In the end, the Mariners’ pitching woes may be fixed with a Leake.
Mike Leake, that is. The 30-year-old pitcher acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals last August could, in fact, be the best starting pitching option the Mariners have in 2018. Coming off a year in which he valued at a career-high 3.1 WAR, Leake embodied the definition of stable and always has. James Paxton and Felix Hernandez, in recent years, have not.
Leake is the pitcher Jerry Dipoto hoped Wade Miley would turn out to be in 2016. He eats innings and rarely walks anyone. Aside from his rookie year, Leake has never finished a season with less than 165-plus innings logged.
His career BB/9 sits at 2.13, but the last two years he’s notched a spectacular 1.66. For reference, only Jeff Samardzija, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, and (somehow) Ivan Nova finished with a better walk-rate in their 2017 campaigns.
With so many questions looming over the Mariners’ starting rotation, Leake doesn’t concern me in the slightest. He feels like the sure thing. Don’t get me wrong; Paxton is the most talented pitcher in the rotation, and Felix is still ‘The King’ in our hearts, but their health is anxiety-inducing.
Of course, as soon as I finish writing this I’ll see a tweet saying Leake is hurt because, well, Mariners baseball.
Mariners fans have almost become completely numb to injury news. It’s like second nature, becoming a part of everyone’s routine: wake up, brush teeth, eat, log in to Twitter, see another Mariners player is injured, cry. It’s a daily crisis.
That said — while no player is safe from the injury bug or the occasional down year in performance, fans should feel comfortable with Mike Leake. Consistency is key for the 2018 Mariners and Leake is chock-full of it.
Regression is a natural part of life for almost every baseball player and it’s sure to happen for Leake this season, but probably not by a lot. Leake has always hovered around the same K/BB splits and sub-4.00 xFIP. While I don’t completely buy into the narrative that Safeco Field is entirely a pitcher-friendly park, perhaps pitching 60-or-so percent of his starts there this season will carry Leake and his high BABIP deeper into games. Having a rest day for this bullpen almost guaranteed every start in the middle of the rotation would be huge for this team and could feasibly become a reality with Leake.
Leake is a very unique player amongst his Major League peers. For example, he is one of a handful of pitchers in the MLB who wear a single-digit number on their jersey, joining the likes of Marcus Stroman and Blake Snell. Drafted out of Arizona State in 2009, Leake skipped the Minor Leagues entirely after winning the fifth spot in the Cincinnati Reds’ rotation the following Spring Training, though he was eventually sent down to their Triple-A affiliate.
He also showed off a pretty sweet jump-shot on the basketball court before his 2018 Cactus League debut:
Maybe in his spare time he can take the trip from Peoria to Phoenix and help the Suns out. He’d probably fare about the same as everyone else on that team not named Devin Booker.
…Wait, what were we talking about? Oh, right, right, Mike Leake is a pitcher, not a shooting guard, and a good one at that. Did I mention that he’s ours? I did? Great! It’s time to get excited because he’s going to help this ball club out in ways they desperately need.
Obviously he can’t carry the burden as this rotation’s savior on his own, but the example of consistency begins with him. Hopefully that trickles down to the rest of the rotation, just like a leak *badum ch*.