In the second half of 2018, Minor found a fastball that induces weak-contact and a changeup that could get him strikeouts.
In what seems like decades ago, Mike Minor looked like one of the better young pitchers in all of baseball. He had the first round pedigree, a hard slider to pair with a well located fastball coming out of the left hand, and major league success under his belt after posting a 3.5 fWAR season. Injuries soon followed though, along with waning performance. After missing a two full seasons sandwiching his first free agency, he rebounded as a reliever with the Royals (2.2 fWAR in 2017).
The Rangers bought into his newfound success, inking him to a three-year/$28 million deal. Surprisingly, they looked to utilize him as a starter again. All in all, that ended coming up with a mixed bag of results. But with that came intriguing bullet points. For starters, he threw his fastball harder than he ever did as a starter, keeping much of that added velocity he found in the bullpen.
Along with the added velocity that help carried his improvements as a reliever was an elite spin rate on his four-seamer. Going against conventional wisdom again, he retained a lot of that spin rate as a starter. Minimum 1,000 pitches, only two starting pitchers posted a higher mark than he did in 2018, Justin Verlander and Garrett Richards.
More interestingly though, Minor’s velocity and spin rate numbers were somehow weighed down by a considerable stretch of lackluster starts early in the season. Throughout the season, he improved both the velocity and spin rate on his four-seamer almost exponentially. Not something you would expect from a player going from making 65 appearances, all relief, in one season to making 28 appearances, all starts, the next.
To make this simpler, I decided to break down the first and second halves of Minor’s season to see what these abnormal increases did to his performance. With the four-seamer alone, there were really no eye-popping changes in results overall, but it was clear that he was generating a lower quality-of-contact.
There was still an issue with the four-seamer though. With non-imposing plate peripheral numbers, it didn’t look to be helping him get strikeouts. That’s where the changeup comes into play. During the first half, it was just another pitch in his arsenal. Used to mix up counts, not much else. It wasn’t really a weapon. That changed after the All-Star Break though, as Minor saw tremendous improvements in results on the pitch. In the first half, his changeup ranked 52nd out of 70 first half pitchers in wOBA (minimum 50 results). In the second half, only one pitcher in baseball with more results on the offering allowed a lower wOBA, that being Carlos Carrasco.
Now we know that Minor found success in getting weak contact with his primary fastball and strikeouts with a secondary changeup in the second half. Put this together, and we have the recipe for a much improved pitcher. Based off xwOBA standards, he was a borderline back-end starter, ranking in the bottom 20 percent for the metric in the first half. In the second half though, he ranked in the top 20 percent with only 17 pitchers with same or equal results posting a better xwOBA.
With injuries hampering Mike Minor in the past, health seems like the biggest threat to his chance at even better success in 2019. If he can sustain the added velocity and spin rate in his fastball and continue to net strikeouts with his changeup like he did in the second half, all while staying healthy, there’s a legit chance his best still lies in the future.