Aug 1, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Mike Minor (36) reacts as San Diego Padres first baseman Tommy Medica (left background) rounds the bases after hitting a two run home run during the first inning at Petco Park. Minor hasn't pitched well this season; what's ailing the Braves lefty. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Atlanta Braves Mike Minor's Adjustment

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The Braves best pitcher from July 2012 through the end of last year is suddenly pitching like a bad 5th starter. I think Mike Minor needs an adjustment.

Alan wrote a week ago about Mike Minor’s loss of form. In it he said he put forward a couple of ideas about his decline.

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

Alan doesn’t think he’s tipping pitches and neither do I. I headed over the Texas Leaguers to see what the numbers would disclose.

Notes: In the course of building this look I used the resources of Brooks Baseball, Baseball Savant and Texas Leaguers. I found that although all sites use Pitch F/X data they can’t agree on how many pitches Minor threw last year. Why that is I have no idea. They all showed similar changes in release point and movement so I used the Texas Leaguers site because the graphics are easier to understand. So if I didn’t use your favorite site just know that none are perfect and I try to be as accurate as the data available to me allows. I know the pictures may be hard to read. If you double click them they’ll open and you can see a larger view.

Over Under Sideways Down

Texas Leaguers has all the pitch movement and velocity, spin angle and scatter charts you will likely ever need but I’m going to stick to things that are relatively easy to understand, movement and location.

Over – Under

This year Minor’s pitches are staying over the white of the plate and in the hitting zone rather than sliding off the edge or rarely dropping below the knees. This makes them easy prey for major league hitters and when they stay up they often find the cheap seats. at least a couple of them are thus afflicted.

Sideways

Sometime last year Minor dropped his old curve ball in favor of a knuckle curve that Kimbrel and others have featured. The numbers show that the KC got about 4 times the horizontal movement of the old curve so that was a good choice.Here’s a look at the 2013 KC From the top and then the side. All images are based on originals from Texas Leaguers. I modified the color and size top make them easier to understand. (I hope)

knuckle curve top 2013-14

The yellow triangles are this season. The ball is moving closer to a RHH that’s good but…

knickle curve side 2013-14

This shows it isn’t getting as deep as it once was. The difference is easier to see on the change.

When Minor was at his best last year his change moved horizontally between +10.5 and +11.3 inches. This year (and is his down months last year) it’s under +9.03. He started 2014 down to 9.43 and that has now become 8.8.  This is the change from the top. You can see that the lack of movement keeps it over the plate. Not good.

change top 13 vs 14rz

When there’s less horizontal movement on the change the ball stays over the pate and makes it more hittable.

knickle curve side 2013-14

You can see from the side view that the 2013 version literally fell right out of the hitting zone while the 14 version is still 2 feet above the ground just in front of the plate. You can hear it screaming Hit Me!

It’s where you start and where you finish

The change in movement on his pitches this season resulted in Minor afflicted with the same problem as Luis Avilan; he’s wild in the zone with more hittable pitches. Like Avilan there are few close pitches;  everything either had plenty of plate or was too gar off to encourage a swing. Brooks Baseball provides some confirmation of this.

grooved

On the left are his percentage of grooved pitches in 2103  and on the right are this season’s numbers confirming what the movement numbers suggest; his change and breaking pitch (outlined in red) are grooved more often because they aren’t moving out of the zone. Even those that aren’t cookies still allow solid contact. Here’s Minor’s change up locations from 2013 and 2014. You can see more of them center cut.

change location 13 vs 14

Over the past three months Minor’s fastball – still with good velocity – lost two inches of horizontal movement.

Why is the 64 dollar question (does anyone get that reference anymore?) Since velocity is still good it’s either mechanical – arm angle/release point, position on the rubber – or in his head. I’m ruling out in his head because I found a release point issue.

Where he starts

For some reason Minor raised his release point this year. Here’s his change but all of them look to be moved about the same amount.

change release point 13-vs 14

If you taken any geometry or physics you know that the slightest change in an angle at the launch point can make a big difference in accuracy. I think Minor’s whole issue stems from the changed release point but why would a pitcher having one of the best 18 months of his life make a change like that? it’s fairly simple, you move the arm because it hurts.

It doesn’t hurt Skip

I’m going to suggest that this all stems from the shoulder issue back in January.  Before I go farther I understand that Minor says it doesn’t hurt and he isn’t injured.

Mark bowman and Joe Morgan report that Fredi Gonzalez thought so to and ask Minor.

“That was my biggest concern, ‘Are you healthy?'” Gonzalez said. “He said, ‘I feel great.’ So now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s work on mechanics or delivery. Hitters and pitchers get out of whack.”

An American League scout present for Tuesday night’s game said he is convinced that Minor is injured. While this theory is shared by some, the 26-year-old lefty has continued to show relatively normal arm strength. In fact, per Fangraphs.com, the average velocity of his fastball, curveball and slider has been higher than it was last year.

“I’m pretty much the same pitcher as last year,” Minor said. “Maybe I’m not just executing my pitches or maybe just not going after guys, kind of nibbling or aiming the ball.”

No Mike you are not the same pitcher as last year. The numbers show it and the graphs make it easy to see that you changed your arm angle and release point and that is likely the reason the pitches aren’t going where you want them.

 I am not suggesting that he’s hiding an injury rather that he thinks what he feels is normal soreness and he must be just missing his target. Prior to his last start he watched hours of video from last year to try and figure it out. He then promptly went out and got his. . . well he didn’t pitch well at all.

That’s A Wrap

I was relieved to find that a scout felt the way I do, Minor must be injured. Whenever a pitcher who has been as good as Minor was from mid 2012 through 2013 suddenly looses control without losing velocity and has no elbow issue I think shoulder.  A quote I used in my post about shoulder injuries earlier this year from Jason Schmidt keeps coming to the fore.

“. . .you try to throw from your normal arm angle and feel a little pinch . . .you drop down a little bit and don’t have that pinch, but you can’t locate. .  since you’ve dropped down, you start putting pressure somewhere else and . . . you feel soreness in another spot in your shoulder. It’s a never-ending battle.”

Schmidt was talking about post surgery throwing but the same is true pre surgery. We’ve all done it in some form. I used to carry my computer bag on my right shoulder then one day my shoulder hurt so I put it on my left. The right shoulder was fine but my back started to hurt.

Shoulder injuries are odd things. A surgeon can repair it but none want to. Why? Well they know that even if it looks perfect it probably isn’t and it will never be as good as it was before.  We saw this happen to Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. Tommy’s injury was a direct result of his motion but JJ’s came from an injured knee that made him change his motion and hurt his shoulder.

I’m not a doctor or a physical therapist. I hope I’m completely 180 degrees wrong. It might be he back, or his foot or ?? The question is to ask Minor is, We didn’t ask you to change your release point or delivery. You and I both know you aren’t the guy from last year. So if you’re not injured why did you make such a big change in your release point?

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Mike Minor

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