In December 2015 the St. Louis Cardinals had a problem. John Lackey had signed with the rival Chicago Cubs and Lance Lynn was to miss the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery. The Cards needed a starting pitcher.
For most of the offseason following the 2015 campaign, the St. Louis Cardinals pursued left-hander David Price. They had a hole in their rotation and hoped to get a top of the rotation starter. St. Louis lost the David Price sweepstakes to the Boston Red Sox by something in the neighborhood of $30 million.
Ultimately the Cardinals decided to sign Mike Leake as a number-four starter. St. Louis figured on having Leake slot in behind Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn and Michael Wacha. They saw Leake as a solid innings eater, an arm they could count on to throw strikes and induce ground balls.
Early returns in 2017
Fast forward to May of 2017 and the Cardinals now know what they got in Mike Leake. Through six starts, Leake (4-1, 1.79 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 27 K) has been the ace of the St. Louis staff. In 40 1/3 innings he has surrendered one home run and walked only seven batters.
Mike Leake is the consummate St. Louis Cardinals player. At Arizona State, when he was not pitching, Leake played the outfield and all four infield positions. He is an outstanding hitter and an excellent base runner. An excellent defender as well, Leake is just a baseball player.
On the mound, Leake brings a competitive spirit which makes his stuff better than it really is. With a fastball which generally reaches the low 90s and an excellent slider, Leake is from the Mike Maddux school of pitching. He believes the purpose of pitching is for the batter to get himself out, which is accomplished by keeping the batter off balance.
Mike Leake began his career with the Cincinnati Reds. On April 11, 2010, Leake started and pitched 6 2/3 innings for the Reds against the Chicago Cubs in a 3-1 Cincinnati victory. He made 22 starts in 2010, 26 in 2011 and has made 30 or more starts every year since.
In 2016, his first in St. Louis, Leake started 30 games and pitched to a career-high 4.69 ERA and a 9-12 record. His career record is 77-65 with a 3.92 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. For many of those years, Leake pitched in a band box in Cincinnati.
What a difference a year makes
So far in 2017 Mike Leake is pitching to his defense and has held opposing batters to a .209 batting average. He is battling and commanding his pitches in the strike zone. Yadier Molina has a season under his belt with Leake and they are working hitters on the same sheet of music.
If the Cardinals are going to compete with the Cubs in the National League Central, their starting pitching needs to hold up. Now that Mike Leake is comfortable in his St. Louis uniform he will be a solid component to that goal. For now he is pitching like a number-one starter. Not bad for a guy you signed as a number four.