Numbers suggest Minor hasn’t been quite as bad as all that

A kick of the leg, a flip of the wrist ... but what's the xFIP? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

A kick of the leg, a flip of the wrist ... but what's the xFIP? (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

In the light of Mike Minor’s latest strange outing — he yielded five hits in six innings, but four were home runs — I thought I’d pass along some data presented by Red Reporter in its preview of the Reds-Braves series. (Warning: If your eyes glaze over at the mention of sabermetrics, cease and desist reading.) My two favorites:

That Minor has a left-on-base percentage that’s off the charts, and not in a good way.

That Minor, who now carries an ERA of 6.97, has, at least according to one key stat-geek metric, pitched almost as well as Brandon Beachy, whose 1.33 ERA leads the majors.

The metric in question is xFIP, and it stands for expected fielding independent pitching. Here’s the simple definition — actually, it’s not all that simple — from the really useful site FanGraphs: “ Fielding Independent Pitching measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.” (And the “x” for expected adds a mathematical wrinkle that seeks to measure how many home runs a pitcher should have allowed.)

(An aside: Numbers-crunchers insist there are only Three True Outcomes of a given plate appearance — a home run, a strikeout or a walk. Everything else is subject to the vagaries of fielding, positioning and luck. FIP and xFIP are attempts to flatten out the variables. I’d suggest that fielding can never be separated from the concept of pitching, but maybe that’s just me.)

Back to Minor: Before Monday’s start, his xFIP was 3.82; Beachy’s was 3.83. (In xFIP as in golf, the lower the number the better.) This is at odds with what we’ve actually seen — Beachy has been dominant all season, Minor all but helpless of late — but that’s kind of the point of these metrics. They attempt to remove the eyeball test as a measure. I’m not sure you can do that, either, but let’s press on.

Returning to Red Reporter’s reportage: Minor’s  LOB percentage is terrible. With Monday’s start included, Minor has stranded only 42.1 percent of baserunners — the second-worst mark among big-league starting pitchers. (Vance Worley of the Phillies leads the majors, having seen only 10.4 percent of runners score.) And that, I would suggest, actually buttresses the findings relayed by our eyeballs: When Minor gets in trouble, he rarely wriggles free.

And that’s the difference between winning and losing. Minor’s strikeout rate per nine innings is a very good 8.1 — Beachy’s is 6.5 — but only 22.7 percent of baserunners have scored against Beachy. One has managed to control whatever damage is done; the other hasn’t. You wouldn’t have expected that Beachy, who wasn’t drafted, would have mastered this essential technique ahead of Minor, who was taken No. 7 overall in 2009, but that only goes to show: Baseball is a funny game.

Sabermetricians will use those two sets of stats to suggest that Minor really hasn’t been as bad as his record indicates and that Beachy hasn’t been as good, but I’m leery of such conclusions. As much as I enjoy checking the numbers, I’m of the opinion that pitching is a zero-sum game: The more zeroes a pitcher posts — by whatever means — the better.

By Mark Bradley

107 comments Add your comment

Bobby Cox

May 22nd, 2012
11:07 am

“He’s a good kid.”

[...] Numbers suggest Mike Minor hasn’t been quite as bad as all that [...]

Bobby Cox

May 22nd, 2012
11:09 am

Let’s switch Minor and Medlen’s roles….

#nopatienceforMinor

May 22nd, 2012
11:18 am

Minor needs to join JJ in AAA!!!!!!!

Willie Mays Hayes

May 22nd, 2012
11:18 am

Why can’t we just have Teheran and Minor switch assignments?

Tom

May 22nd, 2012
11:23 am

Really aren’t using this information right xFIP is just a ERA predictor adding league average HR rate although some pitchers have consistently shown that they allow HRs at a lesser rate. FIP is the better indicator of how a pitcher has pitched so far. Beachy has a FIP of 2.53 so sabermetrics still thinks Beachy has pitched quite well indeed.

Benjamin

May 22nd, 2012
11:25 am

Sabremetrics – much as I hate them – often tell a fuller story than traditional stats. Plus, he’s young and has already tasted some success at the big league level; I think it’d be good for him to get another 2-3 starts in before the Gwinnett crowds had another lefty to watch.

If he’s looking at this in mid-June, though, it might be time to flip him down to AAA for JT.

[...and I don't think we need to switch roles with K-Med, at least in terms of putting Minor in the bullpen, for two reasons: I. It would stunt his development as a starter, which is where his long-term interests lie. II. It'd put another unnecessarily lefty arm in the bullpen, which we've already got three.]

bulldogbubba

May 22nd, 2012
11:30 am

I need a “Clusters” translation on this!

