Mike Leake is a player I find very interesting at this point in the season. We all know that he's the first pitcher in a very long time to skip the minors entirely, and despite being a top draft pick, he isn't said to have top-notch stuff. In addition, his 2010 resume is quite strange. He has a 3.92 ERA, courtesy of two seemingly dominant (though lucky) starts and one seemingly terrible (though unlucky) start:
The combination of these three starts has left Leake with an unspectacular 5.7 K/9 and 5.7 BB/9. His 3.92 ERA might be enough for owners in some leagues to buy into him, but his 4.78 xFIP could leave owners in savvier leagues passing on Leake. Still, I feel as though this Reds rookie has some very redeemable qualities.
First, while he's been called a "No. 3 starter," scouts seemed to really like him, especially his pitchability and his command. Some even like his raw stuff, like prospect expert John Sickels, who hadthis to say when Leake was drafted:
Additionally, after watching some video and taking a cursory glance at the PITCHf/x data from his first three games, I've kind of fallen in love with Leake's stuff. He doesn't throw very hard, but he's got a very good sinker that will induce plenty of ground balls (as his 57 percent groundball rate to date suggests) and a good sinking change-up that should do the same (both with good horizontal movement as well). He also mixes in a cutter, slider, and curve.
The slider is insane, getting more than 5 inches of horizontal movement. Very few pitchers are able to generate that kind of movement on their sliders. It's probably not quite at the level of a Zack Greinke or CC Sabathia or Jake Peavy, but it is quite good (and in terms of actual effectiveness, it's generating 22 percent whiffs -- roughly what Greinke got on his last year). His curve also seems to be a bit of an underrated pitch, generating between 5 and 10 inches of both vertical and horizontal movement.
The combination of good stuff paired with the scouts' raves about his pitchability tells me that, yes, Leake does indeed appear to be ready for the big leagues despite not having thrown a pitch in the minors yet. His stuff is very conducive to generating ground balls, and his secondary offerings should allow him to post an above-average strikeout rate. Because scouts have always made note of his stellar control, and because he showed this during his most recent outing, I'm not going to freak out about the 5.7 BB/9 thus far. He's also been able to find the strike zone at a slightly above league average rate thus far (49.7 percent), which should only improve and, at the very least, paints a rosier picture than his BB/9 does.
Oliver sees Leake posting a 3.68 ERA the rest of the way, and while that might be a little optimistic, an ERA around 4.00 (with significant upside) certainly seems attainable. I bought Leake during the first week of the season in both LABR and Tout Wars, and I'll continue to start him and expect good things. While I'd take a guy like Colby Lewis over Leake, you might have a hard time finding a better under-the-radar pitcher available on your mixed league waiver wire. And if he's still somehow available in an NL-only league, go get him now.