A rough start gave way to a very good finish for Mike Minor in 2012.
After a preseason statement that basically said "play me or trade me" to the Braves, Mike Minor worked through a tough first half of the season to emerge as one of Atlanta's better options on the mound down the stretch.
Much of Minor's early season struggles were due to some bad luck with home runs, while he also had struggles with his control. Always a fly-ball pitcher, Minor was again one this season, but went through a stretch where he gave up an abnormally large amount of home runs.
In an 11-game stretch from April 30th to June 30th, Minor allowed 17 home runs, including four on the road against Cincinatti and three each in games against St. Louis and Boston. During that stretch, hitters put up a triple slash line of .285/.371/.570, and while he was having bad luck both with home runs and balls in play, he just seemed off.
However, that changed going from July on, as Minor hit his groove and became the pitcher that many people were expecting him to be before the season.
After posting FIP'S of 8.23 in May and 5.77 in June, Minor never posted a FIP higher than 3.72 the rest of the way. Before the All-Star break, Minor has a SO/BB rate of 1.95, which pales in comparison to the 4.19 SO/BB rate he posted after the break.
The left-hander still battled home runs, allowing one in every July start, but allowed just four over his final 11 starts from August to September. Minor held opposing hitters to a .560 OPS after the break, and saw his BABIP drop from .282 to .227.
There's some luck involved in that, but his strikeouts climbed, his walks decreased, and he was clearly a much better pitcher the second half of the season.
With the Braves battling for a playoff spot in September, Minor shined during that final month, allowing just three earned runs in 31 innings pitched while putting up a 28/9 K/BB number and giving Atlanta another consistent option to lean on down the stretch.
Overall, Minor's numbers don't look great due to the awful start to the season. He finished with a 4.12 ERA, a 4.38 FIP, and a 4.32 xFIP to go along with a fWAR of 1.5 and bWAR of 0.4.
The key takeaway from all of this is development, as Minor took a big step both on the field and mentally. On the mound, he was able to right the ship, alter his approach, and attack hitters while learning not to worry about the home run ball.
Mentally, it's easy for young pitchers to get shaken by starts like Minor had, but he was able to push through and shine when Atlanta needed him most during the final stretch.
Looking at what changed from 2011 to 2012, Minor saw increases in the whiff/swing rate on all of his off-speed offerings, a good sign going forward.
Continued development of those off-speed offerings is key, as he can neutralize right-handed hitters with his change, but needs a pitch to do the same against left-handed hitters. It's why left-handed hitters hit better against him than did right-handed hitters for the second straight year.
There was a slight down-tick in his strikeout percentage, from 21.3% in 2011 to 19.9% in 2012, but he also saw his walk percentage drop from 8.3% in 2011 to 7.7% in 2012.
Going forward, Minor has assured himself a spot in the Braves' 2013 rotation, and expectations will again be high for the then 25 year old.
He was a tale of halves during the 2012 season, and the hope has to be that Minor finds a way to put together two complete halves and build off of his strong finish this season.