St. Louis Cardinals: Is Mike Leake’s May Here to Stay?

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May 31, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mike Leake (8) pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
May 31, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mike Leake (8) pitches in the first inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /
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The St. Louis Cardinals $80M dollar starter looked great in the month of May. Can Mike Leake keep it going throughout the rest of the season?

What a May it was for Mike Leake. In a St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation that has had its inconsistencies, Leake has been one of the few constants this last month.

So, just how good was Mike Leake’s May? Well, let’s start with his 2.31 ERA, which ranked 16th among all qualified starters in the month of May. You might say, ‘well, 16th isn’t that spectacular’, but don’t be fooled. That 2.31 May ERA was ahead of Chris Sale, Danny Salazar, Jose Quintana, Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka. That’s some pretty good company to be in front of.

More importantly, Leake got his groove back with his sinker. Leake induced 64 ground balls last month, which is up from just 47 grounders in April. His ground ball percentage rose from 46.5 percent in April to 52.9 percent in May. I’d still like to see that number be higher (ideally in the 60s for a groundball pitcher). Still, it is a significant improvement.

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Probably the greatest reason for Leake’s May success was his left on base percentage. Leake left runners on base a whopping 94.6 percent of the time in May, which ranked second last month among all starters behind only Jose Fernandez. For comparison, Leake had a minute 57.3 LOB% in April.

If you can strand those runners that you allow on base, then you can keep that ERA in check. It’s that simple. Now, that LOB% is certainly going to regress back to his career 74.5 percent average sooner rather than later, but it is encouraging to see Leake be stingy with runners on base. You want that out of all the Cardinals pitchers.

The big question is — can he keep it going?

The short answer: no, at least not at this pace. Here’s why. Last month, Leake had the 8th lowest BABIP among qualified starters at .216. There are a couple of reasons behind that, but considering that the Cardinals infield has had its woes defensively, odds are that low BABIP has been a factor of luck and some out of the ordinary defensive gems that the infield has made behind Leake on the mound.

Leake also gave up more homers last month (6) compared to just four in April. He has to continue to work down in the zone and induce more of those ground balls to be effective. Leake’s advanced stats are what worry me the most.

Despite the great May ERA, that is only one side of the story. Last month, Leake also put up a 4.48 FIP and a 4.04 SIERA, both of which are more telling of a pitcher’s ability than ERA. Those numbers let us know that Leake’s 2.31 May ERA was likely fools gold more than the real deal. Still, give credit to the guy. He made big pitches and got ground balls when he needed them the most last month. That 2.31 ERA and a stellar 0.95 WHIP in May are nothing to look down on.

All in all, Leake had a solid month of May, but odds are he can’t keep stranding runners at the rate that he has. He didn’t do it in April and it came back to haunt him time and again.

Next: Cardinals: A Letter to the Spoiled Fans

Still, it’s great to see a vast improvement out of the 28-year old, and Leake has been a slow starter anyways (a career 4.34 March/April ERA). If the right-hander can continue to churn out quality starts, it will go a long way in stabilizing an otherwise rocky Cardinals rotation thus far.

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