In most seasons, the performances put on by the National League's best pitchers this year would give us a thrilling Cy Young debate. However, Clayton Kershaw has been going out there every fifth day and reminding everyone in America that he's better at his job than any of us are at ours. Still, the efforts of Matt Harvey, Adam Wainwright, Madison Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez have been deservingly celebrated. There's one NL pitcher who hasn't received the attention he deserves, even though he has anchored the staff of one of the league's best teams. That would be Atlanta's Mike Minor.
Many baseball people expected Minor to make the leap this year, and he has not disappointed. He's 12-5 with a 2.87 ERA, 3.10 FIP and 143 strikeouts against 32 non-intentional walks in 157 innings. He has established himself as one of the best pitchers in the game during his age-25 season, giving the Braves' pitching staff a formidable 1-2 of the future with him and Julio Teheran. Minor hit a few rough patches in 2012, his first full season in the majors, but he has been one of the game's most consistent pitchers this year. He has done so with a masterful fastball-changeup combination, and there are real signs that his stuff has simply improved this season.
When I look at a pitcher, three numbers I always check out are his strikeout and walk rates, and home run/fly ball ratio. Unsurprisingly, Minor has improved in all three. His K-rate is up to 23.1 percent from 19.9 percent last year. He has slashed has walk rate to 5.2 percent from 7.7 percent. Last season, he surrendered homers on 11.7 percent of fly balls. This season, that number is down to 7.9 percent. All three are excellent, with the walk rate standing out as particularly impressive.
Minor's average fastball velocity is right where it was last season, sitting at 90.2 mph. Despite not being overpowering, Fangraphs ranks it as the ninth most effective heater this year, saving nearly a run per 100 fastballs thrown. Of the players ranked ahead of him, only Cliff Lee has an average fastball velocity of less than 91 mph, and he's still firing it a touch faster than Minor, at 90.7 mph. Minor has succeeded with elite-level command of his fastball and a changeup against which opposing hitters have compiled just a .208/.238/.337 slash.
Given that his strikeouts are up, you'd probably guess that he's getting more swinging strikes. You'd be right, as his swinging-strike rate has jumped to 10.1 percent, an increase of more than two percentage points from last year. That's thanks in large part to an uptick in his chase rate, or frequency with which he gets hitters to swing at pitches out of the strike zone. Hitters are chasing 32.4 percent of his pitches, a huge leap from 26 percent last year. That's the mark of a nasty pitcher.
So sure, Minor isn't going to win the Cy Young. He might not even finish in the top five in the voting (though he'd be fourth on my ballot as it stands today, behind Kershaw, Harvey and Wainwright). But he still deserves our congratulations on a great season that has him shining as one of the league's brightest young stars
Starting pitcher barometer
• Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves -- Why not keep the Braves love rolling? Teheran had been on a tear, allowing just three runs with 27 strikeouts in a four-start stretch before getting knocked around a bit by the Phillies on Monday. The best news his fantasy owners have received, though, is that the Braves will not be Strasburg-ing him with a ridiculous innings limit. They do have the NL East all sewn up so he may get an extra day of rest here or there, but his owners will have him at their disposal for the rest of the season.
• Martin Perez, Texas Rangers -- Perez dominated the Astros his last time out, allowing one run on four hits in a complete game victory. He struck out eight while walking just two, and now has 19 whiffs in his last three starts. After struggling through July, Perez has turned it on in those three outings, giving up four runs in 22.2 innings. He should definitely be owned in deeper mixed leagues, and even those of you in 12-teamers could consider him for your roster.
• Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado Rockies -- Going back to the middle of June, Chacin has been one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. He has made 11 starts since then, and earned a quality start in all but one of them. I think the quality start is a flawed statistic, but he's done more than just meet the six-inning, three-run minimum in all of those outings. Only twice did he go just six innings. In both of those games, he gave up just one run. He has lasted at least eight innings four times, allowing just two run combined in those starts. As hot as he is, he should be universally owned.
• Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates -- This one really wasn't that hard to call. The peripherals were screaming for a second-half reversal, especially his .228 BABIP, and that's exactly what Locke has experienced since the All-Star Break. In 28 innings since the break, Locke has allowed 11 earned runs and 31 hits. Opposing hitters have posted a .277 batting average and .388 OBP in that time. The BABIP fairy has finally turned on him, with the opposition compiling a .361 BABIP thus far in the second half.
• C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- Wilson has had to work around a ton of baserunners of late, driving his WHIP all the way to 1.35. He got the win against the Indians on Saturday, but gave up seven hits and four walks in 5.1 innings. Since the All-Star Break, he has allowed 34 hits and 12 walks in 32 innings. He's able to get himself out of trouble because of his strikeout ability, but he has been a WHIP killer for his owners once the calendar turned to July.
What a relief
In this week's installment of honoring relievers, let's take a look at the man who just might be the best reliever in the American League, if not all of the majors right now: Greg Holland.
Holland has everything you want in a closer. He features a power fastball that clocks in at 95.7 mph on average. His best out pitch is a biting slider that has resulted in 49 strikeouts and against which hitters have managed a batting average of .084. He also mixes in a splitter to lefties, who are hitting just .188/.258/.286 against him this year.
When Holland enters the game for the Royals, it's pretty much lights out for the opposition. He has 32 saves in 34 opportunities. His last blown save was on May 6. Since then, he has converted 25 consecutive opportunities, allowing a grand total of three earned runs in 34 innings. He has 74 strikeouts in 46 innings this season, and his 14.48 K/9 is second in the league, trailing only Aroldis Chapman.
The closer position is overrated in general, but having a lockdown guy in the ninth does allow an adept manager to wisely use his starters and other relievers. Holland is just that kind of guy, and is a major part of the Royals' second-half surge.