About three starts back, Andrew (Malcontent) offered the outRAGEous opinion that Wade LeBlanc had a very nice chance of becoming the second Jamie Moyer.
This is the sort of assertion that is rejected out of hand because (1) every 87-MPH lefthander is the next Jamie Moyer, whereas (2) there have been exactly two Jamie Moyers in all of baseball history, those being Moyer himself and Preacher Roe. (It so happened we asked the Founding Father whether there are any precedents for Moyer -- soft-tossing lefties who wandered the tundra with survival beards, for 10 years, and then became upper crust All Stars.)
On the other hand, this WAS coming from Malcontent, so you have what Scott Adams loves to refer to as "cognitive dissonance." It is as if G-Moneyball told you that some scrub in A+ baseball was going to be one of the 10 best players who ever lived. Both ideas (G and Top 10) cannot possibly be right together, and both ideas cannot possibly be wrong together.
Brilliantly, Dr. D solved the problem by ignoring it.
Almost as brilliantly, Wade LeBlanc solved the Mariners' problems by tossing one remarkable start after another. He could no longer be ignored, so Dr. D settled in on Saturday with a bag of chips and a can of soda to see just what exactly was going on here.
JAMIE MOYER DEADFISH CHANGEUP
One thing LeBlanc does indeed have is the Moyer 77 MPH drop change. The following observations about it can be computer-logicked as "TRUE" clauses:
1) The shape of it is Ecstasy Personified, and we're not talking about the street drug. It rolls off the table Time. after Time. after Time. Dr. D would pay $30 Pay Per View just to watch this man throw a changeup. It's as good as any we've seen except Moyer's, maybe including Moyer's.
2) The location of it is far beyond "consistent." It comes out of his hand and hits the low-away corner for a strike as if there is a magnet in the ball. Somewhere along the line, this man polished and refined and honed this drop change until he can throw it in his sleep.
3) He throws it fully 1/3 of the time, drawing scads of embarrassing swings. Because he does it so often, the enemy hitters can never really let the bat fly. It is a flinch situation. As with Moyer.
4) .... for some reason the run value on it is a little bit high, over a scant 40 IP; no doubt that's because a few of them leaked out (not that kind of Leake!) and hurt him. But you can take our word. It's a fearsome weapon. Remember Doug Fister's change, his rookie year? This is WAY better than that. It's got not only arm action and separation, but that critical drop-flop finish to it just as the batter swings.
Mal and I sat there (on Slack) and watched LeBlanc paint the black on one righty -- 5 of 6 pitches were 86-87 fastball and they were ALL in a 4" strip on the corner. The ump walked the hitter. But seriously, LeBlanc can paint.
He's at 1.58 BB per game on the season and that is despite all the reasons that he is paddling upstreme on his ball-strike count. He's AIMING to nick the corner, constantly -- and almost never walking anybody. That is plus-plus command, by definition, Mr. Scout there. You can't do better than a 1+ walk rate. But doing it with 87? C'mon now.
If you or I could pitch the ball into a teacup, you or I could win in the majors. 87 MPH is not a death sentence; it is a total lack of margin for error.
LeBlanc twirls his gloveside cutter (-3 MPH, 83) with almost the same command. So it's a lateral whipsaw -- the hitter leans out over the plate (to align the outside corner with the center of his bat) and here comes the fastball -- NOOOPE! it's not swerving armside! It's coming AT you!
Such a pitch is called a "backup" pitch. Some people, even those around baseball, think 83 MPH doesn't hurt. We've told you the story of a beat writer wandering around behind home as Moyer was warming up ... WHOOP the ball got loose and hit him in the face. A real quick trip to the hospital and a gruesome injury.
That is not a tennis ball they are throwing around out there.
You can't throw a drop change to a left hand hitter; it falls right into his loop zone, the natural place his barrel goes even if he's not trying. That essentially leaves Wade Leblanc with two pitches vs LHB -- a slowball in or a slowball out. Maybe up, maybe. Or pound the knees, knee CAPS better be, and hope for the best.
Dr. D could be wrong here; maybe he just hasn't thought it through. Jamie Moyer had some problems with LHB, but Jamie Moyer had 3 pitches rather than 2. He had a real nice Marc-O Gonzales curve ball.
So my last remaining question -- well, there are two. (1) What is LeBlanc's game against lefties? and (2) can this guy really execute in such a hair-fine manner, game after game? (You realize we mean, can he execute in 70% of his starts.)
So what happened here? If this guy got good, how'd he do it? Malcontent (again) points out that he spent a year in Japan. Dr. D wavers instantly as soon as this argument pokes its nose anywhere out of its cubbyhole.
In Japan they are very good at the soft game, better in fact at it than we are. This is a totally feasible explanation for LeBlanc's refinement. Remember James' axiom: given enough time, MOST or ALMOST ALL pitchers would figure out SOME way to get batters out.
LeBlanc was never awful; his career ERA is 90 coming into the season. A 90 pitcher is a perfectly decent #5 starter, maybe #4. It's just that suddenly he is managing games and locking down lineups like Moyer in his prime. The 7.0 / 1.6 / 0.9 slash line is near-Marco-esque ;- ) though LeBlanc's 8.1% swing and miss rate isn't SUPER inspiring as to his K's going forward. (Ian Kennedy gets 8+ K's with an 8-9% whuff rate and LeBlanc only needs 6 or so strikeouts with a 1+ walk rate.
We don't know whether the M's will stick with LeBlanc through his next two bad games, much less through the year. But man, I'm taking Malcontent's Jamie Moyer shtick a lot more seriously than I had been. The man has flat-out thrown dimes this year.
I've been busting Dipoto's chops this year, well, like he cares, right? But he grabbed LeBlanc as a stop-loss and maybe, what do you think?! Did he see all of the above before the move? Assuming even that the above is LeBlanc’s new, post-NPB reality?
Hungry for more Dr. D shtick? Well, of course you are. And sumptously shall ye dine, should you click through to his second blog Detect-O-Vision.