Watching last night's game, fans of the Atlanta Braves were hopeful that Mike Minor was past the issues that had plagued him the last three starts ... and then the fourth inning happened. And then the fifth inning happened. Minor had allowed only one baserunner through those first three innings -- a two-out walk in the second -- the rest of the time he was free to wind up and deliver, and deliver he did, very effectively.
Then the fourth inning happened, and an Omar Infante Single began the unraveling. He hit the next batter, gave up a double, walked a guy -- something was different about this Mike Minor than the one I had been watching the first three innings.
In those early innings he was putting the ball exactly where Brian McCann wanted it, hitting the catcher's mitt with routine precision. In the fourth and fifth innings, he was all over the place. He was unable to command his pitches with any sort of consistency, and the Marlins batters made him pay.
That prompted me to look up some splits this morning, specifically Minors splits with runners on and with the bases empty, and lo and behold the difference is frightening:
Minor in 2012 with bases empty: .226/.282/.339 ... .621 OPS
Minor in 2012 with runners on: .422/..461/.766 ... 1.226 OPS
This leads me to believe that Minor's mechanics out of the stretch, when runners are on base, are out of whack somehow. This is further supported by his numbers last year, which show just the opposite:
Minor in 2011 with bases empty: .345/.399/.554 ... .952 OPS
Minor in 2011 with runners on: .222/.291/.316 ... .608 OPS
Last year he was at his best when the situation was the most difficult, but 2010 was a different story, though still not as bad as this year:
Minor in 2010 with bases empty: .278/.320/.433 ... .753 OPS
Minor in 2010 with runners on: .361/.395/.653 ... 1.048 OPS
For whatever reason this makes me think of Chipper Jones, and how he has to work at two different swings -- his left-handed swing and his right-handed swing. You'll often hear him comment that he's going great from one side, but can't get it straitened out from the other side. Minor might be one of those pitchers who has two distinct enough pitching styles -- one from the wind-up, the other out of the stretch -- where sometimes one is working and the other is not. This certainly seems to be the case.
Whether this is truly a mechanical flaw or not, or simply some crazy factor of luck, or even a mental approach that is not always there in certain situations, we can only speculate. But the data seems to indicate that Minor currently has a flaw in his mechanics out of the stretch.
The question for the Braves is whether that can be fixed in the Majors, or whether a minor league assignment would be in order so he can work on this particular issue. As JunkStats pointed out last night, Minor is the first pitcher in the Majors since Kenny Rogers in 2008 to allow 6+ runs in four consecutive starts. Since 1978, only two Braves have had more than five starts in a season with 6+ earned runs allowed, Minor already has five starts with 6+ runs allowed this year. So you can see, this kind of poor performance is a rare thing for a Braves starting pitcher.
With Jair Jurrjens performing even worse in triple-A, he doesn't seem to be an option to replace Minor in the rotation. Julio Teheran has done well so far this season, much like he did last year, but do the Braves have the confidence to promote him again? Kris Medlen or Livan Hernandez could start, but how would losing one of them from the bullpen affect the bullpen?
The Braves need to do something, because even a good offense can't cover up for Minor's problems every game. Atlanta can't keep hoping that Minor figures it out; the games up here are too important, and the National League East is too tight of a race for any more time to be spent waiting for Minor to figure out his problems. I say demote him, and fill in his rotation spot with either Teheran, Medlen, or Livan. What say you?