Mike Leake's +3 and -1
will this guy be our #3 starter or our #4 starter?


The Mainframe can barely contain its admiration for Tacoma Rainier-level starting pitchers.  Dillon Overton, Christian Bergman, Chase De Jong, Sam Gaviglio, Cody Martin, Ryan Weber?  All of these pitchers are absolutely excellent!  ... in absolute terms, that is.  Also, they do everything pretty much the same, and at the same level.  

One time I played a round of golf with a fringe-Tour player.  This guy looked so much like a professional!  It was hard to understand how he could play any better.  I asked why he didn't get on TV.  He said, "I'm a great golfer, Jeff, but to be on the Tour you have to be a --- > Magician."

The Mainframe's paradigm is that SP's who stick in the American League have bread-and-butter skills that very clearly separate them from AAA pitchers.  (The alternative would be that they're 2% better at doing the same things?)  

Here are my personal takes at Mike Leake's clear Separators.  He's got -1 bad separator, a thing he does much worse than Cody Martin.  But he's got +3 good ones.  Thusly:



Leake is sidearm, and this release point is just about as (annoyingly) low as you will see in the big leagues, wayyyyy below 6 feet:


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And on the other end of the line, notice that it is very common for Leake to leave the ball up, waist high:


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So instead of "throwing downhill," Mike Leake throws the ball such that it --- > automatically "keeps the bat in the zone" a long time for the hitter, without his even trying.  This is a terrible, terrible flaw; I'd peg it as being worth -20 points of ERA+ all by its ownself.  Maybe it's what keeps Mike Leake from being the young Jered Weaver.



Leake throws his fastball 90 MPH and it has a lovely break on it, 2x10 compared to the usual 5x8.  It swerves armside and drops compared to other sinkers.  But!  Against this pitch he has a cut fastball that also travels a full 90 MPH and its break is 4x0.  In other words, his cut fastball swerves gloveside a full 10 inches (!!) relative to his sinking fastball while losing no velocity at all:


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That is one WHALE of a power slider, when you get 10" of gloveside break at a full 90 MPH.  If Christian Bergman could throw one of these, he'd be likely to stick in the majors too.  Cut fastballs are definitely one of the coins of the realm.



By "heavy" they mean a fastball crawls up the handle of a hitter's bat, and drops a bit, giving the effect of "blonking" the ball off the bottom of the handle a little bit.  Leake's regular armside sinker, thrown to RH batters, is the definition of this (and Leake's actual groundball rate is nearly 55%, as if he were Jake Westbrook or somebody).  Leake's power cutter/slider, thrown to lefties, is also the definition of this.

If Chase De Jong could throw a platinum-heavy sinker to both hand hitter, he'd be good too.


As a completely separate issue, it is FUN to watch Leake do this.  There is a huge visible "Nintendo" effect to his pitches from the CF camera.  He winds, he throws, the ball comes in ... and then dives like a spitball.  Rare to watch more of a consistent Nintendo effect on any pitch.



Leake's "rhythm and attack" is almost funny to watch, because if you didn't know better you would swear he wasn't thinking about anything.  Grab the ball, take the sign, kick the leg and touch his belly button with the ball, huck it in the general direction of home plate.  His PACE is dialed up to 11.

But the truth is, Mike Leake is consistently "on" to the batter's aggressiveness.  If the batter is studying, gauging, thinking, BOOM he takes strike one.  If the batter is aggressive, BOOM here's less of the plate for you.

Leake didn't come up with the St. Louis Cardinals but pitch after pitch I visualize that uniform on his back.  Some guys just radiate wisdom.  By "some guys" we don't mean Mariner pitchers.  Mike Leake's stuff is about a 4 on the 1-for-10 scale but his command, movement, and professionalism is a 9 on the 1-10 scale.



Personally I had been worried that Leake's career arc would be fraying at the edges ... that it would be juuuuuuust cresting its hill and ready to ski down an ever-increasing slope.  However:

√ His 8.5% swinging strike (fishing) rate is easily a high water mark for him, ever.  Look at his career trend on fishing

√ His O-Swing (deception, see-ability) rate is (less) easily his best this year

√ He is, after all, a reliable 1+ BB pitcher who does NOT get splattered, never has

√ His career xFIP of 3.82 is lower than his career ERA of 3.99, 

Leake has toiled for 8 years in the NL with mundane weapons and made it work.  I could see the "novelty" of the American League actually freshening his results in this specific case.  Leake's 3.78 xFIP since 2011 is bunched in a group with:

  • Homer Bailey
  • Jose Quintana
  • Francisco Liriano
  • Rick Porcello
  • Scott Kazmir
  • James Shields

For me? the question will be this one question, "Is Mike Leake our #3 starter or is he our #4."  As a three starter he is very, very yawnable.  But as a 4 starter he would be one whale of a plus pitcher.