Mike

May 22nd, 2012
11:33 am

Free Todd Redmond!!!

Greg

May 22nd, 2012
11:38 am

If baseball games were played out on paper with a 20-sided die, and not on a baseball field, this might be useful info.

VolGuy

May 22nd, 2012
11:39 am

xFIP, Sabermetrics – Please deliver baseball from the grasp of stat geeks and fantasy freaks. One guy throws the ball and another guy tries to hit it. Simple. I think the comments made by one of the announcers on ESPN last night – I think it was Rick Sutcliff, a former major league pithcher – were more insightful than all the statistical crap. He said it appears that Minor has lost confidence in his breaking ball and he probably needs to go back to AAA and get his head straight – just as Greg Maddox did when he first came up to the majors.

Yes, Spin Me Another Yarn!

May 22nd, 2012
11:44 am

Yes… I need expert stats and predictors to tell me Minor has sucked recently and has no clue what to do. He’s lost. Rick Sutcliffe said last night that he needs to “find” himself….. in the minor leagues to get himself straightened out.

Yes, Spin Me Another Yarn!

May 22nd, 2012
11:46 am

Sometimes you can say suck here and sometimes you can’t say suck here.

Yes, Spin Me Another Yarn!

May 22nd, 2012
11:47 am

Rick Sutcliffe said Minor is lost and should “find” himself……………….. in the minor leagues until he figures it out. I agree.

braver

May 22nd, 2012
11:47 am

If there’s any stat that suggests Minor has pitched “almost as well as Beachy,” then you’ve just proved sabermetrics are totally worthless. Nice work.

reckingball

May 22nd, 2012
11:52 am

braver, that was a good one.
go braves

West Coast Wreck

May 22nd, 2012
11:53 am

I love the fact that you are giving reference to advanced statistics, but making umbrella statements about their use and not using them correctly can cause people to blow them off as purely stat-geeky. Even the stat geeks know that some players capable of consistently outperforming their FIP, xFIP, and SIERA because they do pitch to weak contact. Delving deeper into Line drive, ground ball, and fly ball percentages can sometimes show why pitchers outperform what’s “expected.” However, strictly looking at Minor, looking at advanced statistics doesn’t tell the whole story. If you take a look at the difference between his WHIP, BA against, OPS, etc… when the bases are empty as opposed to when runners are on, it’s vast. This might indicate that Minor is not pitching the same out of the stretch as he is in the wind-up. Maybe he is tipping his pitches, not getting as much break, not throwing as hard, or something else that a coaching staff needs to try and figure out.

As far as Beachy goes, he has done very well outpitching his peripheral stats, but a 1.7% HR/FB is clearly unsustainable. I still believe Beachy is a very good pitcher, but I do not believe a 1.33 ERA is his true talent level.

Gene

May 22nd, 2012
11:54 am

The only statistic that matters is the one when a runner touches home plate, and Minor has been allowing that to happen at an unacceptable rate. I was at the game last night, and Minor might as well have been pitching batting practice or homerun derby. Francisco is awful. The Braves must find a decent backup at third, or trot out the Henry Grady statue as earlier suggested.

SR

May 22nd, 2012
12:06 pm

Stop it Bradley, this is nuts. The kid is simply inconsistent as he can possibly be and you do not need one freakin statistic to illustrate that point, rather, you simply need a set of eyes to watch him pitch.

Minor Point

May 22nd, 2012
12:07 pm

West Coast: I agree with you for the most part, but Minor’s 4 solo home runs last night made it pretty glaring that he can’t pitch from the wind up either (right now, anyway…)

SR

May 22nd, 2012
12:08 pm

Yes, Spin Me, I agree with you and with Sutcliffe. Excellent point.

eastbound and down

May 22nd, 2012
12:12 pm

This is the problem with sabermetrics and why Bill James isn’t a manager someplace and although Lisa Simpson did have some success, it was short lived. Like West Coast Wreck stated, something is happening to Minor when he is pitching from the stretch or with runners on base. Whether he is tipping his pitches, trying to hard to “aim” his pitches or something else, the coaching staff needs to figure it out.

bvillebaron

May 22nd, 2012
12:13 pm

I acknowledge that there is a place for sabermetrics in baseball, but let’s not get carried away here. Based on what I have observed, Minor is pitching like a typical young pitcher who is “on the learnign curve”. What I saw last night was someone who constantly fell behind hitters (as evidenced in part by his having thrown almost 100 pitches in a little over 4 IPs) and then threw a couple of batting practice pitches. He also pitched with no confidence. The best thing that happened last night was that Gonzalez kept him out for the 5th and 6th innings and didn’t let him “off the hook” by replacing him when he looked like he wanted out of the game.

