Posted: 2:34 pm Monday, July 7th, 2014

Minor hasn’t pitched like top-half-of-rotation starter 

By David O'Brien

  NEW YORK – The Braves have made bolstering the bullpen a priority before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, preferably with another lefty they can use in the seventh or eighth innings. Presumably they aren’t going to add another starter, barring injury or other unexpected development in the next few weeks.

That means they are going to go with what they’ve got, which is good and could be very good if….

What do you think the if is? It’s not Julio Teheran, who has established himself as an legit ace and should have made the All-Star team to begin with, not as a substitute for Jeff Samardzija after the latter was traded to Oakland in the Al. The if is not Aaron Harang, who has defied skeptics by continuing to pitch well at least four out of five games and has only had two really bad starts all season.

Tonight's starter Mike Minor is 0-3 with a 5.21 ERA in his past eight starts, and has been hurt frequently by the home-run ball.

Tonight’s starter Mike Minor is 0-3 with a 5.21 ERA in his past eight starts, and has been hurt frequently by the home-run ball.

It’s not Alex Wood, who, despite his age and lack of rotation experience, has shown again that he’s ready and capable of a brilliant performance any time he goes out and will produce at least a good to very good one most times.

And even though Ervin Santana was shaky for about six weeks, he’s gotten back on track in his past four starts and particularly his past two, looking much like the guy who was so strong in his initial four starts for the Braves. So he’s not the big “if” to which we refer.

The big one is Mike Minor, who takes a 2-5 record and 4.73 ERA into tonight’s series-opening start against the Mets at Citi Field, and a .301 opponents’ average that includes an alarming .375 by lefty batters, third-highest in the majors league and almost inexplicable for a lefty starter who never had any such problems against lefties before this season.

Minor was supposed to be one of the Braves’ top three starters this season, and after Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy blew out their elbows in spring training Minor became even more of an important piece of the rotation as the only healthy incumbent with more than one full season in the major leagues.

But instead of his formerly reliable self, Minor has picked up where his season went astray in the second half of 2013, and not been a guy the Braves can feel confident about what to expect each time he goes to the mound.

Minor is  0-3 with a 5.21 ERA and .311 opponents’ average in his past eight starts, and he’s allowed nine homers in 46 2/3 innings in that stretch including six homers in 22 1/3 innings over his past four starts. He gave up a pair of two-run homers in his last start Tuesday against these same Mets in Atlanta and left with only one out in the fifth inning (the Braves rallied to win 5-4).

If the Braves are to reach their goals of winning the division and advancing deep into the postseason, I dare say they’re going to need more from Minor, particularly since their only other lefty, Wood, has already pitched more major league innings than he did as a rookie and they can’t be certain what to expect from him in September and beyond as the innings mount.

And as good as Harang has been, the well-traveled veteran’s .273 batting average allowed (fifth-highest in the NL among qualified starters) isn’t typically what you’d expect to have from a pitcher you’d want to count on as one of your top three starters in the postseason.

The Braves need Minor to get back to being the pitcher he was from the beginning of June 2012 until late last August, when he starting giving up a lot more hits, runs and particularly homers.

Minor looked like a budding top-of-the-rotation pitcher while going 22-11 with a 2.89 ERA and .219 opponents’ average in a span of 46 starts from June 1, 2012, through Aug. 25, 2013. He had 241 strikeouts, 72 walks and 28 homers allowed in 287 innings over that period.

That’s what makes his numbers since then hard to comprehend: 2-9 with a 4.53 ERA and .280 opponents’ average in 18 starts, with 104 strikeouts, 30 walks and a whopping 20 homers in 109 1/3 innings.

To his credit he’s not the type to make excuses, but you have to wonder how much of his current problems stem from not being able to work out or throw in January after having emergency urinary-tract surgery. Then he developed shoulder tendinitis from ramping up his activities a bit too much too quickly at the start of spring training, and spent the month of April on the DL.

But Minor pitched  well in six of his first seven starts this season after coming off the DL, so it’s hard to say the down time was the cause of his problems. And, of course, there’s the fact of his late-season struggles last year.

I asked a scout what he saw from Minor lately that was different than when he was going good, and he said the lefty’s fastball velocity is the same, still real good, but that he’s throwing his curveball and changeup harder and not getting the same movement on those pitches (and the higher-velocity change makes it less effective when the differential is lessened between the velocity of that pitch and the fastball).

He has a 7.84 ERA and .348 opponents’ average in his past two games, including nine hits, four runs and two homers in 4 1/3 innings against the Mets on Tuesday.

Minor is 4-2 with a 5.14 ERA in 10 career starts against the Mets, including 0-1 with a 6.97 ERA and .391 opponents’ average in his past two. He gave up 18 hits, eight runs and five homers  in 10 1/3 innings of those two starts, including four runs and three homers in six innings of a June 20 loss at Citi Field last summer.

