Mike Leake’s Weird Season: He’s Been Great. He’s Been Terrible. Don’t Write Him Off

We need to talk about Mike Leake.

As you know, Leake had a 1.91 ERA in his first nine starts of the season and threw a quality start in all nine. It was an awesome beginning to his 2017 campaign.

Then …

Avalanche!

After getting knocked around in Wednesday’s 7-3 loss to the NY Mets, Leake had a 5.04 ERA and only three quality starts in his last 10 games.  The Cardinals have lost seven of the 10 Leake starts, and Leake has wobbled to a personal 1-6 record to set off alarms.

What the hell happened?

Well,  regression happened.

Leake’s scintillating start wasn’t sustainable. Baseball, as always, evens things up. Over a 162-game season you probably aren’t as good as you look during your hottest of streaks — and you aren’t as bad as it seems when you’re mired in a hopeless rut.

— Because of Leake’s high ground ball rate (56.3%), the first thing I look at is batted-ball luck. In  his first nine starts, the batting average on balls in play against Leake was .239 … that’s 61 points below the MLB average. And in his last 10 starts? A .354 BIP, which is 54 points above average. Luck is a factor here.

— That isn’t a cover-all excuse. Hardly. After all, during his downturn Leake’s Fielding Independent ERA is 5.00. So even when we take the defense component out this,  Leake doesn’t look any better. He’s pitching poorly.  Period.

— Leake’s strikeout rate has dropped by nearly percentage points compared to his early-season run. His his walk rate has nearly doubled, going from 4.2% (before) to 8% during the last 10 starts. Leake’s K-BB ratio was 4.20 in the first nine starts, and it’s a weak 1.75 in his last 10. A finesse pitcher like Leake works the edge. There’s a thin margin between success and failure. He can’t issue too many walks. He can’t put too many balls in play.

— Leake isn’t keeping the ball in the yard. His home-run rate was 0.59 per nine innings in his first nine; that’s been jacked up to 1.30 HR/9 over his last 10 outings. Leake has been blasted for eight homers and a .495 slugging percentage in his last 10.

— It’s fair to look at Leake’s body of work. For the season, he has a fine 3.39 baseball-card ERA, and his 12 quality starts rank second on the staff to the 13 twirled by Carlos Martinez. Leake’s 4.00 Fielding Independent ERA ranks 12th among innings-qualified NL starters; he also ranks 13th in IP and 14th with 1.7 WAR.  The point is, don’t write him off.

— After lasting only two awful innings in the loss  to the Mets, Leake told reporters that he still hasn’t fully recovered from the severe case of the shingles that hit him last summer. Leake said he feels physically weak at times.

A year later? What? Still not feeling chipper?

Um, is there a particular reason why the Cardinals have a medical staff on the payroll?

This is such a weird team … and a weird season.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Miklasz – Pardon My Annoying Positivity, But How About Some Respect For Matt Carpenter?