Who needs the minors? Mike Leake thriving in Cincinnati

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I criticized the Reds for having 2009 first-round pick Mike Leake completely skip the minors to join the Opening Day rotation, but so far the decision certainly looks like a good one.
Cincinnati is in first place and Leake became the latest pitcher to shut down the Astros with six scoreless innings yesterday, cutting his ERA to 2.45 with his ninth Quality Start in 10 tries.
Billed as a smart pitcher who made up for his lack of fastball velocity by throwing strikes and changing speeds with a five-pitch arsenal, Leake has been exactly that. His fastball has averaged just 88.7 miles per hour, but he’s thrown four different off-speed pitches at least nine percent of the time. Leake initially struggled with control, walking 12 in his first two starts, but has handed out a total of just 13 free passes in eight starts since.
He hasn’t pitched quite as well as the 2.45 ERA would suggest, as his 45/25 K/BB ratio in 66 innings is mediocre and Leake has been pretty fortunate in terms of the defense turning balls in play into outs and his stranding runners on base when they don’t. With that said, his Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) stands at 4.06, which is impressive for a 22-year-old with zero minor-league experience.
While nothing special his strikeout rate of 6.1 per nine innings is decent and he’s induced a good number of ground balls, so despite my skepticism about Leake being ready and some less-than-glowing scouting reports, he’s certainly looked like a potential No. 2 starter long term. Better yet, so far Dusty Baker has taken it easy with Leake’s workload, as he’s topped 100 pitches just three times with a high of 106.
Whether that’s Baker finally realizing that running young pitchers into the ground makes little sense or someone higher up on the Reds’ organizational food chain giving him those orders, it’s good news for the rookie right-hander who beat No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg to the majors by two months (and counting).

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.