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After losing out on David Price, should the St. Louis Cardinals turn to Mike Leake?

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Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

After "finishing runner-up" to the Boston Red Sox in the David Price "sweepstakes," John Mozeliak and the St. Louis Cardinals now find themselves in a complicated situation as to which direction they would like to go the rest of the offseason. It is abundantly clear that Price was their top pitching target (and maybe top target overall) as they reportedly offered $190 million, which, if Price had signed, would have been the richest contract in team history ($70 million more than Matt Holliday's deal in 2010). Never once have the Cardinals offered such a contract to a free agent starting pitcher, so it is clear that Price was an exception, a special free agent the Cardinals truly coveted. And it makes sense because, all things considered (i.e. age, handedness, health) Price was clearly the top pitcher available.

Well, with six spots open on the 40-man roster and an apparent willingness to spend ($190 million isn't a measly offer, by any means), will the Cardinals go after another top-to-middle tier starting pitcher (Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake) or will they simply shift their focus to bringing Jason Heyward back and worry about the rest later? If you need a refresher on the current state of the starting rotation, look no further than the red baron's post from yesterday. In short, Lance Lynn is still out for all of next season, so it wouldn't necessarily hurt to add another arm.

Career statistics

Year GS IP K% BB% ERA FIP xFIP fWAR
2011 26 167.2 17.0% 5.5% 3.86 4.22 3.68 1.5
2012 30 179.0 15.3% 5.4% 4.58 4.42 3.82 1.4
2013 31 192.1 15.2% 6.0% 3.37 4.04 3.91 2.0
2014 33 214.1 18.2% 5.5% 3.70 3.88 3.49 2.3
2015 30 192.0 15.3% 6.3% 3.70 4.20 3.93 1.7

In all honesty, when I look at these numbers, I see a poor man's Kyle Lohse (career 14.9% strikeout rate, 6.4% walk rate, 9 seasons with at least 180 innings pitched). And for the record, I mean peak Lohse (~2007 to 2012), too, not the one who is currently projected to be worth 0.7 fWAR over 161 innings next season. Now, being compared to Lohse, especially when he will be likely be asked to fill the role of fifth starter, isn't necessarily a bad thing for Leake, but with a FanGraphs' crowd-sourced contract of four years, $56 million, it really makes you wonder whether or not he's worth the cost.

Now, from 2011 through a good portion of 2015, Leake's home park was the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, which is not an ideal location for pitchers. A phrase I have heard multiple times this offseason is "just imagine how much better Leake will pitch at pitcher-friendly Busch compared to the hitter-friendly GABP." Sure, this is reasonable enough, but being from the National League Central for almost his entire career, will ten more starts at Busch per season really move the needle all that much? A quick review of the home runs he allowed last season, with a Busch Stadium overlay, shows that two of the 22 he allowed would have stayed in the park in St. Louis. Is this significant or predictive? Nope, not really, but it is definitely something worth considering when tens of millions of dollars are involved.

2015 repertoire

Remember: For horizontal movement with right-handed pitchers, a negative number is arm-side movement and a positive number is glove-side movement

Pitch Frequency Velocity (MPH) Dragless horiz. mov. (inches) Whiffs/Swing GB/BIP
Sinker 43.87% 91.74 -11.45 7.97% 55.14%
Change 7.28% 86.48 -12.17 6.25% 57.14%
Slider 9.84% 81.88 10.3 35.04% 39.58%
Curve 12.95% 80.56 12.71 23.48% 55.32%
Cutter 25.91% 90.73 0.58 15.93% 46.04%

via BrooksBaseball.net

While Leake has a diverse repertoire, he is essentially a sinker/cutter pitcher reliant on inducing weak contact by hitters for success, and so far, it has worked for him. At 28 years of age, the quality of his stuff is not likely to decline all that much over the next few seasons, but given that he is reportedly looking for a four year deal, this will definitely come into play in, at minimum, the last season of his contract. Given his approach to hitters (i.e. get groundballs), I don't think it will be that big of a deal, but again, it is something worth considering.

Bottom line

The 2015-2016 market for free agent pitchers has been set. Some may say that Jordan Zimmermann and David Price set it, but I put more stock in the one year, $6 million contract Rich Hill got from the Oakland Athletics. After pitching much of 2015 in independent ball, Hill had four pretty good starts with the Red Sox in September/October and was able to turn this brief stint of success into a not-insignificant contract. Thus, given the current state of the market and the fact that no draft pick is attached (because of being trading midseason), $14 million per season is probably about right for Leake. While I realize the Cardinals have plenty of money to spend, I think it could be better utilized elsewhere as I would first take my chances with someone in-house (Tim Cooney, Tyler Lyons, Marco Gonzales) or take a flyer on one of the non-tendered starting pitchers (mainly Henderson Alvarez).