He didn’t face David Wright last week, when the Mets third baseman was out seven days with a strained shoulder. Wright, who returned to lineup over the weekend, has a couple of homers (though just a .200 average) in 20 at-bats against Minor.

Minor is 0-1 with a 7.94 ERA in his past three road starts, allowing 25 hits and 15 runs in 17 innings. He had two bad starts at Colorado and Houston on either side of a good one June 20 at Washington.

For the second time in seven days Minor will face Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is 0-3 with a 6.06 ERA in his past three starts, all on the road. Matsuzaka allowed five runs apiece in each of his past two starts, in six innings at Pittsburgh on June 26 and in five innings Tuesday against the Braves and Minor.

“Dice K” – does anyone still call him that? — gave up seven hits and three walks in that loss to the Braves, which dropped him to 1-3 with a 7.88 ERA in six career games (four starts) against Atlanta.

Against Matsuzaka, Freddie Freeman is 3-for-7 with a homer and six RBIs, Andrelton Simmons is 3-for-7, Justin Upton is 2-for-4 with three walks, and B.J. Upton is 4-for-24 with a homer and seven strikeouts.

Matsuzaka is 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA and .111 opponents’ average in 12 home games (three starts), compared to 1-3 with a 5.57 ERA and .252 OA (and .373 opponents’ OBP) in 12 road games  (four starts)

Opponents are 3-for-26 (.115) against him with RISP and two outs, and two of those hits were by the Braves last week.

• After Minor: What have other Braves starters for the series done against the Mets? Glad you asked. Tuesday’s Game 2 starter Teheran is 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA in five games including four starts, and 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three at Citi Field.

He’ll be followed by Santana, who is 3-0 with an 0.86 ERA in three starts, including a 1.38 ERA in two at Citi Field, and Harang, who is 5-5 with a 4.62 ERA in 12 starts, including a 3.82 ERA in seven at Citi Field.

• For Braves, night is right: The Braves and Mets will play all nights games in this series, which no Brave will complain about. They are 37-23 in night games and only 12-16 in day games.

The record isn’t surprising when you consider how much better they’ve pitched and hit in night games. Their 3.07 ERA in night games is second-best in the NL, behind the Nationals’ 3.01. But the Braves are 10th in the NL with their 3.55 ERA in day games.

In night games Braves hitters are sixth in the NL with a .256 average, ninth with a .312 OBP  and tied for seventh with a .395 slugging percentage. Meanwhile in day games, they rank next-to-last in the NL with a .215 average (ahead of the lowly Padres, .189), 11th with a .296 OBP and 13th with a .333 slugging percentage.

In the second leg of this seven-game trip at Chicago, all three games are day games, heading into the All-Star break.

Here are the batting averages and on-base percentages for Braves lineup regulars in day games: Tommy La Stella .341/.429, Andrelton Simmons .265/.308, Justin Upton .256/.340, Freddie Freeman .238/.366, Jason Heyward .216/.358, Chris Johnson .210/.252, B.J. Upton .186/.224, Evan Gattis .157/.232.

Compare that to what they’ve done in night games: Gattis .329/.374, Freeman .318/.393, Johnson .306/.319, Justin Upton .280/.353, La Stella .271/.354, Simmons .264/.301, Heyward .252/.326, B.J. Upton .223/.297.

• Freeman vs. Mets: In 62 games vs. Mets, Freeman has hit .317 (73-for-230) with career-highs in doubles (20), homers (13) and RBIs (53), and has a .391 OBP and .574 slugging percentage.

In 30 games at Citi Field he’s hit .303 (37-for-122) with 10 doubles, five homers, 22 RBIs, .361 OBP and .508 slugging. That’s his most RBIs outside Atlanta and tied with Coors Field for his most homers at any road ballpark.

In  his past past 15 games against them, Freeman has hit .407 (24-for-59) with six doubles, four homers, 18 RBIs, .463 OBP and .712 slugging percentage.

• Etc.

The Braves are 28-14 with a 3.07 ERA in their past 42 games against the Mets, including 6-3 with a 2.73 ERA this season. The Braves swept the Mets in Atlanta last week in a series in which every game was decided by one or two runs and the Braves totaled 13 runs and no home runs…. Jason Heyward has hit .189 (20-for-106) in 31 games at Citi Field, though he does have four homers, 21 walks and a .333 OBP.

Here’s a cut from Atlanta’s own Deerhunter, off last year’s excellent Monomania album. Check it out by clicking here.

