The St. Louis Cardinals set a goal this off-season to improve the team’s athleticism as well as their overall defense. John Mozeliak has very accurately described the cardinals 2016 defense as porous. The addition of Dexter Fowler, which pushes Randal Grichuk to left field, should help achieve this goal. As well as an expected improvement at shortstop from Aledmys Diaz and everyday appearances from Kolten Wong at second base. These changes should lead to a much more consistent defense. The biggest beneficiary from an improved defense is likely to be Mike Leake.
It’s no secret that Leake is not a high strikeout pitcher. He pitched himself into his $80 million contract by being a durable and reliable pitcher that focuses on keeping hitters off-balance and inducing weak contact. At a glance, the first year of Leake’s high dollar contract looks like a bust because of his 4.69 ERA, which is the highest of his career. But with a deeper look, you could make the argument that he actually had the best season of his career based on his peripheral stats. Let’s look at some of his 2016 stats vs. his career numbers.
ERA 4.69 – 3.99
FIP 3.83 – 4.16
BABIP .318 – .293
LOB% 65.6% – 73.3%
As you can see, Leake’s ERA was much higher than his career norm but he had a much lower FIP than he does for his career. This is likely caused by his inflated batting average on balls in play and low LOB%, also known as strand rate. There are three reasons that can lead to an inflated BABIP or LOB%. Bad luck, bad defense, or the pitcher is giving up a lot of line drives or hard hit balls. To figure out which is the case, let’s take a look at his batted ball stats.
2016 – Career
LD% 21.0% – 21.2%
GB% 53.7% – 50.7%
Hard% 30.6% – 29.8%
Med% 52.1% – 53.3%
Soft% 17.3% – 16.9%
There is a small amount of variance in his batted ball numbers. They do align with his career stats for the most part though. This leads me to believe that the inflated ERA was not his doing and was likely due to a combination of bad defense and some bad luck.
Something else that is easy to overlook is the fact that Leake threw his least amount of innings in a season since 2011. This was due to a bout with shingles and will not be an issue going forward. He is not an ace, but he is a pitcher that is capable of having a lot of value in the back-end of the rotation by giving the team roughly 200 innings of slightly above average performance.
Mike Leake isn’t going anywhere. He’s signed for four more seasons averaging $15.75 million per season and he has a full no trade clause. He has yet to show any signs of wearing down and there is still a good chance that this will look like the Cardinals made a good deal at the end of his contract. The Cardinals seem to think they have made the necessary moves to improve their defense. If this is the case, expect to see Leake’s numbers bounce back to what he has averaged for his career.