2013 Reds

Mike Leake: Quality Starter

Mike Leake vs The Phillies // The Enquirer/Jeff Swinger

Mike Leake vs The Phillies // The Enquirer/Jeff Swinger

Michael Raymond Leake. We watch him take the mound from start to start wondering whether good Leake or bad Leake will show up to pitch. It seems like half the time it is Dr. Jekyll and the other half it is Mr. Hyde.

I considered the merits of this preconception by analyzing Leake’s quality start percentage. A quality start is one where the starting pitcher throws 6 or more innings and allows 3 or fewer earned runs.

The quality start measure is certainly not the be-all, end-all of pitcher rating. There are far better rate stats to analzye a pitchers full body of work. However, I think as a quick-and-dirty check of how frequently a starting pitcher keeps their team in a ballgame, the quality start metric does a decent job.

The following summarizes the quality start percentages of the Reds 5-man rotation (1) over their careers, (2) through their age 25 season, and (3) during the three year period of 2010-2012.

Career Thru Age 25 Last 3 Years
Player GS QS QS% GS QS QS% GS QS QS%
Arroyo 326 184 56.4% 29 5 17.2% 97 55 56.7%
Bailey 114 57 50.0% 78 34 43.6% 74 42 56.8%
Cueto 152 89 58.6% 116 64 55.2% 88 59 67.0%
Latos 108 66 61.1% 108 66 61.1% 95 59 62.1%
Leake 81 49 60.5% 81 49 60.5% 78 48 61.5%

All five starters have tossed quality starts at or above the major league average frequency of 50% for their careers. In other words, half of all major league starts results in a quality start. Each member of the Reds rotation has been at least that good during their respective careers, and they’ve been significantly better as a group the past three years.

In the recent past, Leake’s QS% is third best on the team behind Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos. Looking at what everyone did through Leake’s current age of 25, Mike is second in QS% only to Latos.

Here’s where QS% doesn’t tell you nearly the whole picture. A lot of Leake’s games meet or just pass the minimum definition of a quality start. Three runs in six innings is a below league average ERA of 4.50. He allowed 3 runs in 6 starts of 6+ innings last year. In a lot of his non-quality starts, Leake gives up more than one run per inning and/or doesn’t make it 5 innings. Seven of his starts last year were over before the 5th inning.

Given his age, and compared to the other starters in the rotation, I think his results so far shows future promise. A lot of people like to compare him to Bronson Arroyo, yet Arroyo wasn’t even regularly taking the ball every 5 days for a major league team until he was 27 years old.

Overall it’s 6 out of every 10 starts in Leake’s young career have been 6 innings or longer and 3 runs or less. Better than 50/50, though maybe not easily distinguishable to the naked eye. Most team would love to have their #5 starter be that good 6 out of every 10 starts.

12 thoughts on “Mike Leake: Quality Starter

  1. An article about Mike Leake… since you took the highroad and didn’t even mention the dead horse (let alone beat it), I will take the low hanging fruit. Everyone’s probably going to be looking even closer at Mike Leake this year. The reason being is because while most teams would take a 4.5 ERA and 3 out of 5 starts being “quality”, the only reason he is able to post his 4.5 ERA is due to the fact that for the second straight year he was handed a starting role that should have gone to Aroldis Chapman.

    So while it’s cool that Mike Leake is decent, and relatively good for a 5th starter, is he good enough as a 5th starter to rationalize Chapman being on pace to only see the ball for 70 innings again? Not even allowed to make 4-out saves at that. But on the bright side, he’ll get 30 saves with probably 15-20 of them coming in situations where the Reds are up by 3 or facing the bottom of the order.

    Think about this.. April 6th to April 13th:
    Aroldis Chapman: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 5 K, 0 R, 0 ER
    Mike Leake: 12 IP, 16 H, 6 BB, 6 K, 9 R, 9 ER

    One of his innings was a tied game in the 9th, the other was a 3 run lead in the 9th. Awesome use of resources.