My $0.02,

Dr D




He'd have to do something to ratchet the results up (extremely unlikely at this point in his career, especially having 'fallen' from one of the best-run orgs in baseball to the M's--who, in fairness, are on an upward trend in a variety of areas) to become a playoff-caliber #3.  But as a #4 who steps 'up' to #3 based on a good year or injury to guys ahead of him, I'll gladly take it.

Remember, his contract only requires he pitch as an ~average starter (or even a tick below) to be worth the outlay.  He seems like one of the safest bets on the roster, right up there with Seager, to do what we've come to expect.


As a 185 inning 100 OPS+ #4, a guy who keeps us away from the Bergmans, Martins, and HWMNBNs of the AAAA world, he may be of more value than whoever our "#3" might be!  I like this trade more than I did when it happened.  It isn't in the + ledger yet, but getting there.  


For 2017 it was obvious that the Mariners needed to stabilize their 1-5 rotation.  Let's say you stipulate that Mike Leake won't earn a dollar less or a dollar more than his Seattle paycheck (the Cards paying him a good bit more to pitch here).

Over the period 2018-19 is it wise to pay for SP stabilization, before the fact?   


Leake is like clockwork when it comes to throwing 180 innings.  Pencil those in.  Go from there.  


Pitching-wise this season feels a lot like 1997, except we don't have Randy Johnson and Jeff Fassero for 200+ innings each and we don't have Jamie Moyer for 188 IPs (that's a joke). This year's bullpen has better ERA's but they managed to do the leastest with the mostest and coughed up a lot of winnable games. And of course, while our offense is improved over most recent seasons, it's still middle of the pack, and we don't have Griffey-Edgar-ARod-Buhner.

If injuries hadn't completely decimated our starting rotation, it now appears we might easily have been a playoff team.

Just a coule of weeks ago I reviewed our roster and felt very woeful about it's prospects going forward. Haniger hadn't returned to form, Zunino was spotty, Segura had dwindled into a shell of himself, as had Gamel. Seager was starting to break out but we had not yet seen that he would sustain it. And the pitching was a lost cause.

Now I feel hopeful that our outfield is at least covered and could become a strength. The team still believes Gamel will hit more like his first half than his second half. Hope is reasonable that Haniger is more like the Beast he showed earlier than like the mouse he showed after his injury. I may be wrong, but I think Heredia can find significant playing time going forward. Did he wear down? I don't believe he's as bad as he's looked at the plate since his hot start.

Cano's days as a second baseman are numbered. While he still can turn a DP with anyone, his range is greatly diminished (as expected) and he is prone to occasional gaffes that, when they occur, always seem to cost us games. Cano to 1B, next year or the year after for sure.

I'd be shocked if Segura didn't return to form.

Zunino may start slow next year, but we will have reason to expect incredible streaks from him. Please, PLEASE, Lord, let him be ready to shake off his early career problems and give us sustained production. If he does it completely transforms this roster.


Like virtually every pitcher they've acquired, they seem to have told him not to fear the flyball (or maybe Zunino just likes the high strikes), Mike Leake, over the course of his career, threw about 16% of his pitches in the top third of the zone or above.  Since joining the Mariners that percentage has leapt 10 points, with what seems to be a particular focus on Cutters up and away to left handed batters to supplement a generally elevated fastball.  The result has been pretty impressive so far; for the season before joining the Mariners, Mike Leake was a punching bag vs. LHB.

2017 STL 74.2 326 5.67 87 16 1 51 47 9 22 3 5 32 .291 .354 .451 .343

That's a 3.9 K/9 Rate, but since joining the Mariners...

2017 SEA 8.2 35 2.08 7 4 0 2 2 0 2 0 0 10 .212 .257 .333 .255

His strike outs are suddenly at a very healthy rate of 10.4 per 9, and he is yet to yield a home run.  It's still early, and maybe it's just taking advantage of hitters that haven't seen him, but that's an impressive adjustment even for 3 games.


I'm not sure we can expect much in the way of UPside here, if for no other reason than the general tightness and excellence of STL's front office, but gems like that certainly help alleviate pumpkin concerns to a meaningful degree.


After Paxton, Felix, Darvish and Ohtani--in whatever order you like.

Isn't that what we're going to be jonesing on all winter long?

Let the procurement begin!

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