June 4, 2012 @ 15:42:16 PDT
Mike Leake and I have endured a love-hate relationship. I was a detractor when he shot from college straight to the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. He wasn't a strikeout guy. He simply got by. He did for awhile in his first taste of The Show, but luckily I wasn't along for the roller-coaster campaign.
I was more inclined to buy, especially in singular universes, during his dirt-cheap follow-up. I didn't, but the right-hander posted some solid months in 2011 and was honing his craft to pitch deeper into games, which spoke to his inning-eating philosophy. Leake teased increased velocity last spring but didn't follow through on it.
So what to make of his solid run in four of his last six outings? The control artist is adding a tick of velocity and punch: Along with a useful 3.89 ERA in his last six starts, he's fanned 29 in 34 2/3 innings. Part of his success stems from rekindling his own fleeting tryst.
Leake is a member of the Cutter Cult. In fact, per PITCHf/x, Leake boasts the sixth highest percentage of cut fastball deployment among qualified SPs after ranking third in 2011. In the same system's pitch value system, Leake's favorite weapon is back in the black because he's staying on the black.
Introducing or embracing the pitch has lifted Zack Greinke, Jake Peavy, Jeremy Hellickson, Barry Zito, Jerome Williams, Kevin Millwood and more in 2012; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN goes in-depth about the pitch's advantages. Getting behind cutter disciples often points to breakthrough candidates. It famously made Mariano Rivera into a surefire Hall of Famer, and it even transformed Scott Feldman, at least temporarily, into a fantasy stud a few campaigns ago.
It's a less taxing expansion of a hurler's secondary stuff than a curveball and slider, which are known to erode many an arm. The offering is so effective because it allows its launcher to work aggressively in the zone while also disguising it as a meatball. Leake, who lives around the plate because of his meh giddy-up, dipped his toes into this river during his rookie campaign but was truly baptized last season. He's still practicing, and his command of the plate has improved plenty because of it, especially in his recent turnaround.
A positive LOB% regression and competent grounder creation should push the control artist toward a mid-3.00 ERA, even in his hostile home environment. I'm counting on a K/9 of around 6.50, which was what he previously was missing to get the most out of his attractive walk prevention.
He joined my mixed LABR squad last week, and you should consider him for your deep roster, as well.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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