As I’m sure is the case for most of you, Mike Leake and Travis Wood are heavily linked in my mind. They’ve been competing with each other for a spot in the rotation since spring training last year without a clear winner emerging. I thought I’d depart from my recent format a bit and write about both of them at once.

Last year, Wood looked like the better of the two, but this year it’s been Leake. Why is that? Here’s a chart that should help explain:



K/9 BB/9 K/9 BB/9
2010 5.92 3.19 7.54 2.28
2011 6.53 2.32 6.27 3.2

Those are some pretty stark movements for both Leake and Wood. Leake has fairly obviously gone in the right direction, while Wood has moved the wrong way. To be fair, however, I should note that Wood’s 5.11 ERA is an anomaly. He’s been really unlucky and all of his peripheral numbers point an ERA just north of 4.00. Not great, but not catastrophic either.

The aggravating thing is I can’t find anything about either pitcher that explains the changes. Velocity, movement, and pitch selection are virtually unchanged for either pitcher. The stuff is the same, it’s the results that are different.

When we’re evaluating young players, I think it’s really important to pay attention to the role luck can play. Leake and Wood have both thrown a season’s worth of innings over the course of two years. If their innings had come over the course of one season, we’d be pretty thrilled with both of them. Everyone would be saying things like, “Hey, we’ve got a couple of young guys who really held their own this year. That’s great!” Instead, we get worried about things like consistency when, in truth, consistency is what we’ve seen. I noted earlier that there’s nothing in PitchFx or anywhere else that explains why the results are suddenly so different. But take a look at this:

Leake Wood
2010 BABIP .314 .259
2011 BABIP .271 .323

Batting average on balls in play is a stat that fluctuates wildly from season to season, and it’s a lot of the difference we’re seeing with these two guys. Again, you see things sliding one way for Leake and the other for Wood.

The end result is this – If you look closely at the overall numbers, you find the Reds have a couple of pretty good young pitchers. Wood’s ceiling is a bit higher (as we’ve all seen). He could be a #2 starter, where Leake’s ceiling is probably more a #3 guy.  The point is that we shouldn’t get worked up over part of a season. Lucky and unlucky runs will happen in the career of any player, they just seem more important if that player is young.