“SLEEPWALKING” by Deerhunter

I’m not mad about anything
You forced on me a hopeless dream
I’d been looking for one true thing
Too numb to see I’d been sleepwalking

Too horrified to see

Deerhunter

Deerhunter

When a decade doesn’t get you down
You’re flying now but you’ll come back down
And with both your feet on the ground
You’ll look around, yeah, you’ll look around

Too horrified to see

I’d been looking for some harmonies
Some words to sing that could really bring
The lonely-hearted some company
All the people that were just like me, yeah
When a decade is spent searching
For something time will never bring
Something starts to shut down inside
My body and my tired mind

Too horrified to see

Can’t you see
Your heart is hard now
Your heart is hard now
Can’t you see
We’ve grown apart now
We’ve grown apart now

 

 

1592 comments
Zagnut
Zagnut

IMO, Minor's problem is he hasn' t been able to keep the ball down in the strike zone.  Thus the reason for all of the hits and homers.  Except for a very few pitchers [Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, etc.], a pitcher must keep the ball DOWN in order to be successful.  Those pitchers like Ryan who have overpowering stuff can get away with pitching up SOME.  Even the overpowering guys keep the ball down for the most part.  But if you check out the guys that give up the most homers, they are guys that have trouble keeping the ball down.

Until Minor learns how to do that, he'll be nothing more than a mediocre pitcher!

BravesFan1966
BravesFan1966

Crawler at bottom of ESPN TV page said Braves looking at JAY PEAVY????  Really!!!!  Peavy is like 1-6 and ERA over 5.00.  What the heck do they need with another broken down, over the hill starter.  They have plenty of those now.  Package Minor and someone for a BAT and relief hitting.  NOT stinking Peavy.

MFin04
MFin04

We should probably stop pitching to Granderson... ;-) they can walk Freeman...

noleee
noleee

 in  that way, the Braves are one of the models for every other organization. They're in first place with one of baseball's youngest rosters, with established homegrown kids playing first (Freddie Freeman), short (Andrelton Simmons) and right (Jason Heyward), starting games (Julio Teheran) and closing games (Craig Kimbrel).

This is how it's supposed to be done. This is how a team stays competitive without an outrageous payroll. When a Brian McCann or a Tim Hudson departs via free agency, the Braves believe they'll figure things out, either by promoting someone from within or finding a short-term free-agent fix.

This is why the Braves are 49-40 and still holding off the Nationals (48-40) in the NL East despite being absolutely decimated by injuries. That is, their whole is greater than the sum of their parts.


oh c'mon now, everybody knows the Braves are a looser organization in the weakest division in baseball, not a modfel fer other clubs

so what if they are in the hunt almost every season with one of the youngest clubs in baseball? just dumb luck

_Murph_
_Murph_

A solo HR still counts as an RBI, yes?  If so, then Shaun is wrong.  RBI are not dependent on teammates.

Stupid Shaun.

ncscoots
ncscoots

Well, I'm sure this has happened to every guy here: you're at the ballpark, a hitter approaches the plate, and they flash up his slash line, prompting the two honeys in the next seats over to turn to you and say, ".294...is that any good?", to which you quickly reply, "Well, I don't know. I'd have to see his wOBA to tell you that.", causing the honeys to rapidly turn their attention back to the ballgame, instead of buying you a beer with their phone numbers scrawled on the cup and spending the next six innings enthralled with the very idea of learning about baseball (and perhaps other things) from you.

Sometimes, you just got to make a call based on the available information. :-)

VeniceJim
VeniceJim

Interesting stat from a long term perspective - yesterday's win gave the Angels an overall franchise record of 4,272-4,272-3 - the first time they have made it to the .500 level since they were 1-1 in 1961...

MFin04
MFin04

And can we just agree that RBIs are the most important stat for winning games!?

Its like people have gone soo crazy with value they forget the meaning and value of driving in runs...which leads to wins...

MFin04
MFin04

I don't understand why Gattis isn't an All Star...doesn't matter if he can play...if he deserves it he should be in...it isn't best healthy player...its best overall players...

noleee
noleee

@Rick_C

all they need to do is pitch him waist high on the outside paint and he will be  putty in their hands

Fleming01
Fleming01

@noleee 

So that's the problem with all the UCL. They are too loose and tear.

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@_Murph_ But you don't need RBI.  Homeruns count a lot in the total base category.  Homeruns count a lot in wOBA and wRC+ and SLG.  And of course homeruns count in the homerun category.  We can do perfectly fine completely ignoring RBI.  The Red Sox have done fine since 2003 ignoring RBI.  

EMWTK
EMWTK

@VeniceJim Manager Fredi Gonzalez is the guy we'd all love to work for. He lets you know he believes in you, and because he believes, it's easier for you to believe.

Institutional ethos. He got that from Bobby. Where Bobby got it, I don't know. Pre-Steinbrenner Yankees?

