Wade Leblanc has been a godsend for the Padres. Since Chris Young went on the DL, LeBlanc has started three games and the Padres have won all three. In 17.1 IP, he's got a miniscule 0.52 ERA. Quite the turnaround for a guy who looked like absolute crap in 2008 and most of 2009.
So the question is, just how good is he? The answer is probably not this good, but he has a chance to be a solid, above-average starter. With the obvious caveats about sample size for 2010 data, let's take a look at his numbers and see what they tell us.Let's start out with Wade's minor league numbers and see how he did on the farm. In 2006, LeBlanc pitched 21 innings in rookie ball in Eugene and 32.2 innings in Single-A Fort Wayne. Here's how he did in those two stops:
Eugene: 21 IP, 8.57 K/9, 2.57 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9, .326 BABIP, 2.15 FIP
Fort Wayne: 32.2 IP, 7.44 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, 0.28 HR/9, .315 BABIP, 2.96 FIP
That's pretty good. His real strength was limiting the home-run ball, though a sub-3.00 BB/9 is also pretty good. His strikeout rates were also very good. In 2007, LeBlanc again split his time between High-A Lake Elsinore and AA San Antonio. Again, here's how he did in those places:
Lake Elsinore: 92 IP, 8.80 K/9, 1.66 BB/9, 0.49 HR/9, .283 BABIP, 2.54 FIP
San Antonio: 57.1 IP, 8.63 K/9, 2.98 BB/9, 1.26 HR/9, .273 BABIP, 4.09 FIP
Wade killed the California League. It's even more impressive when you consider that it's a notoriously good environment for hitters. He struck out nearly a full batter per inning, rarely issued a free pass, and was very stingy with the long ball. The Texas league provided something more of a challenge for him, and for the first time he saw his FIP go over 4.00. When we look at the numbers, we see that the real problem was he started giving up home runs. He was still striking batters out at a high rate, though his walk numbers did rise as well. The killer was a home run rate that nearly tripled. It's rather curious, given the fact that the Texas league is considered friendly to pitchers. I'm tempted to chalk it up to seeing higher quality hitters and leave it at that, but from this point onwards LeBlanc would have trouble limiting home runs.
Moving on to 2008, Wade started in AAA Portland and spent the entire year there save for a late-season call up to San Diego. Here are his stats for the year:
Portland: 138.2 IP, 9.02 K/9, 2.73 BB/9, 1.36 HR/9, .313 BABIP, 4.22 FIP
San Diego: 21.1 IP, 5.91 K/9, 6.33 BB/9, 2.95 HR/9, .323 BABIP, 8.19 FIP, 5.66 xFIP
Wade the strikeout master continues to whiff hitters at an impressive rate, and a 2.73 BB/9 figures shows good control. Again, though, Wade struggled with keeping the ball in the park, giving up over one home run for every 9 innings pitched. The Pacific Coast League is known for being a big hitter's league, so it's a bit more excusable here, although the fact that it wasn't much higher from his AA numbers shows that it wasn't all park or league factors.
Wade's time in the majors in 2008 was clearly a disaster. He showed little control and was repeatedly taken deep. He was a completely different pitcher than the one he had been his entire minor league career. He was 23 at the time and it was his first MLB experience, and his numbers show a young, nervous pitcher who wasn't yet ready for prime time. Following this brief stint in the show, LeBlanc again started in Portland in 2009. Here's how he did there:
Portland: 121 IP, 7.07 K/9, 2.31 BB/9, 1.12 HR/9, .276 BABIP, 4.06 FIP
Similar numbers to 2008. His strikeout numbers dropped a bit, but so did the walks and home runs, resulting in an improved overall FIP. Improvement is good. Now, as we know, Wade was shuffled back and forth between Portland and San Diego a few times in 2009. Here are his overall 2009 MLB numbers:
San Diego: 46.1 IP, 5.83 K/9, 3.69 BB/9, 1.17 HR/9, .224 BABIP, 4.97 FIP, 5.21 xFIP
Huge improvement from 2008. The strikeout numbers are the same, but he cut the walks and home runs in half. Let's have some fun, let's look at just his September call-up, which was different from the earlier one in a significant way:
Sept/Oct: 36 IP, 6.50 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 1.00 HR/9, .201 BABIP, 4.26 FIP, 4.64 xFIP
Here, we start to see some flashes of the pitcher that was very successful in the minor leagues. The strikeouts are up, and the walks and home runs are down. Clearly, the major leagues were a big-time challenge for the young pitcher, and it took him a while to first get some confidence and trust his stuff (which his crazy walk numbers in 2008 show he wasn't), and then to learn how to pitch to major league hitters.
Now, even though we have a tiny sample size, let's take a look at his 2010 major league numbers:
San Diego: 17.1 IP, 8.31 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9, .354 BABIP, 1.93 FIP, 3.35 xFIP
We're finally starting to see the Wade Leblanc that destroyed hitters in the minors. His strikeout rate is back over 8.00, his walks are under 3.00, and he has yet to surrender a long-ball. Now, obviously he will give up some homers (which is why his xFIP is a run and a half higher than his regular FIP). Remember he struggled with home runs in the upper minors and there's no reason to think that he'll suddenly fix that against even better hitters. The good news, though, is that he gets to pitch half his games in PETCO Park, which swallows home runs like no other park in professional baseball. That should help.
His strikeouts will probably drop some, and he'll probably walk a few more batters. It's probably not realistic to expect him to be an ace or even a #2. But the confidence that he lacked in 2008-2009 appears to be back, as well as the control he depends on. Given that he's only 25, he has a chance to be a very effective pitcher for the Padres going forward.