In his last two starts, Mike Leake has been incredibly dominant—posting a 1.38 ERA with 21 strike-outs and 0 walks. What is behind Mike Leake’s dominant stretch?
Over the offseason, Cardinal’s management looked for a pitcher to fill in the losses of John Lackey and Lance Lynn. In order to fill a fourth or fifth slot in the rotation, the team looked at Mike Leake. When they picked him up, the Cardinals by no means expected Mike Leake to be one of the highlight pitchers on the staff, and by no means expected Mike Leake to have the second best ERA on the staff. But more than half way into the season that’s where the team stands.
Mike Leake has had other hot streaks throughout the season. But there has been none like the one he’s had over his past two starts. Not only were these two starts incredibly dominant, but they were also historic. Leake is the tenth major league pitcher in history to have back to back 10+ K’s and 0 BB starts. This arises two large questions: What is behind these two dominant starts, and will these two starts be replicable for starts to come?
So lets explore the first question—what is behind Leake’s recent success?
One of the first things I do when trying to find out the reasons for success or failure of a pitcher is their horizontal and vertical movement, game by game. Looking through both of these charts, on brooksbaseball.net, there are practically no differences in recent games. The only real mechanical difference I can find in his starts so far this season has been horizontal release point. Now this could be a result of three different things: different starting position on rubber, greater arm extension, or different scaling on measurement machine. However, we can rule out greater arm extension, because greater horizontal arm extension usually brings with it greater horizontal movement, which is not the case.
So if the reason isn’t mechanical, then what is responsible for Leake’s recent success?
The answer is a simple one: control and finesse. If you look through Leake’s strikeouts in his past two games, most of them come off making the batter chase on pitches out of the strike-zone. Making a hitter do this, however, is not as simple as it may seem. Leake’s ability to make pitches start in the strike-zone, and finish way out of it, is responsible for his dominance. The major pitch he uses to accomplish this is his breaking ball, which starts in the middle of the strike-zone and curves way outside to right-handed batters. This, coupled with his ability to change the batter’s eye level and manipulate pitch velocity, with his five different pitches, has allowed Leake to rake in the Ks.
.@MikeLeake8 is only the 12th pitcher to make at least 2 straight starts with 10+ Ks, 0 BB and 1 ER or less. pic.twitter.com/wovv91yfxN
— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) July 19, 2016
Yadier Molina must also receive some of the credit. In significant way, Molina is responsible for the outcome of many starts. He calls a majority of pitches and their desired locations in specific situations. Good starting pitching requires a well called game, whether that comes from the pitcher or the catcher. This isn’t to say that Mike Leake is not responsible for his fantastic last two starts, just that some credit must be given to Yadi.
Now, the second question arises: Are these two starts replicable in future starts?
Instead of answering this question myself, it’ll be good to see what you think! Do you think Leake can continue to pitch dominant baseball, or will teams figure him out? Vote here: http://goo.gl/6MOJon