Shuffling the Deck: Mike Minor, A Major Transformation
On the surface, Mike Minor’s 4.12 ERA in 2012 is about as bland as it comes. And with Thanksgiving a day away, bland is unacceptable. We want succulent turkey, the sweetest cranberry sauce imaginable and all 21 of Craig Goldstein’s pies.
Seriously. He’s making 21 pies.
But if you were like me and bought into Minor’s 2012 campaign dry turkey and all, you were rewarded with an even better 2013. The 25-year-old registered several career bests, posting a 3.21 ERA and 1.09 WHIP to go along with 181 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings. Worth 3.4 fWAR, Minor was Atlanta’s most valuable pitcher, topping Kris Medlen (2.5), Julio Teheran (2.4) and Craig Kimbrel (2.2). Overall, he was a top-30 starter.
As one of my first posts at Fake Teams (you can tell by my crappy formatting skills), I wrote about Minor’s second-half breakout in 2012, in which the southpaw posted a 2.16 ERA, the third lowest ERA in baseball. Minor’s post-All-Star beak success carried over into 2013, as he cracked 200 innings for the first time and upped his strikeout rate from 19.9 percent to 22.1 percent while lowering his walk rate from 7.7 percent to 5.6 percent.
With nearly eight strikeouts per nine and roughly two walks per nine, Minor’s 3.92 K/BB rate was 15th best in the bigs, and a big step forward from 2.59 in 2012. While his velocity stayed in the 90.4-mph range after topping out at 91.2 in 2011, it didn’t stop the left-hander from registering his highest strikeout rate yet.
Minor saw a significant uptick in his swinging strike rate, from 7.8 percent in 2012 to 9.6 percent in 2013, in addition to improved contact swing rates. Minor induced a 46.7-percent swing rate (up from 43.4), including a 31.2-percent swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone (up from 26). Minor’s first-pitch strike rate also improved considerably, from 58.7 percent to 64.5 percent. If he continues to trend upward, a 200-strikeout season as soon as next year is not out of the question. He did, after all, have strikeout rates north of 29 percent in the minors.
Perhaps the biggest problem for Minor in his young career is a bloated HR/FB rate, which reached its apex in the first half of 2012. Minor allowed 19 home runs before the All-Star break that season. Compounding the problem was a 10.1-percent walk rate, leading to a 5.97 ERA at the midway point. In the second half, however, Minor allowed just nine home runs and 16 walks in 87 1/3 innings. Including his second half of 2012, he’s allowed 29 home runs and, most impressively, 62 walks in 292 innings. To put that into perspective, Minor issued 40 free passes in the first half of 2012 alone.
Minor’s improved control and command has obviously led to positive results despite a batted ball profile that’s not exactly endearing. He’s still very much a fly ball pitcher, recording a 42.9-percent fly ball rate (down from 43.7) and a 35-percent ground ball rate (down from 35.4) in 2013. His fly ball tendencies have led to a low-ish .288 BABIP, but it’s been considerably lower than that over the last two years (.252 in 2012 and .272 in 2013). Minor helped himself with a career-best strand rate of 75.1 percent last season, and this has all helped close the gap between his 3.21 ERA and 3.37 FIP (3.64 xFIP). It also helps that he has a track and field team patrolling the outfield, including Jason Heyward and the brothers’ Upton.
Minor’s checkered home run past will always give owners pause, but given his extreme transformation from a thrower to a pitcher, as evidenced best by 62 walks over his last 292 innings, the former first-rounder should continue to be an attractive top-20 starter for you fantasy staff. Turning 26 in December, there’s still plenty of appeal in dynasty formats. In my book, Minor is in the same discussion as a more established starter such as Mat Latos, who, by the way, also turns 26 in December. If you’re looking to acquire a relatively young starting pitcher with experience, Minor should rank high on your list.