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40 in 40: Wade LeBlanc

What do you get when you cross Jamie Moyer with The Dukes of Hazzard? Seattle Mariners pitcher Wade LeBlanc.

Boston Red Sox v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Wade LeBlanc pitches very gently.

Wade LeBlanc pitches like he has three outstanding speeding tickets and can’t afford a fourth one.

Wade LeBlanc pitches like Sufjan Stevens doing an Elliott Smith impression.

Wade LeBlanc pitches like he’s doing an egg toss.

Wade LeBlanc pitches like someone told him NyQuil was a performance-enhancing drug.

Wade LeBlanc pitches like a Little League coach who already plunked a couple kids at practice, and now the parents are watching.

Wade LeBlanc pitches like a turtle, swimming across a pond, carefully guiding a butterfly on its back.

Wade LeBlanc pitches like Matt LeBlanc’s post-Friends career.

Wade LeBlanc pitches like he’s playing the drums with a set of feathers.

Wade LeBlanc pitches like the catcher is sleeping and he doesn’t want to wake him up.

Last year, however, Wade LeBlanc finally pitched like a man worthy of a full-time starting rotation job. 2018 was a huge come-up for the southern southpaw. He received a contract extension through 2019, with club options for the following three seasons. He swindled, bamboozled, and dominated the Boston Red Sox on national TV. He even graduated from the University of Alabama. Neat!

A lifelong journeyman, LeBlanc sampled San Diego, Miami, Houston, Anaheim, New York, Anaheim again, Japan (where he played with Yusei Kikuchi), Seattle, and Pittsburgh, before coming back to the Mariners last spring. When the lefty was drafted by the Padres, the team was in the middle of its last playoff year. “Ridin’” by Chamillionaire was Billboard’s top song. When San Diego traded him to the Marlins, the franchise still had Florida in its name. He pitched for the 51-111 Astros, in a season that was six years ago by science but approximately seven centuries ago by memory. Past teammates include Erik Bedard, Mark Buehrle, L.J. Hoes, Derek Jeter, Greg Maddux, and Carlos Zambrano. He’s been around, is what I’m saying.

In his second tour of duty with the Mariners, the 34-year-old took a defibrillator to his career. LeBlanc set new career-highs in innings pitched, starts, and strikeouts, while earning his best ERA as a starter. Part of his success involved a healthy dash of home cookin’, as LeBlanc kept his WHIP to just 1.12 in 82 innings at Safeco Field. Sure, 18 balls cleared the fence in those 82 innings, but overall, batters reached base less in Wade the Wizard’s home domain.

LeBlanc 2018 Splits

Home 82.0 3.95 1.12 69 18 18 .237 .278 .458
Away 80.0 3.49 1.24 61 22 6 .255 .309 .377

A skooch of the Seattle success might be credited to luck. There are substantial gaps between his home and road FIP (5.03 and 3.51, respectively), and BABIP (.245 and .301). But if anyone deserved a heaping scoop of good fortune, it’s the guy who got his first ever extension in his 13th year of pro ball, after 10 different minor league cities and two different countries. Here’s an artist’s depiction of the cosmic forces aligning to bless LeBlanc.

GIF courtesy of Giphy

Though his flyball percentage soared to 43 percent—a sizable leap from his short dalliance as a Pirate—the increase in airstrikes didn’t result in much damage. Just 11.5% of the flyballs hit off LeBlanc went for home runs, a surprisingly-low figure for a dude whose fastball sits exclusively in the mid-80s. The good ol’ boy from Louisiana has never thrown hard, so it’s not like he pulled the parachute on his fastball to deceive everyone. Instead, he kicked his slider to the curb, whipped out his curveball more frequently, and struck gold with a cutter. While the pitch sort of cuts like those safety scissors they give you in elementary school—harmless and non-threateningly—it still prompted beautiful art.

In the dying embers of 2014, Slim Wadey’s cutter saw the light of day just 11.5 percent of the time. Following his gap year for the Seibu Lions, LeBlanc came back stateside with a newfound trust in the pitch. Usage of it dipped again in ’17, but thankfully Wader Tot tapped into its wonder once more upon donning the Mariner logo.

Data courtesy of Brooks Baseball

It’s very heartwarming to see a person who’s endured countless trials and never-ending tribulations grab hold of the success (and cold hard cash) that’s eluded them for so long. The person being a major goofball and wholesome father makes it even easier to root for them.

There are complicated emotions about LeBlanc being a sort of linchpin to the Mariners’ 2019 rotation. On the one hand, I will follow Wade LeBlanc to the ends of the earth, so yeah, why not let him spin 180 innings? I’ll happily watch most of them. On the other hand, his 2018 was about as flash-in-the-pan as they come, so maybe don’t let him spin 180 innings? I’m not trying to watch if he’s going to get torn apart by wolverines every fifth day.

No matter what happens in the months to come, whether the famous drifter delves back into his tumultuous past, or puts that life behind him for brighter days, I’m very glad Wade LeBlanc became a Seattle Mariner during my lifetime. It’s much better than him being a frustrating footnote in the Logan Morrison game.

Party on, Wade.