Mike Leake Just Wins
April 08, 2010
This weekend, Mike Leake is scheduled to make his big-league debut with the Reds against Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs. He'll have skipped the minors altogether after a stellar three-year career at Arizona State.
The stat that pops out at almost everyone who looks at Leake's college record is that he won 40 games for Arizona State, including double-digit win totals each of his three seasons. Sure, pitcher wins are an old-fangled stat that no intelligent baseball fan talks about, but...dude, that's a lot of wins.
Here's a fun fact: From 2007 to 2009, only other pitcher (UNC's Adam Warren) posted double-digit win totals twice. Hell, only 22 major league pitchers amassed 40 wins over the last three seasons.
Naturally, Leake topped Division One over the last three years. Here are the leaders in that span, notable as much for who is missing as for those on the list:
Player School 2007 2008 2009 Total Mike Leake Arizona State 13 11 16 40 Adam Warren North Carolina 12 9 10 31 Justin Marks Louisville 9 9 11 29 Kyle Gibson Missouri 8 9 11 28 Alex White North Carolina 6 13 8 27 Ryan Berry Rice 11 8 7 26 Nick McCully Coastal Carolina 7 10 8 25 Matt Ridings Western Kentucky 7 10 8 25 Preston Guilmet Arizona 12 6 6 24 Louis Coleman LSU 2 8 14 24 Chris Fetter Michigan 6 10 7 23
Not a lot of filler there. If we went down to 22 wins, we'd see Mike Minor, Jerry Sullivan, A.J. Morris, Stephen Strasburg, and Austin Wood.
In fact, only 28 D-1 pitchers racked up twenty wins over the last three years. No matter how you look at it, Leake's achievement is an impressive one, maybe on par with a 30-win MLB season.
We're in the habit of discarding pitcher wins when talking about pros. Certainly there are better and more thorough ways of evaluating pitchers. But consider all of the meaningful things Leake's win total indicates:
- He pitched deep into games. As the saying goes, you make your own luck. Leake averaged better than 7.1 innings per start last year, giving himself a good shot at the W every time out.
- He's durable. You can't win that many games in the short college season if you lose time to injury. This is especially important for someone pitching as many innings as Leake did. He survived a heavy workload without sacrificing health or performance. Put another way, he's as close to Dusty-proof as possible.
- He was an elite starter as a freshman. You can't say this about very many college players. In 2007, Strasburg won one game. Leake won 13. (Maybe the A's should've worked harder to sign him after selecting him 218th overall in the '06 draft.)
- He played for a good team. Wins are context-driven. That's as much an endorsement as a caveat, as Leake was recruited to play for one of the best programs in the nation. Also, in college, good teams play other good teams. Leake didn't face many weak opponents at ASU.
- He pitched in the postseason--and won. The absolute maximum number of regular season starts for a college pitcher is 15. As the Sun Devils went deeper into June, the competition only got stiffer.
We're accustomed to misleading win totals in MLB. Last year, Braden Looper won 14 and John Lannan won 9. In the college game, it's possible that a low win total disguises a good pitcher, but it's much less likely that a bad pitcher lucks into a high win total, especially over multiple years.
Who knows? Maybe in this corner of the baseball analytical world, pitcher wins actually mean something.