On Friday morning, Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees had considered a bevy of left-handed trade targets. The list ranged from ugly (Joe Saunders and Scott Kazmir) to mildly intriguing (Wade LeBlanc, Clayton Richard and Gio Gonzalez). Yesterday I examined Clayton Richard; today the target is Richard’s teammate Wade LeBlanc.
Wade LeBlanc has always been a Padre, drafted in the second round of the 2006 draft out of the University of Alabama. Like Clayton Richard, LeBlanc spent a half season in A ball after being drafted, averaging an ERA of 3.02, a strikeout rate of 7.9/9 and a walk rate of 2.7/9. The following year he opened at High A Lake Elsinore. Over 92 innings he put together a very impressive stat line: 2.64 ERA, 8.8 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 5.29 K/BB ratio. The Padres responded by moving him to Double A, where his ERA bumped up to 3.45 over 57.1 innings. His strikeout rate stayed high (8.6/9), but his walk rate was elevated slightly to 3.0 BB/9. All told, LeBlanc’s first full season as a minor league starter was very successful.
In 2008 LeBlanc was promoted to AAA and saw a divergence of results and peripherals. On one hand, his ERA ballooned to 5.32 over 138.2 innings. However, LeBlanc also managed to bolster his strikeout rate to 9.02/9 and maintain a very good walk rate of 2.73 BB/9. The obvious culprit to explain his high ERA is his BABIP, but his mark was only .304. Perhaps a below average strand rate (64.3%) was part of the reason. Regardless, the Padres promoted LeBlanc to the bigs as a September callup and he made five starts before the end of the year. The results weren’t pretty, but LeBlanc was really just getting his feet wet for the first time.
The following year LeBlanc returned to AAA. He posted a 3.87 ERA over 121 innings, but his strike rate was far lower than it was in 2008 at 7.07 K/9, but he did keep his walk rate low at 2.31 BB/9. LeBlanc saw some midseason action at the MLB level, but it wasn’t until September again of that year that he got consistent time in the Padres’ rotation. He put together a total of 46.1 innings of 3.85 ERA ball, and finished the year strong with a 7 inning, 2 hit, 1 walk, 0 run and 8 strikeout performance against the San Francisco Giants.
Last year LeBlanc spent all but 10 innings in the Padres’ rotation, hurling 146 innings of 4.25 ERA ball in 25 starts. Yet this doesn’t tell the whole story: LeBlanc’s FIP was 4.80 and his peripherals were worse than his minor league pedigree: 6.78 K/9, 3.14 BB/9. This performance was worth precisely 0.0 fWAR for the Padres; fortunately for them, he was making close to the league minimum.
LeBlanc is a soft-tossing lefty. Over the course of his career his fastball has averaged 86.1 mph. In 2010 this mark was 86.6 mph, good for 8th slowest amongst pitchers with at least 140 innings on the year. LeBlanc’s ability to succeed at the major league level is no doubt related to his quality changeup, a pitch he threw over 27% of the time in 2010. He does throw a cutter and a curveball with less regularity, but his changeup is obviously his best pitch. According to Texas Leagers, he got a swing and a miss on 17.7% of his changeups, the highest mark of all his pitches.
Any discussion of Wade LeBlanc would be incomplete if it did not examine his drastic home/away splits, data which will no doubt put the nail in the coffin of his desirability as a trade target for most Yankees fans. In his career, he’s made 18 starts in Petco and has a K/BB ratio of 2.24. Opponents OPS .695 against him. He’s made 22 starts away from Petco, and the numbers are drastically different: a 1.47 K/BB ratio and an incredible 0.922 OPS against. In Petco, Wade LeBlanc turns opponents into a bunch of Jorge Cantus and Yuniesky Betancourts. Away from Petco, opponents turn into a bunch of Matt Hollidays and Jayson Werths. It is a very drastic difference, and while it is a relatively small sample of data it is nevertheless a red flag.
Like with Clayton Richard, the Padres have no particular reason to part with Wade LeBlanc unless the Yankees were to offer them something of value. LeBlanc isn’t eligible for arbitration until the 2013 season, and is under team control through the 2016 year. He’s abundantly cheap, and a good back-end option in the rotation for the Padres. For the Yankees LeBlanc may have more strikeout upside than Richards, but his fly-ball tendencies and soft-tossing ways make him a tentative fit. There seems to be no good reason to give up any premium prospect to acquire LeBlanc from the Padres, and without quality in return the Padres seem likely to just hang on to him. Count this another trade target DOA.