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@ncscoots Or you could say, "well, it's a good batting average...but he's good/bad at getting on base...and he's good/bad at hitting for power."  And you could talk about how he plays this position or that and how his offense relative to other players at the position is good/bad; or you could talk about his defense and how that ties into his value.  


The common sense concepts of evaluating players are more important than the nitty gritty of wOBA and WAR.  WAR gives us a systematic way to process these concepts but really you don't need to get into WAR to explain the basics of how player valuation works.  If announcers did a better job with this, fans would be a lot smarter.  But announcers to often just go with what tradition dictates should be on the on-screen graphics and they just expound on those instead of thinking through how players are valuated.  

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 Yep.  That's why Nelson Cruz is the best player in the game this season, right?  Based on the above comment, that has to be true.  No way around it.

ncscoots
ncscoots

@MFin04

So, he wasn't selected by the fans, and you think he should have been added to the roster, just so he could say "I can't play" and they have to pick another player to add to the roster? What kind of logic is that, fercrissake?

ncscoots
ncscoots

@noleee @Rick_C

That's right, just throw three to that spot without missing by so much as two ball-widths, LOL. Eezy-peezy.

MFin04
MFin04

The Braves haven't done so well ignoring RBIs...see this season...last night...every playoff series since 2006...etc...

_Murph_
_Murph_

@ShaunATL @_Murph_ At its core a HR is a HR, a run, and an RBI.  The ball went over the wall, so the player gets a +1 in the HR category.  They also get the run and the run batted in.  

In this specific example, the player has done this without aid or assistance from his teammates.  He has created an RBI all by himself.

Thus proving your assertion that RBI are dependent on teammates as moot and without merit.

And once again, I have won, you have lost.  My posts today are full of RBI, while yours are full of pop ups and weak grounders to first.

MFin04
MFin04

We sure could use some of his ribbies...put some BBQ on them...and win some games. Or we could prevent some runs into extra inning losses all night long if you prefer...

MFin04
MFin04

Yep. If he earned it...why wouldn't he make the team? They do it with pitchers who won't pitch due to starts...?

noleee
noleee

@Rick_C @noleee

yup, just alternate between there and high inside and he will be outta baseball in two seasons

noleee
noleee

@MFin04

braves are not really a saber team so they do not ignore ribbies as much as they should, thus their constant loosingness

MFin04
MFin04

Feeding your own narrative

EMWTK
EMWTK

@ncscoots I remember Jim Bouton speaking very highly of Houk in Ball Four

noleee
noleee

@MFin04

he wouldn't have all then ribbies playing for the Braves most likely

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 Yep.  Teams can use RBI.  Doesn't mean it's a good way to assess individual hitters.  How many times do I have to type this before you folks get it?  It's not that hard to understand.  


Maybe reading it from someone else will help you grasp it: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=2562


From Mr. Perry:


"So, highly context-dependent counting stats like RBI and runs scored can be inflated or deflated by a panoply of factors that have nothing to do with that hitter's true abilities. One of the prevailing missions of sabermetrics is to evaluate the player in a vacuum: What's he doing independently of his teammates and environment? Using only RBI or runs scored to judge a player or to frame an argument at the tavern is a fool's errand."

MFin04
MFin04

Fredi hit the pitcher 8th...we are Luke Skywalker...saber nerds!!!

ncscoots
ncscoots

@noleee @EMWTK @VeniceJim

It happens that I was a Yankees fan as a child, primarily because of my dad's admiration of Joe Dimaggio. That was during Houk's heyday as a manager, though I was too young to know anything about managerial philosophies, of course. My dad liked him, though; whether that was because of Houk's war record or his managerial style, I don't know. :-)

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@noleee @MFin04 ding ding ding!  Finally.  Someone that has a clue that a player's RBI total is dependent on teammates.  

MFin04
MFin04

How does a team get ribbies if the individual hitters can't (i wonder aloud to myself?)

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 That's the whole problem.  RBI get assigned to players no matter whether that player hits a homerun or grounds out to pick up that RBI.  The assigning of RBI to hitters is a messed-up way of attributing run creation to hitters.  A hitter who hits a double to get a player to third gets absolutely no credit if the player on third eventually scores, while a guy who grounds out with a runner on third gets full credit. Even if you think there is something to grounding out with a runner on third to allow that run to score, certainly you don't think the guy who got the double to put the runner on third deserves to be ignored.  If you use RBI to evaluate production, the hitter who got the double might as well have done nothing productive.   

ShaunATL
ShaunATL

@MFin04 Individual hitters do "get" RBI.  Just like pitchers who get shelled sometimes "get" wins.

MFin04
MFin04

Shoulda hit a triple or homer for the ribbies!

MFin04
MFin04

So you agree that RBIs and wins are the two most important stats. I thought I'd never get you this far...