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The road not taken: What if the D-Backs had signed Mike Leake?

A few hours before the big Shelby Miller deal, it was reported that the D-Backs were close to a deal with Mike Leake. What if they had signed him instead of trading for Miller?

Let's hope MIller gets some more run support than the Braves game him
Let's hope MIller gets some more run support than the Braves game him
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Well Tuesday's trade was... interesting. The reactions ranged from liking the all-in mentality of the move, to calls for the heads of Tony La Russa and Dave Stewart. I never like to strongly react when trades come through, generally taking a well, the front office probably (hopefully) knows more than I do stance. The day of the trade though, reports were coming in saying that the D-Backs were close to a deal with free agent Mike Leake. Would signing Leake have been a better idea than trading for Miller? Let's do some investigating.

First, let's compare Leake and Miller

Shelby Miller and Mike Leake, 2013-2015

Shelby Miller 3.27 114 3.87 2.30 1.27 8.6 6.4
Mike Leake 3.59 105 4.03 2.76 1.22 7.3 6.0

*a couple quick notes to the less-statistically inclined. 

  • ERA+: divides the player's ERA by league average. If your ERA+ is 125, you were 25% better than league average that year. Also is slightly adjusted to account for park factors
  • FIP: an ERA-like number intended to take out the impact of your team's defense. Supposed to be a good indicator of future performance
  • K/BB: ratio of strikeouts to walks
  • WHIP: walks+hits, divided by innings pitched.. Shows amount of baserunners allowed every inning.
  • bWAR/fWAR: bWAR is baseball reference's version of WAR, fWAR is fangraphs' version
Wow, these numbers are surprisingly very close. Probably a lot closer than they should be. While Miller has outperformed Leake in the categories that matter most, like ERA and WAR, Leake is not too far behind. In fact, Leake leads Miller in a couple categories, WHIP and K/BB. Shelby Miller does have a couple things going for him over Leake, which make a pretty big difference in the eyes of management. One is age. Miller is 3 years younger than Leake is, still just 25 years old. This means that he still has time to develop and is yet to reach his peak. Leake on the other hand has either already hit his peak, or is on the tail end of it. The other advantage Miller has over Leake is that his best season shows more potential than Leake's. Let's take a look at another chart:

Miller and Leake's Best Year, According to ERA+

Shelby Miller (2015) 3.02 124 3.45 1.25 3.6 3.4
Mike Leake (2013) 3.37 112 4.04 1.25 3.0 2.0
The Diamondbacks are looking at that 3.02 ERA and thinking hey, we can make that into a 2.70 ERA. They look at Mike Leake's best year and say well, that's as good as he'll get. So we've established that Shelby Miller is a better pitcher (though not by a whole lot) and that he has more potential than Mike. Now, we get down to the not so fun part...

What do these guys cost?

Shelby Miller

You probably haven't heard, but the Diamondbacks gave up a couple guys who apparently are/could be very good. Oh, you have heard? Over a thousand times? Beaten into your brain repeatedly, where you see the names of them in your dreams nightly. Ok, I'll keep this brief then. The Diamondbacks gave up Ender Inciarte, who is an all-star caliber player depending on who you talk to. This in itself is a lot, but then they added on with Aaron Blair, top pitching prospect just about MLB-ready, and 2015's #1 pick Dansby Swanson. You probably have already developed your own opinion on the value of these guys, so I won't sit here and discuss this cost anymore. Oh yeah, Miller is also projected to earn 4.9 million in 2016, according to MLB Trade Rumors so there's that too.

Mike Leake

MLBTR projects that Mike Leake will sign a contract of 5 years, 80 million dollars, for an AAV of 16 million dollars. That's it. No players. No draft picks. Just cash. This cost is WAYYYYYYYYY less than the cost of trading for Miller. Sure, it's not my money being spent, but 16 million is a whole lot less than 3 cheap players who will hopefully be productive for years to come.

Conclusi- Wait hold up the D-Backs got two guys in this trade?

Oh yeah, almost forgot about him. Gabe Speier. 20 years old. 19th round draft pick. Minor league reliever. If you go to google images, a few rows down there's a picture of LeBron when you search for him. I'm serious. Go try it.

Conclusion, for real this time

The Diamondbacks went out and got a slightly better pitcher with a little more potential than Mike Leake. They also payed approximately 2869 times more for him that they would have for Mike Leake. I still have faith in Dave Stewart and TLR that this trade will work out, but man, when you look at the alternatives it just doesn't make a whole lotta sense. Go out and prove me wrong, Shelby.