While completing my daily Game Picks post, I took a look at Mike Minor's statistics and was really surprised at what I found. He has really been pitching well this season. He has had one sub-par outing against the Tigers as the only blight in his nine starts this season. And then I went back to last season and the numbers really did not do much for me until I looked at his splits and saw that he has really pitched this well since the start of the second half last season. Over the course of his last 23 starts, he has been terrific.
Here are the numbers since the start of Minor's second half last season:
- Starts: 23
- Record: 11-6
- WHIP: 0.9091
- ERA: 2.40
- BB/9: 1.73
- K/9: 7.29
- K/BB: 4.21
- HR/9: 0.86
Does that surprise you as much as it does me? The WHIP, walk percentage and strikeout to walk ratio really stand out the most for me. Fangraphs.com is not as impressed as I am. While Minor's ERA in the second half of last season was 2.16, Fangraphs assigned him a FIP of 3.25 and an xFIP of 3.48. Similarly, his ERA is 2.78 so far this season, but his FIP is 3.48 and his xFIP is 3.81. That is quite a spread between the statistical ERA and the actualized numbers.
Part of that is a low BABIP. And while it is true that Minor's balls in play have resulted in a puny amount of safeties, he has sustained that over 23 starts now. His BABIP in the second half last season was .227 and his BABIP this season is .240. I can see how that seems unsustainable. But he has managed to carry that low a BABIP for 23 starts now. That cannot all be luck.
Minor is a fly ball pitcher. And he does seem to be beating the odds a little bit if you consider his splits on batted ball trajectories. For example, on fly balls this season, the Major League average is a .197 batting average and a .769 OPS. The batting average is offset by the number of homers to pump up the slugging percentage. Yet, Minor's splits show a batting average of just .134 on fly balls with an OPS of .578. And Minor's OPS when batters hit line drives against him are also much lower than the league average.
It has always been difficult for me to figure out that equation. Is Minor just lucky here? Or is he somehow inducing weak contact that gets him more outs? This is why I am not a sabermatrician as such things are beyond my grasp. Suffice it to say that Minor has a prolonged streak of way lower than normal BABIPs and way lower OPS figures against his fly balls than what is normal.
What else can we glean from Minor's numbers? Several things. His first pitch strike rate is the highest of his career at a very good 64.7% and tied for nineteenth best among all starters. His zone percentage, or the amount of his pitches in the strike zone are the highest of his career. His swinging strike percentage is his highest in the last three seasons and what I like best is that his pace is a full second and a half faster than last year. He is also inducing batters to swing at pitches outside the strikezone at a higher percentage than the last two seasons.
The pace and the first pitch strike percentage show me a pitcher who has gained confidence and is rocking back and firing. And it seems to be working out for him.
I do not know if Mike Minor's numbers can hold up. He is beating the odds on his fly balls and his homers per nine would seem to at some point regress back to previous numbers. But he has been doing this now for 23 starts and that seems to give pause to the regression aggression one would normally feel. What is known is that he is still only 25 years old and gives every indication that he is learning his craft and has a bright future.