GT71

May 22nd, 2012
12:14 pm

He’s not going to get consistent against big league batters in AAA. Leave him in rotation and find out what he’s made of. By All-star break we’ll know and if we’re a good team otherwise – and we are – it wont hurt that much. If we blast his confidence by sending him down, we’ve lost him and he’ll return with another team in a year or so and hand us our b-u-t-t-s.

Bulldawg

May 22nd, 2012
12:19 pm

I don’t think the Braves pay Mike Minor for having good sabermetric stats. They pay him to win ballgames and he is not doing that.

SimpleDawg

May 22nd, 2012
12:20 pm

I thought a fan in the outfield was going to be seriously injured last night, with all of those rockets leaving the park.

Eisendawg

May 22nd, 2012
12:21 pm

Genius move by the Braves. They cannot win on Mondays, and they cannot win with Minor, so it was pretty smart to double up and only take one loss yesterday.

West Coast Wreck

May 22nd, 2012
12:22 pm

Even though my point about Minor suggests I don’t believe in Sabermetrics, I think they are extremely valuable in Mike Minor’s case. He is a far better pitcher than his results indicate thus far. I believe that advanced statistics are a much better indicator of someone’s true talent level as opposed to ERA and W/L records. When there is a big discrepancy between what’s expected and what is occurring, that’s when a coaching staff needs to figure out “why” the discrepancy exist.

Steve

May 22nd, 2012
12:23 pm

Best quote from Fredi last night, “Minor ONLY give up 4 solo home runs.” Only 4 huh?

yeah yeah

May 22nd, 2012
12:24 pm

Favorite quote from Fredi’s postgame…”He only gave up four solo home runs!”

cobby box

May 22nd, 2012
12:41 pm

get medlan in the rotation ASAP…

Matt

May 22nd, 2012
12:42 pm

It seems like now they’re just making stats up.

iTiSi

May 22nd, 2012
12:43 pm

Fredi simplifies things so much they become very complicated. He almost makes Yogi Berra look intelligent.

iTiSi

May 22nd, 2012
12:45 pm

SimpleDog, do you see on ESPN later that one fan caught two of those homeruns. They were hit to the exact same spot. He was holding one ball in his hand and caught the second one with his other hand. Never seen that before!

iTiSi

May 22nd, 2012
12:47 pm

I’m a doofus! It’s “did” not “do” in my last post. What is wrong with me? I’ve got Bravitis!

dawg tired

May 22nd, 2012
12:52 pm

If Minor is “lost”, he should start looking for himself… on the mound at Cool Ray Field in Gwinnett.

Uncle Tom

May 22nd, 2012
12:52 pm

The current organization is just like the old one. They usually end up doing the obvious (and right) thing eventually, but they’re very slow about it. Get MEDLEN in the rotation where he has proven he belongs!!!!!!

go-BRAVOS

May 22nd, 2012
12:58 pm

People need to stop with the “Medlen needs to start” stuff. He is not going to be a starter this year and is too valuable out of the bullpen this year, next year hopefully he is a starter. Medlen is coming off TJ surgery and would be on an innings limit and plus he has never thrown more than 120 innings in a season (majors or minors). Plus if Meds were starting and had a few bad outings you same “experts” would be calling him a bum and saying we should trade him for a bag of balls.
When Minor does settle in and figure his problems out you “experts” will be saying how awesome he is and that you just knew he was going to be a great pitcher. Just chill and let him have more than30+ starts before we throw him under the bus.

Go Braves!

Gerry Whiteman

May 22nd, 2012
1:05 pm

After all the numbers are crunched it really becomes a “Minor” issue. Just ask the Lemmer.

Durrtydogg

May 22nd, 2012
1:10 pm

Its simply confidence. He doesn’t have that mean, Im about to strike your butt out look on his face like he did earlier in the season. He needs to get his edge back.

Minor Proof Positive

May 22nd, 2012
1:14 pm

Minor & Delgado & Jurrjens performance thus far this year is PROOF POSITIVE that Roger McDowell and Fredi Gonzalez are outmatched and over classed and have absolutely no idea what they are doing or managing – and ought to be run out of town faster than MARTA leaves the station – What a bunch of CLOWNS!!!!!

Jeffrey

May 22nd, 2012
1:16 pm

I love medlin and would love to see him start again. I was at the game we he blew his elbow. But we need at least one lefty and while I am a big vandy/minor fan I think we need to give it time and if it doesn’t work out make a trade. Cheers!!!

