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A potential “Minor” upgrade to the Rotation

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Exploring a trade for Rangers’ “ace” Mike Minor

What Minor could look like in an Astros uniform

There’s some debate whether the Rangers will be buyers or sellers at this years trade deadline. After losing 8 straight, a perilous 6.5 games back of the wild card, resulting in Fangraphs predicting them to have a 0.3% chance of making the playoffs, it seems like becoming a seller is more and more imminent. So assuming they’re sellers and would be willing to deal to their in-state rivals, we look at their ace Mike Minor.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Who is Mike Minor?

Minor, 31, is a 6’4” 210 lb lefty hailing from Vanderbilt University, where he was a 3 time All-American. Minor pitched for the United States National team in 2007 and 2008, with a keynote victory over Cuba and earning a gold medal throwing to the tune of 1-0, 1.15 ERA, 16K’s in 15.2 IP. He was initially drafted by the Rays in the 13th round, turning them down to attend Vanderbilt. In 2009, he was the 7th overall pick by the Atlanta Braves.

Minor moved quickly through the minors, making his debut in 2010, which from a traditional stat perspective was a bit rough (5.98 ERA), but the underlying stats showed glimmers of something more (3.65 xFIP).

MLB Performance

For his career, Minor comes in at a solid but unspectacular 64-55 with a 3.83 ERA across 1,016 IP and 13.5 fWAR. Largely his career has been derailed due to injuries. Here’s a quick summary of IL stints:

  • 3/23/14 - Left Shoulder Tendinitis (15 Day IL - 5 weeks missed)
  • 4/03/15 - Inflammation of Left Rotator Cuff (15 day -> 60 day on 5/2/15 missed 7 months)
  • 03/15/2016 - Left Labrum Surgery - (60 day IL, returned November 2016)

Arm injuries for a pitcher are always concerning, especially with re-occurring serious injuries. Since then, Minor has pitched a 77 IP season in 2017, a 157 IP season in 2018, and is currently trending well in 2019 with 129 IP so far.

Speaking of 2019, it’s a tale of two stories. If one is to look at the traditional stats, his 8-5 record with a sparkling 2.86 ERA across 129 IP seems to show what some Rangers fans are claiming to be a true Cy Young deserving season.

The advanced stats are not as kind. His FIP (4.09), xFIP (4.38), and SIERA (4.34) all indicate he’s been very fortunate to achieve the results he has thus far and regression is likely coming. The differential in the statistics is primarily driven through his LOB %, a primarily luck driven stat based on sequencing. Generally every pitcher whether they are Greg Maddux or a AAA scrub will end up between 70-75% LOB (It will generally be slightly higher on a high strikeout pitcher, but generally in that range). Minor currently sits at 87%, a completely unsustainable number.

I don’t mean any of this as a knock on Minor, more of level setting expectations that he’s still pitching closer to his career average with some good luck than a true change in who he is as a pitcher.

So with that said, why profile Minor as a potential trade target?

Minor’s Arsenal

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/mike-minor-501985?stats=statcast-r-pitching-mlb

Minor currently utilizes an arsenal of 4 pitches, having abandoned his sinker last year.

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/mike-minor-501985?stats=statcast-r-pitching-mlb

The Astros have had most of their success with high spinning 4-seam fastballs (preferably paired with high velocity) combined with high spin breaking pitches.

While Minor is not lighting up the leader boards with his velocity, the spin rates on his fastball are not only elite, they’re the best of any starter in baseball. And that’s just from a pure spin rate perspective - spin naturally increases with velocity - so throwing that high of a spin with a lower velocity results in an otherworldly “Bauer Units” rating. Meaning his fastball has significantly more “rise” than anticipated.

Minor’s breaking pitches do not have the same elite spin rate of his fastball, but do hold their own being solid to above average in spin rate and movement.

Our sister site did an analysis on his pitches last off-season which took a look at the changes to his change-up providing another valid weapon in his arsenal.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t possess the velocity on his fastball or spin rates on his breaking pitches that make him a perfect fit for the Strom Model. Nonetheless, he’s still a very strong candidate. Pairing his fastball and effective changeup with solid to above average breaking ball spins rates would allow Strom to maximize Minor’s performance.

What Would It Cost?

This is obviously always a tricky subject as trade value often seems to be as much art as science, but we will look at this from a strictly excess trade value perspective. Mike Minor is signed to a 3-Year $28 Million dollar contract. Whoever trades for him would be responsible for roughly $14 Million across the year and a half.

Fangraphs (ZIPS) projects Minor to be worth 1.4 WAR next season, which seems light, although they have him projected for 118 IP, which is probably due to his injury history.

To be a bit generous and to cover the “trade deadline premium”, I’ll utilize 3.5 WAR as an estimate for the amount remaining on Mike Minor’s contract. At $9 mil/WAR, that’s a value of $31.5 Million.

$31.5 Million in Value - $14 Million in Cost = $17.5 Million in Excess Value

His Excess Value would be $17.5 Million which you can match up using Fangraphs trade values below for the Astros prospects.

I’m not a huge believer in BaseballTradeValues, but I figure it is an unbiased 3rd party, and they come to 20.3 Million in excess value. (They do have Chris Devenski worth more than this at $21.1 Million himself)

Looking at the Astros prospects and their values based on Fangraphs Trade Values for top 100 and outside 100 prospects:

Fangraphs
Fangraphs
Fangraphs

Fangraphs recently did a trade article, where they proposed Mike Minor for the Yankees Albert Abreu (45 FV - #6 Yankee Prospect) and Clarke Schmidt (45 FV - #10 Yankee Prospect), two high up-side injury prone pitchers. This aligns extremely closely to the ~$17 Mil of prospect value I estimated above and comes out to a similar package of the Astros Bryan Abreu / Brandon Bielak (although I think the Yankees package is slightly better in that scenario).

Conclusion

I’m going to be interested in reading the comments section on this article. Minor will be a divisive trade candidate. From a traditional stats perspective, he’s almost a Cy Young contender. From an advanced stats perspective, he’s more mid to back of the rotation starter. From an arsenal perspective, his fastball spin rate is something to dream on.

Our sister site (Lone Star Ball) wrote an article looking at a potential trade with the Astros, although I think they’d be vastly disappointed when they start with names such as Alvarez, Tucker, and Whitley. (of which many commenters seemed somewhat “meh” on one of them as a return).

Logically, it would be a tough pill for the Rangers to swallow, not only admitting defeat on the season by dealing Minor but trading him to their in-state rivals.

Despite the uninspiring analytical stats, I do like Minor as a potential trade candidate. His arsenal would work well under Strom’s tutelage and he’s cost controlled for another season at a reasonable rate. You’d have to think that he would be more than a minor improvement to our rotation.

Let us know your thoughts. Would you want Mike Minor? What would you trade for him?

Poll

Would you want the Astros to trade for Mike Minor?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Yes
    (307 votes)
  • 22%
    No
    (146 votes)
  • 28%
    Meh
    (182 votes)
635 votes total Vote Now