After throwing 23 quality starts in 32 opportunities last season, good for sixth best in the National League, Mike Minor is off to another good start to the year in this regard. Three of his four starts have been quality starts, which speaks to the type of pitcher Minor is. For reference, a quality start is when a starting pitcher throws at least six innings and allows no more than three earned runs.
Minor’s efficiency and ability to pitch deep into the game is maybe his best trait so far in his career. Of his 32 starts last season, only twice was he unable to complete six innings of work. This year he has pitched six or more in all but one of his starts.
Going deep into games has trickle down effects on the roster. One of the reasons the Braves are able to maintain the top bullpen in baseball is that the starters are able to get into the later innings with leads intact or, at worst, still in the ballgame.
It was easy to be concerned about Fredi Gonzalez putting Minor back out there in the seventh inning last night after Minor was struggling through the fifth and sixth. The game was still very close and his pitch count was high, but Minor has built up enough rapport with Gonzalez and Roger McDowell to be given leeway in those types of situations. While he is not the "ace" of the staff, Minor is looked at as Mr. Reliable among the team and coaching staff. On a team with no assigned "ace," that has a ton of value.
Throwing 200 innings nowadays is no easy feat. Only 18 starters did so last season, including Minor and current Brave Ervin Santana. Whether it has to do with the starters being relatively inefficient with their pitches, injury prone or lacking the consistency to reach the mark, having a guy like Minor on the staff that start in and start out is close to guaranteed to throw six innings of competitive baseball is something most teams are envious of.
The overall picture from his first four starts has not been completely pretty, as his home run totals are high and he has been a bit more hittable than he has been the past two seasons. Even so, his strikeout rate and walk rate are close to in line with his 2013 season and his ground ball rate would be among the lowest in the game if he were a qualified starter – his is 33.8% which would be third in all of baseball and first in the National League. While most times you want to see a high ground ball rate, Minor is a strict fly ball pitcher which utilizes the Braves defensive strengths and allows him to net a low BABIP – just as his .272 and .252 marks the past two seasons detail.
Even though the results, specifically in his second start, have not been completely ideal, his xFIP and SIERA are right in line or better than last season. He should only continue to improve, especially now that his arm has thrown back to back 100 pitch outings.
While it is always a concern to give contract extensions to pitchers given the current rash of Tommy John surgery and other pitcher injuries, especially one who just had a shoulder issue, albeit minor, he seems to be the type of pitcher you want on your roster for a long time. He may never be a Cy Young candidate, but being that consistent cog in a rotation is nothing to scoff at.