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The hitting and fielding prowess of Mike Leake

There's more than meets the eye for the Cardinals' new hurler.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For those of us that judge a pitcher's success squarely by their FIP, the $80M/5 year contract is a bit of a question mark. But while FIP is great tool for its "simple and close enough" approach, there are pitchers who consistently beat their FIP. Mike Leake sure looks to be one who can. From 2013 to 2015, Mike Leake's ERA is 44 points lower than his FIP. That's the 7th largest negative difference among players with at least a total of 500 innings over that time frame (a player pool of 54).

While it would be too soon to say that Leake's ERA reflects his true value better than his FIP, it's also a big enough gap over a long enough time to say that to some extent he is truly an FIP-beater. But this piece isn't about that aspect of Leake. This will focus on Leake's ability to provide top notch value, relative to his fellow pitchers, on offense and defense. We'll start by looking at his career stats:

411 6 41 23 0 2.2 % 35.8 % 0.099 0.336 0.212 0.235 0.310 0.240 45

Now those numbers make Kozma or Cruz look good, but the standards are really low for pitchers. Leake's 45 wRC+ in non-pitching duties ranked third best, right behind Grienke and Bumgarner among active pitchers with 200 plate appearances. Among 121 pitchers with over 100 PA since 2011, Leake ranks 7th in ISO, which is the most important part of his offensive profile.

But Leake's main drawing card is his defense. Over his the last four years, he's fifth among pitchers with 21 defensive runs saved. To get some idea of how he's accumulated that value, I took a look at his Inside Edge fielding numbers.

Impossible (0%) Remote (1-10%) Unlikely (10-40%) Even (40-60%) Likely (60-90%) Routine (90-100%)
0.0% (2) 0.0% (5) 71.4% (7) 70.0% (10) 88.9% (18) 98.1% (106)

The number to right of the percentage shows the amount of chances in each bucket that Leake had a chance at. These numbers show that we are dealing with a small sample size, but they also show that in the chances he's got, he's been impressive.

But the Cards aren't basing their decision on less than a seasons' worth of defensive metrics, they likely based it on their own scouting reports. So I decided to comb through's highlights trying find some good examples of the value Leake provides through his defense.

Here Leake is quick to the ball and does the right thing: the throw stays fair and hits the batter on his left shoulder, and after a few seconds the first base ump makes the correct call.

Quick reaction on a hard hit ball up the middle, probably would have been a hit if he missed it.

Weak grounder in a tough spot, Leake bare-hands it and fires a strike to first.

Heads-up play by Leake here to get the lead runner.

And for a few videos to show what he can do with the bat, here Leake executes a safety squeeze perfectly.

Leake hits a homer and a double on top of a strong pitching performance.

Another game he homered in:

Leake is certainly no steal but he's more valuable than his fWAR column suggests. Assuming $8M per win on the market, 5% inflation, and a quarter win decline each year for Leake's age 28 to 32 seasons, the break-even point for a $80M/5 year deal is for Leake to currently be worth 2.35 WAR. So he only has to be about a third of a win better than his FIP suggests to make the deal worthwhile for the Cards:

2016/age 28 2017/age 29 2018/age 30 2019 age 31 2020/age 32
$/WAR 8.0 8.4 8.8 9.3 9.7
WAR 2.35 2.1 1.85 1.6 1.35
Value 18.8 17.6 16.3 14.8 13.1 80.7