Chris

May 22nd, 2012
1:26 pm

Minor has a FIP 5.28 while Beachy has a FIP of 2.53 so sabermetrics is telling us there has been a huge gap on how they have pitched so far. I think Mark just doesn’t know what to use and what not to. xFIP is not a indication of how a pitcher has pitched to date.

blue

May 22nd, 2012
1:27 pm

dude…I trust my eyes…and every time I see him pitch, he leaves WAY to many pitches in the sweet spot. Target is on the corner, and he is throwing it center-cut of the plate. OFTEN

Losersville U.S.A.

May 22nd, 2012
1:28 pm

Going to be another LOSING season before it’s all over… AGAIN !!!!

Why can’t this town have winners and Hockey stay ? I’ll be happy if the hawks move too !!!!

Ted M

May 22nd, 2012
1:34 pm

I haven’t read Moneyball and I’m not a sabermetrics guy but this article was interesting. You can keep these sabermetrics blogs coming.

Najeh Davenpoop

May 22nd, 2012
1:35 pm

If I am not mistaken FIP and BABIP assume that all balls in play are equal. If one pitcher is consistently inducing weak ground balls and the other one is throwing hanging curves that get blasted, the second one is obviously going to have a higher ERA regardless of what his FIP is.

Let's Go

May 22nd, 2012
1:37 pm

I don’t care what stats you use Minor has not looked good. He doesn’t pass the eye test but the only stat that really matters is are the Braves winning when he pitches and overall they are 5 and 4 when he starts. He can’t continue at his rate so either he starts pitching better or he goes to the bullpen. This is his 3rd try at starting and he has had a few good games in 3 years but overall he has stunk so I’m not sure AAA is an option at this point.

Brandon

May 22nd, 2012
1:38 pm

The main problem is this:

Minor COULD quite possibly be the second coming of Tom Glavine,,, HOWEVER,,, this Braves team cannot afford to trot Mike Minor out there every 4th day trying to become a great pitcher while ALSO doing the same thing with Delgado.

Either the Braves are a first-place team looking to put the pedal down and win in the toughest division in baseball by winning every game they can,, or they’re trying to develop young talent to the point that they put a “watchable” product on the field every year without really “going for it.” Either way, they need to decide because you cannot have it both ways.

We trotted Lowe out every 5th day last year and it cost us the division (that and the inability of Freddie G. to save his pen early in the year with 4+ run leads). We can take our time with either Delgado, Teheran, or Minor,,, but NOT all 3 at once. The Braves NEED solid starts 1-4 and a 5th day guy that will do the job on most days.

Right now we have Beachy on lock-down\beast mode, we have Huddy throwing very well like a 1-2 as always, we have Hanson starting to fill out his spot nicely as a solid 2-3, Delgado is a mixed bag 5 guy (as he should be right now at his young age), and Minor is pitching like a 5 guy just up from AAA. That just isn’t going to cut it.

I’m not here to destroy Minor because the fact is that he IS a good pitcher who just isn’t quick to adjust. I’m also not going to destroy Delgado because he’s a young kid who obviously can pitch VERY well when he’s on. The fact, however, is that Minor and Delgado CANNOT exist in the same rotation at this point in their respective careers at the same time! If Freddie G., F.W., and Roger McDowell can’t see that then they NEED to be excused from their position because they are morons. This isn’t 1989 where the Braves can let a young guy develop. This is 2012 where we actually have a chance to go to,, (and dare I say it),, WIN the World Series and EVERY GAME THEY PLAY MATTERS AND EVERY LOSS MATTERS HUGE! Heyward needs to start hitting again or be sent down. Period. Minor needs to quit giving up homers every time he lets the ball go or he needs to figure it out in the minors. Period.

Kris Medlen is in the pen right now ready to throw 7 shutout innings every time he touches the ball and I, for one, would VERY MUCH welcome seeing him and Minor switch places. Minor is good for 3 innings at a time so he should be allowed to expand that ability out of the pen for the next 4 months while he attempts to earn his spot back in the rotation with some solid long relief every 5th day that Delgado pitches.

THAT is how the Braves SHOULD manage this situation. Teheran, Delgado and Minor should NOT be in the rotation at the same time RIGHT NOW. All of these guys NEED an opportunity to pitch without feeling like the world is going to fall apart if the ball leaves the yard. Unfortunately, Freddie G. is going to send Minor out every 5th day like a lamb to slaughter and we all get to watch as Delgado “comes along nicely” with a 4.50 ERA and Minor slowly gets beaten down and gets destroyed this season with a 6.50 ERA to end the year with the Braves missing the playoffs by 1-2 games yet again because Freddie Gonzalez refuses to make the hard call and just put Medlen in the rotation and move Minor to the pen or AAA and either leave Teheran in AAA or call him up to the pen.

Bam! Problem solved.

Brandon

May 22nd, 2012
1:38 pm

that was waaayyyy too long… Sorry bout’ that everyone!