January 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
I have been one of the major supporters of Mike Minor for about as long as he has been a professional baseball player. On draft day, I was somewhat confused about the team going after what was supposedly a low-ceiling, high floor starter, but seeing his development over the first year of his professional career gave me confidence that the Braves knew what they were doing when they drafted him in the first round.
In the majors, Minor has had a ton of ups as well as a ton of downs. His first stint in the majors was impressive but his arm tired toward the tail end of the season which caused his ERA to balloon to an astronomical level before being shut down for the season. His next year as the team’s sixth starter, he posted numbers that us sabermetricians find appealing. He struck out nearly a batter per inning, kept his walks at a relatively low level, and did not allow the ball to leave the ballpark. Unfortunately, in his 15 starts he was also rather hittable, leaving his ERA at 4.14 while his FIP was at a very respectable 3.39.
In his first full year in the rotation, which it is important to note that last year was the first time that he knew he would be starting against major league hitters every time he took the hill, he continued on his rocky road. Starting 30 games gives us a nice round number to look back and see where things turned, since he started the season off with one of the worst ERAs in the majors. Through his first 10 starts, Minor had a 6.98 ERA and was close to losing his spot in the rotation. Things changed after that, as I am sure most of you are aware. In his final 20 starts of the season, Minor posted a 2.74 ERA, with 94 strikeouts, 35 walks, and 13 home runs allowed in 121.1 innings pitched. While his strikeouts were down compared to the previous season, he was able to walk batters at a much lower rate and keep the ball in the ballpark as well. He allowed 26 home runs over the course of the full year, so 13 of them came in the first third of the year and the next 13 came in twice as many starts. That is progress, and progress that is terrific to see from a first year starter.
As my colleague Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs notes, Minor made an alteration to his fastball’s break and began to see a tremendous amount of success. With the new fastball, his walk rate jumped to elite levels and his home run rate, as previously mentioned, dropped like a ton of bricks. Entering the year, Minor will have a tremendous amount of confidence in how he ended the season and is my bet to throw the most innings on the roster. With his control becoming more and more impressive, he should be able to benefit from a great defense behind him and many quick innings. I am sure he will have his struggles, but as long as his mechanics stay strong and he focuses on pounding the zone, he should put together a season in the 3.0-4.5 win area. That is a wide range, but if he pitches like he did for 34 starts as he did in last season’s final 20, he would be a Cy Young candidate. Of course, I think those numbers are probably on the higher end of the spectrum, but he has shown what he is capable of and should be able to perform at a level not incredibly far off of those numbers.