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St. Louis Cardinals: Mike Leake’s Unlucky 2016

Mike Leake was victimized by bad defense

Only weeks into a five-year, $80 million contract, the theme of Mike Leake‘s season surfaced. Leake, owner of a career 3.99 ERA, suffered from what John Mozeliak described as a “porous” defense. A quick glance at the numbers revealed that Leake had a career-best numbers in FIP (3.83) and BB/9 (1.53),  as well as being near career highs in K/9 (6.37). Nevertheless, he posted a career high 4.69 ERA.

This is the second time The Redbird Daily has covered Mike Leake. Back on Opening Day of this site, Adam took at look at how the poor defense impacted Leake. This post will cover that as well and also look at what role luck had to play in Leake’s poor 2016 season.

I wanted to compare the quality of the defense behind Leake and his overall ERA. I ranked his best seasons by ERA and pulled the DEF of the team he was on.

ERA Year Team DEF Ranking
3.37 2013 Reds 7
3.56 2015 Reds 22
3.70 2014 Reds 3
3.86 2011 Reds 3
4.07 2015 Giants 2
4.23 2010 Reds 3
4.58 2012 Reds 3
4.69 2016 Cardinals 24

Excluding his two months in San Francisco, Leake’s only seasons with an ERA over 4.00 came in 2010, 2012, and 2016. Leake was a rookie in 2010, so it isn’t surprising that it is one of his worst seasons statistically. They are also the only seasons in which Leake allowed a BABIP over .300. Leake’s BABIP in 2016 was by far his highest since his rookie year, at .318. As you can see, Leake received very good defense while in Cincinnati. In fact, in his second worst season by ERA, the Reds were 3rd in overall defense as ranked by Fangraphs.

The increase in BABIP can almost certainly be attributed to a bad infield defense. The league-wide batting average on ground balls in 2016 was .239. Against Leake, opposing batters hit .255 when putting the ball on the ground. Considering the Cardinals’ opponents hit .254 on ground balls for the entire season, it seems unlikely that Leake was simply giving up harder ground balls. Leake was sixth in MLB in GB%, so .016 change in BAA adds up to quite a few hits that.

I think what this all means is Leake had a rough 2016 season, no doubt, but he also fell victim to poor defense and bad luck as some of his peripheral numbers weren’t too bad.

Typically, career highs in SOFT% and K/9 paired with a career low in BB/9 should add up to a career year. For Mike Leake in 2016, it did not. However, Leake was much better than wins, losses, and ERA would indicate. If the Cardinals improve their infield defense (which is no certainty), his 2017 should better reflect the pitcher he is.

Thanks for reading!

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Colin Garner
Colin is a catcher at Drury University who's a big fan of pitch calling, bullpenning, and Game of Thrones. Gets very frustrated with nonsense from people around him while attending games.
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