As some of you get to know me, you will realize that I am a rather huge Mike Minor fan and have been for quite some time. He is a player I have always had the utmost faith in, even when he had his big struggles. I have written a number of articles about Minor through his ups and downs, but I always saw a number of reasons to keep faith in him.
It is worthwhile to look back on what Mike Minor has gone through as the MLB Draft is literally just days away. When Minor was drafted, many thought it was a big reach by the Braves. They thought it was a safe move, going after a college starter with a low ceiling but a relatively high floor. Even I thought it seemed to be somewhat of an odd move, considering how high the Braves were picking for the first time in my life.
He had his ups and downs over the course of his professional career up until the midway point last year. Before June, everyone had the right to stop making excuses for Minor. I suggested on FanGraphs that the time was not quite then, and that his peripherals suggested a quality pitcher was still there. On a side note, this is an important article to look at considering the struggles that Jason Heyward has had this season. It is a similar situation, with a struggling player with strong peripherals who deserves a bit more faith than people have in him. Dan Uggla just seems to be in a somewhat linear decline phase and B.J. Upton has seem a huge uptick in strikes -- though he has improved of late. Heyward is in a situation unrelated to theirs, and the confidence in him getting back to what he was last year or potentially even better should still be relatively high.
Minor is a great example of sticking with a player and finding what their strengths are. Minor became a hotter prospect when he started throwing harder. His strikeouts bumped up, but along with that his walks did too. He became a different player than the player they drafted. In many eyes, this was a better player. Half way through last season when this version of Mike Minor was on the verge of losing his starting rotation spot, the staff and Minor decided to go back to his roots. He began to focus on command and his walk rate plummeted. While his strikeouts fell as well, his strikeout-to-walk ratio (one of the most important stats in baseball) increased substantially over the tail end of the year and he became one of the top pitchers in all of baseball.
The team realizes what their strengths are and Minor is an ideal fit for those strengths. With the best defensive right fielder in baseball and two quality defensive outfielders, both last year and this year, Minor is able to pound the zone as frequently as possible and rely heavily on fly ball outs. No pitcher in the National League has a higher fly ball percentage than Minor's 45.9% rate, and he has battled Phil Hughes and Matt Moore over the course of the season for the league lead in that category. While in general a high fly ball rate will lead to a high home run rate, keeping guys off base at the rate Minor has should soften the blow of allowing home runs.
The change actually occurred for Minor in July, but for the past calendar year he has a 2.64 ERA in 31 starts. If you start from last July, his ERA is 2.33 over his past 26 starts. He has allowed 43 earned runs in that span to just 32 walks.
This season has been an even better version, as Minor has now learned to both live in the strike zone and create strikeouts at a high rate. He is continuing to get better, and at 25 he is not only the best pitcher on the staff but he is becoming one of the top pitchers in all of baseball. So join with me in saying happy Minor day.