Finding a Match for Mike Minor: New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies

Rangers southpaw starting pitcher Mike Minor made headlines on Monday after pitching a complete game shutout (7 K, 2 BB, and only 3 hits allowed) against the Los Angeles Angels. He’s been awesome this season, having pitched to the tune of a 2.60 ERA through four starts. Minor is striking out over seven batters per 9 IP, and his command has been solid (2.60 BB/9) as well. Last year, Minor was extremely susceptible to the long ball (1.43 HR/9, which ranked as the 31st highest rate in the majors among the 145 SPs with at least 80 IP), but this year, that has not been the case; he is giving up 0.98 HR/9, which ranks as the 33rd highest rate in the majors among the 55 SPs with at least 20 IP.

Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There’s no doubt he has improved significantly from last year (4.18 ERA), and other teams around the league are clearly taking notice…

The Mets pitching has really struggled in the early goings of the 2019 campaign, putting up a 5.54 ERA (3rd worst in the majors), and the Phillies pitching has been just mediocre (4.47 – tied for 13th worst in the majors). Aside from Jacob deGrom (3.68 ERA in 4 GS), the Mets starters have been awful…

  • Zack Wheeler (6.35 ERA in 4 GS)
  • Noah Syndergaard (5.63 ERA in 4 GS)
  • Steven Matz (4.96 ERA in 4 GS)
  • Jason Vargas (14.21 ERA in 2 GS)

For the Philadelphia side of things, Aaron Nola has not been himself (7.45 ERA in 4 GS), and Nick Pivetta (who pitched out of the Phillies rotation last season) was recently demoted (to AAA) after recording horrific numbers (8.35 ERA in 4 GS). Their bullpen has been more of an issue than the rotation, but adding a pitcher of Minor’s caliber would certainly bolster their pitching staff (and augment its depth).

It appears as though Mike Minor, who was out for nearly two full years due to shoulder surgery (all of the 2015 season and the majority of 2016), is healthy once again. In 2017, Minor was a productive member of the KC Royals bullpen — 2.55 ERA in 77.2 IP — in his first year back from injury. The Texas Rangers were very impressed and felt Minor had good potential as a SP (his role with the Braves prior to surgery), so they signed him to three year / $28 million contract.

The experiment has undoubtedly worked out well for Texas, as Minor turned in 157 solid innings of work in 2018. In 2019 (albeit a small sample size), Minor has emerged as one of the biggest surprises, and his trade value has presumably increased by quite a bit.

One indication of a pitcher’s health is their change in avg. fastball velocity from year to year. In Mike Minor’s case, his avg. fastball is up 0.4 mph (93.2 –> 93.6 [velocities per Pitch Info Pitch Velocity as found on FanGraphs]) from last year, which is a good sign, especially for a pitcher on the wrong side of 30 (Mike Minor is 31), not to mention all the injuries he has overcome.

Minor features a four seamer, curveball, slider, and change piece. Here are his 2019 pitch frequencies (per Pitch Info Pitch Type)…

  • Four seamer: 46.1% (-2.3% from last year)
  • Change: 24.1% (+5.3%)
  • Slider: 15.3% (-5.6%)
  • Curveball: 13.7% (+2.9%)

and the percent of time batters have whiffed on each pitch…

  • Four seamer: 7.6% (-0.1% from last year)
  • Change: 16.7% (-0.8%)
  • Slider: 14.0% (+5.6%)
  • Curveball: 13.7% (+5.7%)

It’s worth pointing out that his four seam fastball is generating a ton of spin (2654 RPM per Statcast, which ranks 3rd in the majors among pitchers who have thrown at least 50 pitches) once again this season (2543 RPM last year). Higher spin typically translates into more rising action on a fastball. Hitters are having a harder time barreling up his heater this season and are hitting below .200 against it…

Graph via Baseball Savant
Graph via Baseball Savant

As you can see, his slider is also generating an increased amount of spin in 2019, which could very well be part of the reason why his slider has been a more effective pitch for him this season. Another probable reason being that he is locating his slider lower down in the zone…

Slider-0.54 (per Brooks Baseball)-1.16

Note: 0 = zone center

Graph via Brooks Baseball

The AVG against his fastball in 2018 was .280; this year, it is .186. From the data depicted in the graph above, one can presume that the fastball has been a better pitch for Minor this season largely in part to the fact that the vertical release points on his fastball, slider, and change are practically identical. This surely makes it harder for the batter to guess which pitch is coming.

I expect Minor’s curveball to regress back to what it was like last season (still decent pitch), as there is little to no evidence (I could gather) of any changes being made to the pitch.

