cardinals identify, or have identified, something to bring Leake’s homerun rate on flyballs down then they have just landed a bargain. But as of now, they landed a fair deal for a fair pitcher.

Mike Leake isn’t the reason tickets to a Cardinals game are expensive, but if you can make it out to the ballpark you’re going to see Mike Leake there, being Mike Leake; a professional pitcher; a reliable pitcher; a pitcher who shows up to work.