Dominic Leone is a 25-year old right-handed pitcher, who the Blue Jays picked up off waivers from Arizona Diamondbacks, back in November. He has an option left, which gives him some value as a guy that could travel back and forth between Toronto and Buffalo.
Dominic has pitched in 95 games over the last 3 seasons, all out of the bullpen for the Mariners and the Diamondbacks. He had a very good 2014 season, his rookie year, putting up a 2.17 ERA in 57 games. Since then...not so good, an 8.40 ERA in 2015 and a 6.33 ERA in 2016.
What changed? Well, in 2014 he had a 25.7% strikeout rate and a 9.2% walk rate. In 2015 the strikeout rate dropped to 12.2% and the walk rate jumped to the same 12.2%. Last year, he had better numbers 17.6% strikeout and 9.2% walk.
The real question is: Why?
He lost a little off his fastball. FanGraphs has his fastball averaging 94.4 mph in his good year. 93.2 and 92.9 in the two seasons since. And batters have been making better contact since his rookie year. His contact rate in his rookie season was 72.9%, since then it’s been around 78%. And more of his fly balls have been leaving the park. In 2014 9.5% of fly balls left the park, in 2015 11.1% and 2016 20.6%.
Dominic is one of those guys that should be limited to facing right-handed batters. In his career RHB have hit .262/.317/.419, while LHB hit .300/.399/.476 (pretty much what Josh Donaldson’s batting line from last year).
So far, this spring, Leone has pitched 2 innings, allowed 4 hits, 2 earned, a walk, with 4 strikeouts. Not enough of a sample to judge much, but 4 strikeouts in 2 innings is not bad.
The odds of him making the Jays bullpen out of spring training are pretty close to zero. But, if he shows well, he would move himself near the top of the list of guys who could get a call up when we need someone.
The question is how much will he pitch for the Jays this year?