  2. It’s not Mike Leake’s fault that a 100+ mph lefty was not the choice for the 5th starter when spring training ended.

  3. So the idea is to use a really bad metric to make a point? How about: where does Leake rate among 5th starters? Maybe he’s above average. I don’t know. But using quality starts?

    • @Hank Aarons Teammate: Lots of people think quality starts are a bad stat, but in truth, the combined numbers for all quality starts are very, very good, and it’s actually a pretty solid indicator of pitcher quality.

      I, for one, have used advanced stats more than once to point out that Mike Leake is very close to a major league average starter. Given his durability, that makes him a prototypical #3, and thus well above average for a #5. No one wants to hear that, though.

      • @Jason Linden: I think you are making a somwehat simplistic analysis. I asked, why not line up all 5th starters and use an advanced analysis of them? You’re pointing out that there is a correlation between pitcher quality and quality start. Fine, I’m sure there is. Doesn’t mean, necessarily, that it’s a strong correlation though.

        Let’s take, though, the top 5 starters in 2012 in the NL Central. When I look over the teams, Leake is worse than the 5th best pitcher thrown out there by the Brewers. He’s exactly equal on ERA+ to the Cards’ 5th best; better than the Pirates’ 5th best, and just a bit better than the Cubs’ (who is Travis Wood, BTW). Of course, this is complicated because many of those teams have a really bad 6th best pitcher. But Leake looks about average to me in the NL Central for the 5th best starter.

        Once again, I’m asking for a comparison of all 5th starters in the NL in some reasonable way, instead of just a blanket claim that Leake is slightly below average (which I happen to agree with).

        As a side note, his trend doesn’t look that great to me. But we’ll see.

        • @Hank Aarons Teammate: The point of my comment was that we have given you that very analysis. On this site. Several times. But if you want it again, okay…

          Last year, all major league starters had an ERA- (park adjusted, 100=avg. under 100=beter than average) of 104 and FIP- of 103.

          Mike Leake’s ERA- was 114. His FIP- was 111.

          So, a bit below average in terms of performance against all major league starting pitchers.

          But he makes all his starts, and that matters, too because it keep s replacement-level player out of his spot. Thus, he probably qualifies as almost exactly average in terms of value.

          Further, last year, Mike Leake was worth 1.3 WAR. 96 starters who threw at least 100 innings did better than that. That places him at a high-end #4 (assuming 30 #1s, 30 #2s, etc.).

          How’s that for analysis? You picked four other teams. I picked every other starter in baseball.

  4. It is getting really aggravating that every time that Leake’s name is mentioned, Chapman is brought up. The decision has been made and everyone has been very clear about what their position was on that decision. It’s a dead horse. Please stop beating it. I know I really appreciated that Greg didn’t mention it. This is just a simple article about Leake.

    • @LWBlogger: We should be discussing Leake vs. Cingrani, since that’s the comparison the Reds are making right now. Or at least they should be.

  5. Sorry to nitpick but analzye is misspelled.

    Great info, though!

    A lot of teams would trade away a top prospect to get Mike Leake.

    • @RedForever: I doubt it. Leake doesn’t have a high ceiling, yet will soon be going to arbitration, if he’s not already. He’s just not that valuable. Yes, he can hit, I understand that.

  6. And to add what he can do at the plate and on the basepaths helps to offset some of his shortcomings and allows him to stay in games longer.

  7. Really good article. Made me think, which is what one would hope for in writing a piece like this.

    I’ll avoid the Chapman debate–I’m on Team Starter, for what it’s worth–and see if I can start a different one. If Hanigan is so wonderful defensively, and he in fact started out as the caddy to the other pitcher on the staff who doesn’t have overwhelming stuff, shouldn’t he be catching Leake? Leake has to outwit rather than overpower the batters, and Hanigan’s skill set should be especially useful there. (Plus, Leake’s bat could help make up for Hani’s struggles :-) ) Just a thought.

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