Michael Raymond Leake skipped the minor leagues entirely after being drafted by the Reds with the eighth pick in the 2009 draft. (Of the 49 first-rounders that year, Leake owns the third-highest career WAR. The first two guys are Mike Trout and Stephen Strasburg.)
Now, LeakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s major-league debut actually didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t come until April 11, 2010, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not like he went straight to the bigs, but what Leake accomplished remains historically significant — prior to Leake forgoing the minors, Xavier Nady was the last player to equal LeakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s accomplishment when he did the same thing for the 2000 San Diego Padres. (Leake was the first Reds player to eschew the minors since Bobby Henrich, Jay Hook and Don Pavletich in 1957.)
WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s interesting is that a year later, Leake very nearly started the season in the minors despite going 8-4 with a 4.16 xFIP in 138.1 innings in 2010 — a very fair performance for the right-handed rookie who was essentially the clubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s No. 5 starter. Entering spring training in 2011, Leake appeared to be behind Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Edinson Volquez and Travis Wood in the starting rotation pecking order.
However, Cueto and Bailey began the season on the disabled list, meriting LeakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inclusion on the Opening Day roster. After being jettisonedÃ‚Â from the rotation, Leake was optioned to the minors on May 14, 2011 — to make room for Jose Arredondo! — in accordance with a numbers game and after Leake failed to adjustÃ‚Â to a long-relief role. Leake overcame the rough start — and a dumb decision at a Cincinnati-area MacyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s — toÃ‚Â eventually return to the Reds rotation for good.
What IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m trying to get at here is that if you asked someone to describe LeakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career with the Reds, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure what theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d say, other than to proclaim that LeakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pitching style and performance mirrors that of Arroyo, Leake’s former mentor and best bud with the Reds. And if someone polled 100 random Reds fans and asked the question Ã¢â‚¬Å“Should the Reds re-sign Mike Leake when his contract expires at the end of the 2015 season?Ã¢â‚¬Â, I think the results would be a near 50-50 split.
LetÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s get to what makes Leake good: consistency. Since 2011, Leake is eighth in innings pitched, ninth in games started, 15th in ground ball rate and 17th in left on base percentage among qualified National League starters.
Leake threw more fastballs in 2014 and his average velocity (90.7 mph) on those fastballs was the highest ofÃ‚Â his career. (Hat tip to Steve MancusoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Big Reds Preview.) Leake also employed his slider with greater frequency in 2014 — while making less use of his cutter, curveball and changeup — and the new combination gave way to the best strikeout rate and lowest flyball rate of LeakeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career.
In the above video from last April 17, Leake finishes off his eight strikeouts as such: slider, fastball, slider, slider, fastball, slider, fastball, fastball. The outing was preview of what was to come from Leake. (Leake also demonstrated his ability to put a good thwack on the ball with a double and a home run in that game.)
So, on to my projection for Leake in 2015, which wasÃ‚Â constructedÃ‚Â with influence from Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs and Jason LindenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s projections:
32 GS | 212 IP | 13-10 W-L | 3.73 xFIP | 2.2 WAR
Basically, I expect Leake to do Leake things, which is mix pitches effectively, eat up innings and be an average-to-above-average major-league starter. The question for the Reds is how much are they willing to pay for that? There are many contingencies to consider. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve heard the same rumblings Mancuso mentioned in his Big Reds Preview, which are that Leake, a San Diego native, wants to live and play on the West Coast. So, Reds fans, check out the steady hand of Leake while you can — 2015 could beÃ‚Â his swan song in Cincinnati.