Mike Minor is struggling.
There is little to no debate about that sentence, simply due to the fact that his ERA has swelled to an ugly 4.73 over 12 starts and 70.1 innings during the 2014 season. However, Minor has an incredibly solid recent track record for success, and while his career ERA sits at a less than desirable 4.00 across nearly 100 starts, there are many reasons to practice patience with the Atlanta Braves left-hander.
First, Mike Minor has been unlucky this season. This can be measured in a variety of ways, but one of the most obvious comparisons stems from his ERA (4.76) to his FIP (4.49) and xFIP (3.51). As you can see, his expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) is more than a run lower than his ERA, and without getting into mind-numbing specifics, this can be attributed to Minor’s astronomical home run rate this season.
While Mike Minor has (rightfully) earned the reputation of a pitcher who allows too many long balls, this season still emerges as an outlier. The 26-year-old has allowed 10.6% of fly balls to leave the ballpark in his career, and this season, that number has ballooned to a bloated 16.7%. In addition, his home run rate of 1.15 per 9 innings for his career has jumped to 1.66 per 9 this season, but on the bright side, there has been no unilateral shift in skills that should cause anyone to believe that Minor has regressed.
In that vein, the left-hander’s strikeout percentage (22.1%) and walk percentage (6.6%) are actually better than his career marks, and even if we accepted this home run rate as reasonable (which it isn’t), Minor’s .351 BABIP allowed is more than 50 points higher than his established baseline. Simply put, we are in the midst of a sample size issue for a player who has arguably been excellent for the better part of two seasons.
Mike Minor hasn’t always been a quality Major League pitcher, but it has been a long time since he struggled in this fashion. Upon his promotion in 2010, Minor posted a 5.98 ERA over 40.2 innings (although his FIP and xFIP were more than two runs lower), and after a solid yet unspectacular follow-up campaign in 2011, the youngster struggled mightily to start the 2012 season.
In his first 10 starts in 2012, Mike Minor posted a 6.98 ERA. However, since that point, he has been a completely different pitcher over quite a large sample size. The left-hander has made 64 starts since June 1st, 2012, and in those outings, he has posted a 3.34 ERA with a 3.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a 10.1% HR/FB rate (further displaying the recent outlier). Hilariously, these numbers include the ten-start sample this season that much of Braves Country seems to be fretting about, and any rational glance at his overall profile indicates that a progression (not a regression) to the mean is upcoming.
For a final reference as to just how effective Mike Minor has been with the Braves in recent seasons, the 26-year-old left-hander has posted a 3.25 ERA over the past 24 months. That number covers 368.2 innings and 59 starts, and with that performance, Mike Minor rates as the 18th-best pitcher in all of Major League Baseball over that time period. Obviously, there is some “fun with arbitrary endpoints” in that sample based on his horrendous start to the 2012 season, but even when factoring that dip in to the equation, Minor ranks in the top-50 among MLB starters using the full-season data from 2012 to 2014.
Mike Minor is an extremely effective starting pitcher. Is he the best pitcher on the staff? In a word, no. Julio Teheran has emerged in the way that his profile suggested when he was a top prospect and he is, without question, the top pitcher on Atlanta’s roster. With that said, Mike Minor is a more than worthy number two starter with realistic expectation to post 3-4 WAR seasons, and that is more than acceptable.
The bounce back is coming, and everyone can breathe.