May 31, 2010, 11:44 AM EDT
I criticized the Reds for having 2009 first-round pick Mike Leake completely skip the minors to join the Opening Day rotation, but so far the decision certainly looks like a good one.
Cincinnati is in first place and Leake became the latest pitcher to shut down the Astros with six scoreless innings yesterday, cutting his ERA to 2.45 with his ninth Quality Start in 10 tries.
Billed as a smart pitcher who made up for his lack of fastball velocity by throwing strikes and changing speeds with a five-pitch arsenal, Leake has been exactly that. His fastball has averaged just 88.7 miles per hour, but he’s thrown four different off-speed pitches at least nine percent of the time. Leake initially struggled with control, walking 12 in his first two starts, but has handed out a total of just 13 free passes in eight starts since.
He hasn’t pitched quite as well as the 2.45 ERA would suggest, as his 45/25 K/BB ratio in 66 innings is mediocre and Leake has been pretty fortunate in terms of the defense turning balls in play into outs and his stranding runners on base when they don’t. With that said, his Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) stands at 4.06, which is impressive for a 22-year-old with zero minor-league experience.
While nothing special his strikeout rate of 6.1 per nine innings is decent and he’s induced a good number of ground balls, so despite my skepticism about Leake being ready and some less-than-glowing scouting reports, he’s certainly looked like a potential No. 2 starter long term. Better yet, so far Dusty Baker has taken it easy with Leake’s workload, as he’s topped 100 pitches just three times with a high of 106.
Whether that’s Baker finally realizing that running young pitchers into the ground makes little sense or someone higher up on the Reds’ organizational food chain giving him those orders, it’s good news for the rookie right-hander who beat No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg to the majors by two months (and counting).
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