Mike Minor and All the Home Runs

Mike Minor just keeps giving up home runs. To be fair, he’s a fly ball pitcher and home runs will come with that. And actually, he’s given up the long ball a little more frequently than he should (10.5% HR/FB) throughout his career, so maybe this shouldn’t come as such a surprise.

His 1.51 HR/9 this season is 7th among pitchers who have thrown as many innings as Minor has (83.1). But he’s had some bad luck this year – .343 BABIP, 14.9% HR/FB – and he’s been stricken with a… different kind of offseason injury plus shoulder tendinitis in Spring Training, so it’s reasonable to think that’s where the issue starts and ends. But after personally seeing him give up four home runs in a rehab game against Reds double-A squad Pensacola, it feels like something may be wrong. So I’d like to examine this a little more, if that’s ok.

I imagine that if the problem is something more than just arm trouble or bad luck, it should show up in his numbers somewhere. So I’ll compare his PITCHf/x, pitch type, and heat map data from this season – a not-so-good one – and last season – a quite good one.

First, I just want to show again that he’s been much less lucky this season. It feels to me like there’s something more to it, but luck could be the problem.

babip minor

While that may be so, giving up more home runs could be the result of a change in the amount he’s throwing each of his pitches and the velocity of those pitches.

pitch type

So there’s actually been a small uptick in Minor’s velocity since last season, and he’s been throwing more sliders and fewer changeups. He’s been showing that same trend since his debut and seemed to find a happy medium last year. Those changes from 2013 to this year seem significant, and I think they might be playing a part in his production.

First, we’ll compare how his pitches have been moving and how effective they’ve been the last two years. Rather than show four more tables with a bunch of numbers, here’s a quick summary: 1) His changeup is moving less than it did last year, and it’s getting crushed. 2) His fastball and slider are both moving more than they did last year – but only by a little – and are getting crushed. So those things aren’t great. The BABIP on his changeup is the only one that isn’t outrageous; it’s .281 this year. The opponent’s BABIP on his fastball and slider are .394 and .350, respectively, which are both pretty crazy. So those are two more points for just a ton of bad luck going Minor’s way, and perhaps some good signs pointing towards better luck in the near future. On to the next thing.

Maybe his issue has been locating the ball. He’s walk rate is up a little bit from last year, so it could be that he’s having trouble pitching where he did in 2013. I thought showing his heat maps might illustrate that, but, well…

2013 heat map 2014 heat map

They don’t. Not really, anyway. A lot of his pitches this year, like last year, are right around the middle of the plate, though they were spread out a little more last year. I’m not sure what exactly that means, but maybe he’s not locating quite as well this year.

From what I can gather, it seems like Mike Minor has seen several little changes. (A little higher release point turns into less movement on a pitch every now and then, which turns into everyone crushing your slider, etc.) And a lot of little changes can make a big difference – if things aren’t the same, they’ll be different, right?

Now for a little good news – though I hesitate to call it that. Minor’s historically been a “2nd half pitcher.” Hitters go from a .330 wOBA against him in the 1st half to a .300 after the break, and his FIP and xFIP see some drops as well. In addition, his xFIP is 3.61, which is actually a little better than it was last season. A turnaround doesn’t seem terribly far off for Minor. Cut out a little of that horribly bad luck, and Atlanta’s rotation gets better. Those things might not mean much at all, but maybe it can give Braves fans some hope.

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Cave Dameron
Cave Dameron

Interesting. I bet his edge% is low, potentially causing him to have an inflated BABIP.