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Position Battles: Reds #5 Starter

In what might be the most evenly matched competition in this series, I'll take a look at the last spot in the Reds' rotation. I can probably expand the list of candidates by two or three but it's unnecessary at this point. Realistically, it's a two-man race between two of the better young pitchers in the game. If you like position battles, take a look at over 50 that I've identified over at MLBDepthCharts.com and will be keeping a close eye on throughout Spring Training.

Travis Wood vs Mike Leake

Tale of the Tape

Wood: 23 years old, est. $425K salary 2010 stats: 5-4, 3.51 ERA, 10 quality starts, 102.2 IP, 85 H, 26 BB, 86 K in 17 starts 2011 Outlook: Equal chance as Leake to be #5 starter

While Leake made big news early in the season, it was Wood who was a fixture in the rotation from July 1st through the end of the regular season. The 5'11" left-hander allowed three earned runs or less in 15 of 17 starts after joining the rotation while allowing a measly .222 BA to opposing hitters. He even contributed with 3 1/3 scoreless innings in a playoff loss to the Phillies. He could have a slight edge on Leake if the team prefers having a lefty to balance the first four starters, who are all right-handed. A case can also be made for Wood based on his overall numbers compared to Leake, who hitters were obviously more comfortable against (.292 opponent BA).

Leake: 23 years old, est. $425K salary 2010 stats: 8-4, 4.23 ERA, 13 quality starts, 138.1 IP, 158 H, 49 BB, 91 K in 22 starts, 2 relief appearances 2011 Outlook: Equal chance as Wood to be #5 starter

As would be expected from a rookie making the jump directly from college to the big leagues, Leake wore down in the second half of the season and was eventually shut down. But it wasn't before he posted a 7-1 record and 3.45 ERA in his first 18 starts. The right-hander's peripherals weren't overly impressive (1.496 WHIP, 10.3 H/9, 5.9 K/9) and he doesn't project as a top-of-the-rotation starter, but he has the command and repertoire of pitches to be a big league starter for a long time.  

Final Word

It's hard to believe that one of these two pitchers could start the season in the minors. Both deserve to be in a major league rotation. That says a lot about Cincinnati's pitching depth. Having six or more capable starters is almost necessary to be a contending team. In fact, nine different pitchers started games for the NL Central Champs in 2010. Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney didn't pitch terribly in eight combined starts but the team combined to go 2-6 in those games. Having Leake or Wood ready to go in Triple-A when the team needs another starter could be an important factor in the pennant race. If I had to take a guess, I'd say that Wood will beat out Leake, who could finally throw his first minor league pitch after 138 1/3 big league innings and nearly two years after being drafted. 

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