What is wrong with Mike Minor?
That is the question we are being forced to ask after yet another poor outing from a pitcher that had been solidly reliable over the past couple of years.
Of Minor’s 15 starts this year, nearly half have failed to achieve the (somewhat generous) label “Quality Start” (scaled as a 4.50 ERA or better for the purposes of this exercise). Since the beginning of June, Minor has been… bad… with 6 of his last 8 outings having a game-ERA of over 5.00 (see chart below).
So What Has Changed?
- Is it velocity? No – fastball speed is 90.5 for the year, up a tick during each of the past two years. When checking all of his pitches, in fact, it’s hard to find any pitcher with more consistent numbers. So as he told reporters last night, Mike is not injured.
- Is it his pitch mix? Not really. fangraphs.com shows that he’s using his fastball at virtually the same rate as last year, a 21% increase in slider use (use to 17.6% from 14.5%) and correspondingly fewer changeups. That’s really not a big deal since we’re talking about 4 pitches over roughly 7 innings… if he lasts that long.
The big difference is actually in the results – which seems to be a ‘Captain Obvious’ statement, but it’s not. Check these numbers from that fangraphs Pitchf/x chart:
Fastball Runs Above Average
- 2012: 10.7
- 2013: 10.1
- 2014: -13.5
Slider Runs Above Average
- 2012: -1.9
- 2013: 1.5
- 2014: -4.0
Changeup Runs Above Average
- 2012: 2.9
- 2013: 5.6
- 2014: -1.2
In short, it appears that Mike Minor has lost his ‘stuff’. The same pitches that he has been using to get hitters out are being hammered – and the scary part is that it isn’t one pitch type or another that is failing him: it’s everything - it’s all of them.
This fact is also reflected in batter’s BABIP – batting average on balls put into play: .358 in 2014. In 2012, that was .252. In 2013 it was .272. Hitters are teeing off on Minor like they know what’s coming.
- Line drive rates are up by almost 4.5%
- Grounders are up, too – by 3% – but they seem to be getting hit harder and getting through for hits.
- Lefty Hitters (!) are killing Minor – batting .363 against him (RHH are at .287, which is bad enough by itself). That’s 150 points higher than in 2013.
Since he’s fared so poorly, Mike still isn’t to the threshold of “Qualified” pitchers with only 86.1 innings this year, but if he were, he would rank as the 3rd most hittable starting pitcher in baseball – behind 2 American League pitchers (Colby “Don’t Bunt on Me” Lewis and Ricky Nolasco).
I have two theories on Minor – neither of which can be tested without watching several hours of ‘tape’ of his June/July outings:
- His pitches are too straight (that’s the ‘stuff’ factor)
- His pitches are being ‘tipped’ and the hitters can spot what’s coming
The striking consistency of Minor’s velocity figures suggests strongly to me that the ‘tipping’ answer is not valid. His delivery is highly repeatable and that’s what delivers the consistency of speed. Were there an actual problem with telegraphing pitches, then that would have been apparent in years past – not suddenly in June 2014.
Unfortunately for the Braves – who seem unable/unwilling to go for ‘the big trade’ for the frontline starting pitcher many think is necessary to carry this club into and through the post-season – Minor’s struggles come at a terrible time. A 3-6 record does not support the effort to maintain any kind of lead above the Nationals in the NL East. But he has clearly not looked comfortable on the mound since getting thrashed in Denver (which happens to a lot of pitchers, but this has lingered).
Whatever “it” is, Minor and his coaches need to sort that out, for barring a miracle, he’s in the rotation for the duration and that rotation needs him to return to form – quickly.