Chris Leroux … And Stuff


Chris Leroux could play a big role for the Pirates in 2012

The Pittsburgh Pirates don’t have a very strong pitching staff heading into the 2012 season. They have a starting five that won’t make you gag, but you certainly shouldn’t be very excited about them. The top three of Erik Bedard, James McDonald, and Charlie Morton are probably the strongest top three that we have had in a long time, but they all give you reasons to be apprehensive. Bedard has had major trouble staying healthy, McDonald struggles to be efficient, and Morton (who could also be an injury concern) seems like a guy that hitters have started to figure out.

So what does that mean? I’m not too worried about McDonald and Morton, I think they’ll stay healthy and be pretty good. However, there is no real reason to believe that Bedard will stay healthy for the whole year, and the Pirates are going to have to compensate for that somehow. The Pirates have an extra option once they choose between Kevin Correia and Brad Lincoln, but that’s certainly not going to ease your stomachs.

One guy that I think could put in some innings as a starter for the Pirates is Chris Leroux, and I think he could actually be better than most people would think. Let’s take a look at him.

Leroux was drafted in the 9th round of the 2002 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He made his big league debut in 2009 with the Marlins and pitched 29.1 innings and posted a 7.73 ERA. He went up and down from the minors from then on before finally finding an extended stay with the Pirates last summer.

In his 25 big league innings last year, he posted a 2.88 ERA with 8.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, and a 1.32 WHIP all while not surrendering a single home run. Leroux was one of the Pirates best bullpen arms, and showed the ability to throw some long relief.

Numbers can be deceiving, especially in a sample of only 25 innings, so let’s take a look at his “stuff”, here’s Leroux’s pitch f/x data from 2011 (courtesy of Texas Leaguers):

You can see that Leroux throws the ball with some decent velocity, coming in above 93 miles per hour with both of his fastballs. The whiff rate for his four-seam fastball was almost two percent higher than the league average last year, making it his best pitch. He compliments that pitch with a slider that isn’t too bad. The league average whiff rate on a slider is around 13.6%, so Leroux’s 14.6% has that beat. Also, batters put the slider in play just 14.6% of the time last year, which compares favorably to the league average of 18.29%. Of course, that could have been that he was just throwing it for balls a lot and not warranting swings, but he was right on pace with the league average in strike percentage for that pitch. The two-seam fastball isn’t a bad option for Leroux either. He gets whiffs at a 7.6% rate with it while the league average is below 5%. Also, batters swing at the pitch 58% of the time when the average is 39.4%. So he got a lot of swings on the pitch last year, and a good amount of them were whiffs, which is a very good sign.

Leroux’s stuff seems to check out. He has a very solid three pitches that he used very nicely last year. The question is, why didn’t Leroux have more success earlier in his career? Well, earlier in his career he used to throw his change up a lot more, which didn’t work out too well for him (however, I can imagine not throwing a change up for an extended period of time won’t work out too well either). He also improved his fastball last year, not velocity wise, but he got more swings and misses with it. That could very well be just an affect of the small sample size, there’s no way to know for sure. The improved performance could also have been a testament to how the Pirates used him last year, maybe he was just always in favorable matchups and situations, who knows.

History says that the impressive numbers Leroux put up last year were fluky. While he’s certainly not as bad as the 7+ ERA he posted his first two years, he’s almost just as certainly not as good as he showed last year. However, the guy has the stuff to be successful in the major leagues.

Can he do it as a starter? That remains to be seen. He has never made a start in the big leagues and hasn’t made one at any level since 2006 in A ball. The Pirates would definitely have to stretch out his arm in spring training if they want to have any chance of making him a starter this year. I don’t know the approach they’ll take with him, but I would say that there’s a chance they’ll keep him ready as an option to have a few starts this year. The guy is 27 years old already, so this isn’t a guy you’re going to change into a starting pitcher, but it would be nice to have him ready to make a few starts just in case they need him to.

At the end of the day, the Pirates have a solid relief pitcher with good stuff, and he came cheap.