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Wade LeBlanc, Potentially Useful Pitcher

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Jerry leaves no pierre unturned

Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day
voulez vous pitchey avec Ms?
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

On Wednesday it was announced that Jerry Dipoto was working his Blackberry/underground network of spies again and had acquired Wade LeBlanc for cash/a PTBNL. The LeBlanc acquisition was somewhat buried in the Tom Wilhelmsen news, as Tom Wilhelmsen is a known and beloved commodity ‘round these parts and Wade LeBlanc has the name of a cartoon skunk with a Cajun accent. However, after Adrian Sampson went down yesterday with NO WHAMMIES NO WHAMMIES STOP “elbow soreness,” the LeBlanc acquisition looms large over the barren wasteland that is the Mariners’ starting rotation.

Dipoto is well-acquainted with the 31-year-old lefty, who spent time with Jerry’s Kids, aka the Anaheim Angels of California in Los Angeles Angelenos. You know how in police procedurals there’s always a suspect who’s described as having a “rap sheet as long as my arm”? That’s Wade LeBlanc. Originally drafted by Tampa Bay in 2003, LeBlanc opted instead to play his college ball at Alabama (Roll Tide). He was taken again in the 2006 draft, this time by San Diego, and was a Padre for four years before embarking on a tour of our great nation that would see him spend time in all North America’s extremities: Miami, Toronto, Miami again, Houston, Toronto, LA, NYC, and then LA again. In 2015, LeBlanc pitched in the NPB League in Japan for the Seibu Lions. He returned to MLB early in 2016, signing a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays before Jerry spirited him away to Seattle and a new corner of the US (I think you can turn that in for a free foam finger or something at the Pro Shop, Wade).

LeBlanc pitched well in his time with the Buffalo Bisons, but that was not always the case in his lengthy career. LeBlanc struggled after his call-up in 2008, posting an ERA of 8.02 in four games in which he walked almost as many batters as he struck out. He lowered his ERA over the subsequent years to a more manageable 4-something and increased his K/BB ratio to closer to 2 before he was traded to Miami, where he further lowered his ERA and raised his K/BB ratio to 2.26. In 2013, however, he lost his spot in the rotation to Tom Koehler and was DFA’d in early June. Houston picked him up off waivers but he struggled in a reliever role and found himself again on the waiver wire by the end of the month before being outrighted to AAA Oklahoma City. In 2014, Jerry Dipoto’s Angels signed LeBlanc to a minor league deal—despite his inflated ERA, his K/BB ratio never dipped much below 2—but he would make only one disastrous appearance with the big club in relief of Garrett Richards, giving up four runs (after Richards had already given up five), before again being DFA’d at the end of May. The Yankees picked him up, and he made one disastrous relief appearance for them before they DFA’d him. The Angels took him back on a minor league deal and he appeared in nine more games, lowering his ERA to a more manageable 2.82 and posting an incredible 4.25 K/BB rate.

In 2015, LeBlanc opted to pitch in Japan, with the Saitama Seibu Lions of the NPB, where he carried an ERA of 4.23 over seven appearances and saw his K/BB ratio fall below 2 for the first time since his early-career struggles. However, LeBlanc says the experience of pitching in Japan changed his approach. Far from the US and the current fascination with triple-digit flamethrowers, LeBlanc says he admired Japanese pitchers for their ability to locate with accuracy and command every pitch. He told MiLB.com:

“Going [to Japan], seeing how they do things, can give you an insight on how to do things better when you come back here. . .If a hitter is looking for a fastball, don't throw him a fastball, throw him something else for a strike. A lot of guys try to make pitching difficult, and it doesn't have to be...Like hitting, pitching can be a game of failure. But it makes it tougher if you out-think yourself."

Whatever lessons LeBlanc learned in Japan seem to have stuck. He started off the season with the Buffalo Bison with a 33 1/3 scoreless inning streak, posting an ERA of 1.71 and a K/BB ratio of 4.05 with a strand rate of almost 85%. None of LeBlanc’s pitches will overwhelm, but he has a nice pitch arsenal: a fastball that sits around 89, a 77-mph change, along with a cutter, slow curve and even an occasional slider. (Since he’s been out of the majors for a while, this data is from 2014, so it’s probably wise to knock a couple ticks off those pitch speeds.) But his performance so far in the minors demands notice, and in fact, there was even talk of the Jays calling him up:

I’m not exactly sure how Jerry got the Jays to cough up LeBlanc; maybe by offering to shovel some money onto the mountain of cash they will need to re-sign Bautista and Encarnación? Also, who knows if LeBlanc’s early success will play at the major league level in his age-32 season, and one Lookout staffer would like to remind you of this:

However, given the Mariners’ current pitching woes, acquiring LeBlanc is a move that makes good sense even if he simply a warm body on the mound, and a genius-level move if LeBlanc is able to replicate even half of his success at Buffalo. Here’s hoping the Northwest climate agrees with him.

The MiLB website is being a jerk, but click here to see LeBlanc strike out 11 batters over eight shutout innings.

allons marins