On Tuesday in Anaheim, Mike Leake recorded his first win as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, scattering six hits over eight innings and allowing only one earned run. When asked to describe what took place in the start, Leake was idealistic with his answer, "Make good pitches and get bad contact." Now, did Leake really execute his pitches better than his first six starts of the season or could most of his success be pinned on the fact that, outside of Mike Trout, the Angels' offense is below average (team wRC+ of 89)?
PitchF/x Basics (Via BrooksBaseball.net)
Remember: Regarding horizontal movement in right-handed pitchers, a negative value means arm-side movement, wheras a positive value means glove-side movement.
|Dragless Horizontal Mov. (inches)
From a horizontal movement standpoint, on the surface (meaning we are not currently considering pitch location or sequencing), Leake definitely made "good pitches" on Tuesday night, as all three of his most-used pitches carried nearly ideal ball flights. The changeup almost perfectly mirrored the sinker (as -10.24 inches versus -10.33 inches is essentially an indistinguishable difference), and the cutter complemented the sinker well with just enough glove-side movement (versus a considerable amount of arm-side movement from the sinker). Yet, a quick look at previous starts shows that horizontal movement has not been an issue for Leake in 2016. Regarding velocity, Leake was right where you would expect him to be on each one of his pitches. Thus, if Leake was effective and making "good pitches," he must have been locating his pitches well, right?
Pitch Location (Via BrooksBaseball.net)
Here is where one begins to scratch one's head. The heatmap on the left is from Leake's first six starts (34.1 IP, 6.03 ERA), and the one on the right is from Tuesday night (8 IP, 1 ER). Leake, a sinkerballer by trade, earns his hard-earned money by living down in the zone. Well, as you can see by the two areas boxed in yellow, Leake actually threw pitches down in the zone more frequently in his first six starts (57.4%) than he did on Tuesday night against the Angels (49.55%).
Maybe he executed more pitches on the edges of the zone, then? Ever so slightly, yes, as 25.22% of his pitches painted the corners on Tuesday versus 22.83% in previous starts. Yet, he also threw six pitches located middle-middle, but was fortunate to come away with only a mere single allowed. Thus, it is clear that Leake's location wasn't necessarily what you'd expect from a sinkerballer aiming for consistent success on the ground. Considering he received only 10 ground outs (versus seven fly outs and five strikeouts), I guess we should not be all that surprised by this finding.
Leake's line on Tuesday night is absolutely a step in the right direction. He threw strikes (75 of 113), induced a decent amount of "bad contact," and allowed only one earned run. However, one must remember his opponent, as the Angels are in the basement of the American League West and after last night's loss have only two wins in their last 10 games. After looking at the makeup of Tuesday's start (mainly location), one wonders whether or not Leake was truly making better pitches than in previous starts or if he just experienced small-sample-sized good fortune. Please note that I do not mean to sound pessimistic about a quality stat line, but it would be more promising if it was accompanied by a good process. Having a good process and good results provides reason for optimism, while having good results from a "meh" process leads to skepticism. I look forward to seeing if Leake can build off Tuesday's performance Sunday against another Los Angeles team, this time the Dodgers.
P.S. Jim Edmonds is a gem in the booth.