Here are three developing stories to keep in mind for your Thursday:
1. I wrote this about Mike Leake four months ago:
But there are plenty of reasons to believe he’ll rebound in 2017. His walk rate (4.0 percent) was actually the lowest of his career, while his strikeout rate (16.5 percent) was one of the highest. He may have just been unlucky, allowing by far the highest batting average on balls in play of his career (.318) despite no noticeable spike in hard hit percentage allowed (just 0.8 percent above his career mark). Leake’s strand rate was uncharacteristically low at 65.6 percent; more than likely, it’ll creep back towards the low 70s. All of this explains why despite a career-high 4.69 ERA, Leake actually posted a career-low 3.83 fielding independent pitching. Plus, he’s a workhorse, and that’s valuable.
Let’s check in on those metrics through 11 Leake starts:
- BB%: 4.1%, right around last year’s mark
- K%: 18.1%, even higher than last year and close to his career high (18.2%)
- BABIP: .234, a career best and 84 points lower than last season
- Hard%: 27.9%, the second-lowest of his career
- LOB%: 82.5%, highest of his career by a wide margin
- ERA: 2.64, lowest of his career
- FIP: 3.59, lowest of his career
The walk and strikeout rates appear to be real. Leake has been better than ever at inducing weak contact, and he’s stranding whatever runners do reach base. And he’s been a horse, averaging 6.8 innings per start after just 5.9 last year, saving the bullpen nearly a full inning of work every fifth day. All of that and you have the 29-year-old starter delivering the best production of his career so far.
Of course, he’s been a bit lucky. That BABIP will likely rise back towards his career .289 mark, and we can still say that his strand rate will creep back towards the low 70s. He’ll regress, probably to the 3.60 ERA or so pitcher he was in the three years prior to coming to St. Louis. Heck, he’s already put up his worst two starts of the year in his last two outings to see that mark rise from 1.91 to 2.64.
The point is, Leake isn’t the 4.69 ERA disaster we saw last year, and he isn’t among the National League’s elite, either. Leake wasn’t anything to worry about coming into the year, and it’s important to remember that he’s not anything to worry about when he inevitably regresses this summer, either.
2. Excuse me for making the obvious observation, but the Cardinals have been extremely difficult to read this season.
They cratered to a 3-9 start, then dug themselves out of the self-imposed hole by running off 16 out of 21, including six straight entering a brutal CHC-BOS-SF-LAD-COL-LAD-CHC stretch. Given a chance to prove that they are indeed talented enough to compete with the best, the Cardinals fell flat on their face, going 7-14 and topping it off by getting swept by a Cubs team that entered on a six-game losing streak after getting swept by the Padres.
Going to Cincinnati appeared to offer a bit of respite and the Cardinals seized the opportunity to turn their season around by…dropping the first two games and allowing four home runs to a guy who entered the game with a .180 isolated power and left it at .276. This is probably who the Cardinals are in 2017: mediocre, decent enough to hang around, but no real threat to shake up the NL playoff picture. They need to turn it around fast, or there will be some decisions to make very soon.
3. Monday, the second NL All-Star Game voting update was release.
Here’s where the Cardinals stand:
- C: Yadier Molina (3rd)
- 1B: Matt Carpenter (5th)
- 2B: Kolten Wong (5th)
- 3B: Jedd Gyorko (5th)
- OF: Dexter Fowler (10th)
Yadi is the closest to the top, but there’s almost no chance he supplants Buster Posey at catcher. None of the other infielders really have a shot. Fowler is just over 200K votes from third place in the outfield, but he’d have to jump too many others. Essentially, no position players will be voted in from St. Louis. The Cardinals will have to count on backups and pitchers for their All-Star appearances this year.
Image Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports