Tim Hudson’s departure leaves a void at the top the Braves rotation. Julio Teheran is said to have top of the rotation stuff and had a stretch last season where he was as good as anyone in baseball. Kris Medlen has been consistently successful in spite of a couple of post season losses. Then of course there’s Mike Minor.
While preparing for an interview today I wanted to refresh myself on our starters particularly our senior lefty. As I went through the process it became clear that Minor often doesn’t get the respect he deserves. In my projection for the top of our rotation I predicted Minor would throw 205 innings with a 3.35 ERA and strike out 182. And although I was considerably more optimistic that the projections from other sources, that too might have been a bit understated.
Minor’s not mad, he’s focused
Two years ago there was lots of pre-spring training churn about Minor’s role and in fact whether he’d be in the starting rotation. About this time in 2012 he told the AJC exactly how he felt.
“Overall, it’s not really – it’s about making the team, but if … I can control my third pitch and have a decent fourth pitch, then there’s no reason I shouldn’t pitch in the big leagues somewhere. If they don’t have room for me here, then there’s no reason they shouldn’t trade me or just do something with me.”
He later calmed down a bit and of course was in the starting rotation that year. The first half of the season it looked like perhaps they should have traded him as he threw to a 6.20 ERA, 1.401 WHIP and allowed 18 home runs in 85 2/3 innings. Then July came along and maybe the realization that pitching mad didn’t work jarred him into action or maybe the baseball gods appeared in a dream and said – pitch off your fastball son or visit Gwinnett. Whatever the case suddenly he was a different pitcher, determined and unemotional on the mound, all business all the time; he looked mad but it was simply better focus in pitching to his strengths. From July through September he posted a 2.21 ERA and 0.854 WHIP and allowed only 8 homers in 93 2/3 innings. Here’s a table with some of the data.
The Dodgers got a taste of that determination in game two last year. After beating Medlen in game they ran into the brick wall that Minor had become. The Braves absolutely needed a win and Minor absolutely refused to let the Dodgers have a sniff. The Dodgers might in fact wish they never had to face Mike again. He faced them twice in the regular season and the Braves won both times with Minor going six innings in each game allowing three total runs,walking 5 and striking out 15 for an ERA of 2.25. In his career he’s 1-1 with a 2.32 ERA and a 1.129 WHIP in 31 innings. Knowing that, his 6 1/3 innings of 1 run, 1 walk, 5 strikeout ball isn’t that surprising. Stopping – or at least slowing down – the Dodgers wasn’t the first time he kept a one game loss from becoming a streak last year. Nine times he took the ball after a Braves loss and won the game, twice he ended three game losing streaks. Three times he lost. When I was growing up they called a pitcher like that a stopper.
Ace or No Ace
We’ve had a lot of discussions at the Take about what defines an Ace. I always thought it was easy, an Ace is the guy you expect to win every time he takes the mound. He stops losing streaks and the opposition know they’re in for a long day when they face him. These days they want numbers and every discussion where numbers are involved leads to a my number is better than your number thing. As I’m out of body armor right now I looked around to see how others might have been brave enough to define one. A found a couple of stalwart souls did try.
In June 2011 Matt Meyers at ESPN created an Ace Barometer.
Meyers wanted those things over a three year period and Minor obviously hasn’t achieved that part of it yet. However in the season and a half defined above his ace slash if you will is 4.3/0.9/131.
That same day Kevin Goldstein put up a post on the same subject. He didn’t so much try to put his name on a definition as coalesce the thoughts of various scouts. He seemed to settle on the following from an unnamed AL executive.
“They have to contribute to winning games every fifth day, to shutting down lineups every fifth day.” To do that takes special talent, and you can’t be special without tools. “To be an ace, and sustain that title, it’s about the stuff to dominate and overmatch opponents,” the exec continued. “I’m talking about 7s and 8s on the scouting report [referring to the 2-to-8 or 20-to-80 scouting scale].”
In the article he coincidentally said that Teheran has the look of an Ace and that there were no surprise aces he could find save Cliff Lee. Minor wasn’t originally thought to be close to an ace. The draft year scouting report on Baseball Prospectus said “. . .His ceiling is that of a third or fourth starter, but it’s a ceiling he’s going to reach quickly,. . .” In 2011 the report changed to “. . .estimates of his ceiling have risen as dramatically and unexpectedly as his velocity. What was recently an average fastball suddenly turned into a beast that touched 95 mph, and the bread and butter of his game. . .” Following 2012 it became “. . .Whether Minor’s second half represents an epiphany is unclear. If not, Minor might be what he seems to be: a slightly better-than-average starter who always leaves you wanting more.” So he is clearly moving in the direction of ace-hood even though the Prospectus’ projections have him regressing.
That’s A Wrap
I agree with Meyers that to be an ace you must demonstrate consistency. So Minor isn’t there yet but then it took Lee six years and 125 major league starts plus a trip to the minors to figure it out so don’t bet against Mike making it. As I wrote in my projections Medlen and Minor are 1 and 1A on the staff. In the interview today I said I think Minor did enough to earn the opening day start. In retrospect it’s more likely to be Kris Medlen not just because he’s senior to Mike but because over the last two seasons Meds ace slash of 3.97/0.6/158 is better. But if Fredi Gonzalez decided to give it to Minor I wouldn’t be that surprised.