We will integrate FanGraphs’ Update to Prospect Valuation system in order to most precisely formulate realistic compensation that the Rangers could demand (for Mike Minor) from the Mets and Phillies.

results are presented in present-day WAR and translated to a rough dollar figure based on $9 million as the cost of a win on the free-agent market. Keep in mind that the dollar figure isn’t a direct value, but rather equivalent value of a prospect relative to the free-agent market. Part of the reason prospects have such tremendous value is due to the suppressed salaries permitted by the CBA until a player has reached six years of service time. By translating the WAR figure into a monetary value, we can compare the value of prospects with the values of major-league players and their contracts. These values likely roughly approximate what an individual player might get as a signing bonus if he were declared a free agent and teams could only provide a signing bonus instead of a long-term contract.

FanGraphs’ Craig Edwards

In other words, FanGraphs assigned a monetary value for all minor league prospects (based on how former prospects belonging to that tier / rank performed during the first 9 seasons of their baseball career [“including the season in which a prospect was ranked”]). These values are comparable to current major leaguers (calculated through incorporating WAR [$9 million / 1 WAR] and the cost of the player’s contract). 

Mike Minor’s 2019 Projected WAR (per FanGraphs’ Depth Charts) the rest of the season: 2.0

fWAR weighted average (2016-19): 2.0

  • 2016: 0.0 (DNP)
  • 2017: 2.3
  • 2018: 2.5
  • 2019 (current WAR + projected WAR): 2.5

“a basic rule of thumb is that once a player gets to 30, you sort of expect them to lose about 0.5 WAR per year of value due to aging. Some players will age better or worse, but that’s an average estimate.”

Neil Weinberg, who has previous written for FanGraphs

Mike Minor’s 2020 Projected fWAR (accounting for loss of 0.5 WAR off of weighted fWAR avg.): 1.5

Considering the Mets urgently need a SP, let’s assume for the purpose of this exercise that they trade for Minor some time between June 1 – June 30. The calculations for Mike Minor’s surplus monetary value can be seen below…

([2.0 WAR * $9 million / 1 WAR] * 90-117 games with new team/145] + (1.5 WAR * $9 million / 1 WAR) – ($9.833333 million [Minor’s payroll salary per Spotrac) * 90-117/162) – ($9.833333 million) = $9.4-11.1 million in surplus monetary value

Here is one package the Mets could conceivably part with in return for Minor…

2B/3B Shervyen Newton ($8 million; 45+ FV on FG) and $1.4-3.1 million in cash for LHP Mike Minor

Newton is a high-upside prospect (only 19 years old), but he comes with significant risk. He’s prone to strikeout (31.6% K rate at rookie ball last year), but makes up for it by getting on base regularly (.408 OBP at rookie ball in 2018).

Here is Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s scouting take on Newton:

At a very projectable 6-foot-4, he’s the size of an NFL wide receiver prospect and already has considerable raw power that projects to plus at maturity. It’s rare for infielders this size to stay at shortstop, but Newton looks natural and comfortable there even though he clearly hasn’t totally grown into his body yet and appears uncoordinated at other times. Even if he outgrows short, switch-hitting third basemen with power are extremely valuable. Newton has less bat control and feel to hit than his .280 batting average would otherwise indicate, and there’s a chance he’s always strikeout prone and doesn’t get to some of his power. But it’s unreasonable to expect a switch-hitting teenager this size to have fully sentient bat control, and the ceiling on Newton if everything actualizes is superstardom.

Once again, the Phillies are reportedly another team who has inquired on the availability of Minor. If they trade for him, it will likely transpire at a later point during the season (compared to the Mets). For the purpose of this investigation, let’s assume that they trade for Minor some time between July 1 – July 31. The calculations for Mike Minor’s surplus monetary value can be seen below…

([2.0 WAR * $9 million / 1 WAR] * 59-89 games with new team/145] + (1.5 WAR * $9 million / 1 WAR) – ($9.833333 million * 59-89/162) – ($9.833333 million) = $7.4-9.3 million in surplus monetary value

Here’s what the Phillies could potentially offer up…

RHP Enyel De Los Santos ($4 million; 45 FV on FG), LHP Ranger Suarez ($1 million; 40 FV on FG), and $2.4-4.3 million in cash for LHP Mike Minor

Enyel De Los Santos had a great season at AAA last year, pitching to the tune of a 2.63 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in just over 125 IP. He whiffed nearly eight batters per 9 innings. In limited big league action (19 innings), De Los Santos put up a sub-five ERA. His ceiling is not particularly high, but his floor is that of a backend of the rotations starter.

Ranger Suarez would be the depth piece in this deal. He’s by no means overpowering (5.66 K/9 in just under 50 IP at AAA), but the results he recorded hold promise (2.74 ERA at AAA, where he surrendered 48 hits).

It remains to be seen whether or not Minor will be traded, but it has become clear that the interest will be there if the Rangers do indeed decide to shop him.

Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s