By R.J. Anderson //
Every year a handful of young pitchers will ascend the ranks, have a hot start, and cause a scramble to the fantasy waiver wire. Two of these early-season stories couldn’t be more contrasting in background and how they get the job done.
Doug Fister is a large human being. He stands six-foot-eight and most of that height is made up by lengthy stubs he uses as legs. Fister spent most of 2009 in Triple-A and showed impeccable command while getting outs via groundballs. Seattle placed him in their rotation late in the season and he continued those ways while giving up a few too many longballs. He still held a 4.13 ERA though.
Mike Leake has never thrown a pitch in the minor leagues. The Cincinnati Reds drafted the six-foot-nothing righty out of Arizona State University last June. The only pitches he threw for them thereafter came in the Arizona Fall League and during spring training. That didn’t prevent Leake from winning a job with the big league team this season, and so far the results have looked pretty good. Thanks to a Cliff Lee injury, Fister began the season in the Mariners’ rotation. Not only has he made three starts while lasting an average of six innings per, he’s allowed only three runs and 12 hits. He’s still not striking anyone out, but he doesn’t have to right now because he’s not handing out free passes or home runs. Even when his ERA regresses upwards – and it will – he could still fit the mold of a Nick Blackburn or – Seattle fans hide your eyes – what the Mariners thought they would be getting when they signed Carlos Silva a few fateful winters ago. With the Mariners’ terrific outfield defense, it could work.
In two starts and 13.2 innings, Leake racked up groundballs and avoided home runs, which made him a lot like Fister. Leake had a tougher time in his third start. He still managed to last seven innings, but gave up five earned runs on two home runs. Five strikeouts, a walk, and 16 of 23 balls in play going for groundballs provide some hope that this is an outlier rather than the real package heading forward.
Unlike Fister, though, Leake only has a 77% contact rate against, whereas his taller counterpart has a 92% contact rate against. That suggests that while they may take similar steps to getting the same result – groundball outs – Leake has the secondary stuff to also record strikeouts. Particularly his change-up and slider; according to pitch data from pitchfx, Leake’s change-up is being swung at and missed 18% of the time and his slider is being missed 19% of the time. Those are fantastic rates for any pitcher, especially for a rookie without a minor league track record.
In a vacuum, that potential along with his pedigree make Leake a more attractive fantasy option moving forward. At this point, either are worth adds in deep American- or National League-only environments. Leake might be worth adding in deeper mixed leagues too.
For more on promising young players like Mike Leake, check out Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools.