St. Louis Cardinals Player Projections: Dominic Leone
By Matt Graves
2018 was a lost year for St. Louis Cardinals’ reliever, Dominic Leone. Coming off a year of injury, what could his 2019 look like?
The St. Louis Cardinals acquired Dominic Leone just over a year ago in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in which they gave up their ‘Ferrari’ Randal Grichuk. On paper, the trade looked about as stellar as a bench bat for a middle inning reliever swap could look.
Leone was coming off of a 2017 year where he appeared in 65 games with just a 2.56 ERA with a 2.94 FIP. While 2017 was far and away his best season, Leone was 25 and was maturing as his career continued. As bad as it hurt that the Cardinals gave up on Grichuk, he needed a new situation and a young stud reliever under team control until 2022 seemed like a great return.
Fast forward to 2018, and Leone threw just 24 total innings. To be fair to Leone, the nerve issue he had in his elbow was a bit of a freak injury that hopefully won’t resurface. In those 24 innings, Leone had a 4.50 ERA, but with a 3.62 FIP, he may have been slightly unlucky. On the other hand, that ERA might’ve been where it should’ve been because he lost a lot of velocity on his pitches.
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Luck is easier to find when you throw as hard as you are normally do, just like you can’t blame a hitter’s low BABIP for lower performance when the player isn’t making hard contact. Earlier in the offseason, I looked a little deeper into why I think Leone will bounce back in 2019 here. Leone’s arm was numb when he pitched. It is easy to see how his skill at getting ground balls fell apart.
Health is the most important thing for any player.
ZiPS doesn’t seem to think that Leone can return even close to his 2017 form in 2019. The big caveat here for me is strictly health. While I don’t think he could get all the way back to his 2017 numbers, Leone shouldn’t be this bad in 2019. His 175 ERA+ in 2017 would be impossible to get back to but the St. Louis Cardinals need Leone to be a solid middle inning option for a bullpen that is still in flux.
Last year, the bullpen was yet again the biggest issue for the Cardinals, but they were without Leone, a player they thought could even be an option to close. Unfortunately the ninth inning was where Leone was the weakest in 2018 with a 9.64 ERA in that situation.
Leone needs to outperform the ZiPS projection in 2019, otherwise this trade is likely going to go down as a win for Toronto. He is still just 27, with good health, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be able to outperform that projection.
My Prediction: 3.44 ERA, 55 G, 115 ERA+, 0.9 WAR.
If Leone can just get back to 75% of what he was in 2017, he will be perfect for the Cardinals. They don’t need him to be a late inning option, they just need him to perform well enough to serve as a 6th or 7th inning option getting the ground balls he has gotten his entire career.