Atlanta's Mike Minor: Potential Cy Young Pitcher?
If you asked a group of baseball fans who the Braves’ staff ace was, you'd probably get a lot of answers. The most common would probably be Kris Medlen, thanks to his incredible tear last season and the fact that he got the ball in the Braves' one game, do-or-die playoff. Some others might say Tim Hudson, since he’s been the Braves' best pitcher for a long time, but those people haven’t been watching this season, the one where Hudson a 5.37 ERA. Some people might even go with Paul Maholm, based on his great start to this season, but they’d be both wrong and playing Devil’s Advocate.
No, the right answer, of course, is Mike Minor.
People are slow to come around on Minor after his horrendous first half of 2012, in which his 5.97 ERA was highest in the league and he gave up a whopping 19 home runs. But since then, he’s been magnificent. In the past calendar year, Minor has the fourth-best ERA in all of baseball, at 2.65. In that span, he’s outpitched guys with names like Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, and Stephen Strasburg.
This season, Minor has been even better, upping his stirkeout rate to 8.36 per nine innings and lowering his ERA to 2.47. He is a very good bet to make the All-Star game and could even be in the Cy Young discussion at the end of the year.
(Another guy in that discussion, Matt Harvey, has gotten a lot of acclaim. Per Ben Duronio of Fangraphs and capitolavenueclub.com, since Harvey got called up at the end of last year, he has a 2.23 ERA and a 3.58 K/BB ratio. Minor in that same span: 2.31 ERA and 4.18 K/BB.)
This isn’t just a case of arbitrary end points either. Minor was terrible in the first half of 2012; since then he’s made real adjustments and improved. He started throwing his slider more, from 9.9 percent of the time in 2011, to 14.1 percent in 2012 and 11.8 percent this year. His curveball usage is way up from 8.5 percent to 11.9 percent to a career-high 14.6 percent this year. And he stopped throwing his change up, which was getting crushed. He was throwing it 22 percent of the time in 2011. This year? Just 16 percent.
This year, Minor is striking out 24.2 percent of batters, a rate higher than Madison Bumgarner's and Adam Wainwright's, and within .5 of a percentage point of Strasburg and Chris Sale. Mike Minor doesn't have the name recognition of those guys, but it’s time to start giving him his due as a staff ace.
Alex Hampl covers baseball and the Atlanta Braves weekly for numberFire. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hampl9.