I am now taking a focused look at two pitchers each week. One feature will go under the hood and examine a commonly owned pitcher who is either struggling or exceeding expectations, while the other will look at an arm that falls under the 40% owned threshold. All of the analysis in this piece will be based on numbers through 6/14. If one of the featured pitchers makes a Sunday start (Minor), I will post an update on how they pitched, but data from that start will not be reflected in this piece.
If you are looking at streaming options, be sure to check out Rob Adams’ Stream Team piece. His streamer article is the best I have seen, pretty much anywhere.
Mike Minor, Atlanta Braves
Mike Minor enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2013 and was ranked inside the SP top 20 by many (including me) heading into this season. Minor is a 26-year-old lefty with 4 strong pitches in his repertoire, so it is only natural to assume the best is yet to come for him. In this piece, we will take a look under the hood and try to figure out what we can expect moving forward.
Minor’s overall numbers don’t look too shiny at the moment (4.32 ERA, 1.42 WHIP), but we are dealing with a pretty small sample size of 48 innings. In fact, if you take away Tuesday’s disaster at Coors Field, Minor would have a 3.07 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, so we may be catching him in a buy low moment.
The Scouting Report
Minor has four pitches that he is able to mix in pretty effectively. He bases everything of a 4 seam fastball that he uses about 60% of the time. Minor is not going to overpower anybody with his 90 MPH heater, but he instead relies on command and deception to keep hitters from squaring him up. His other three pitches are a change, a slider, and a knuckle curve.
Minor is able to mix in his secondary offerings in a pretty balanced fashion. In years past, he has always thrown his changeup more often than the other two pitches, but this year he has not thrown it quite as much. He relies on the change as an out pitch against righties and the slider against lefties. The knuckle curve is generally not as reliable from start to start, but Minor is at his best when he has that pitch going too.
Ks and BBs
Minor has done a pretty good job limiting walks at every level throughout his pro career. One of the main reasons for his 2013 breakout was that he was so stingy with the free passes. Minor walked just 5.6% of hitters faced for a BB/9 of 2.02 in 2013. In the early going this year, his numbers are much closer to what he did in 2012. He has a BB/9 of 2.81 (identical to his 2012 number) and a BB rate of 7.1%, compared to 7.7% in 2012. Since Minor is a pitcher who relies on his command, it is important that we keep a close eye on these numbers.
Minor’s K/9 is right in line with what he did last season (8.06), but his K percentage is down significantly (22.1% in ‘13, 20.5% in ‘14), and much closer to 2012 numbers.
His swinging strike rate is way down to just 7.2% and he is getting fewer batters to chase outside the zone, while simultaneously swinging at and making contact with more pitches in the zone. While it is really early to make any definitive call here, there is some risk that Minor’s K rate will fall significantly if he is unable to reverse any of these trends.
Batted Ball Profile
Minor has always pitched with a slight fly ball tilt to his batted ball profile, but this season he is getting a few more grounders and line drives. The result of the increased line drive rate is a BABIP of .319 that does not look flukey in any way. Minor has also seen his HR/FB rate spike to 14%, so despite giving up fewer fly balls, he is allowing HRs at a rate similar to 2012 when his ERA was over 4.
I would have liked to have watched this game, but with the NBA Finals and my Virginia Cavaliers both playing at the same time, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Minor was shaky again last night. He escaped with a no decision and only 3 runs allowed, but he gave up 11 hits and a walk over 5 innings. Ironically, the only real bright side was 6 strike outs. 6 Ks looks pretty good, but keep in mind that he did face 27 batters in those 5 innings for a K rate of 22.2%.
Minor might be one of those pitchers who is able to consistently beat his ERA indicators, but his peripherals do not look very “ace like” to me. I would not be too concerned with the batted ball data since it is so early, but Minor’s inability to generate whiffs could be a problem moving forward.
I think Minor could be a buy low guy, but only if the other owner is looking to jump ship. I view Minor as a solid SP 3-4 with as much downside risk as he has upside. Minor is NOT a top 25 SP, but many owners may treat him like he is.
Going forward, I expect slightly above average ratios. His ERA should be in the mid to high 3s and his WHIP will likely be around 1.20 with a neutral K rate (between 7 and 7.5 K/9). These numbers are still useful, but I think it will be difficult to turn a substantial profit in a trade for Mike Minor.
Jason Vargas, Kansas City Royals
Vargas is owned in 34% of Y! leagues and 35% of ESPN leagues.
For years, Jason Vargas has hovered near the streaming line as a decent matchup play for fantasy owners. This year with Kansas City, Vargas’ ownership numbers are up a little as he is on track for a career best season. His ERA currently sits at 3.30 and his WHIP is 1.21. Is Jason Vargas a pitcher that fantasy owners can rely on, or is he just another streamer who has benefited from a run of good luck?
Vargas is another lefty who is not going to blow anybody away with his velocity. A Vargas fastball will usually check in right near 87 on the gun. He has experimented with other pitches in the past, but this season he is relying exclusively on his fastball (57%), an excellent changeup (30%) and a curve (12%) that he mixes in sparingly. The fastball and curve are both mediocre offerings, but the change is definitely a plus pitch. He disguises it pretty well and it tends to tail away from right-handed batters.
Overall, Vargas’ arsenal is nothing to get too excited about. He is a fairly average starting pitcher.
Ks and BBs
Vargas has a low K/9 (6.51), but he has always done a great job limiting walks. Vargas’ walk rate usually sits between 6 and 7%. This year, his BB/9 is down to 2.23, which would be the second best mark of his career.
Vargas has never been a pitcher who gets a ton of Ks, but interestingly enough, his plate discipline stats may indicate that he is capable of more. Vargas’ swinging strike rate is on a four-year rise and currently sits at 9%, which is above average. Vargas is also above average when it comes to getting batters to chase pitches outside the zone and getting hitters to take called strikes.
I will be watching Jason Vargas pretty closely over his next couple starts. If he can get the K rate north of 7/9, he might be more than just your average streamer. It certainly looks like he has the skills to do it.
Batted Ball Profile
Vargas has shown great consistency over the past 3 seasons with a line drive rate just over 20% and fly ball and ground ball rates that each sit just under 40%. Vargas’ career BABIP is .280, so along with the walk rates, he generally does a pretty good job limiting base runners and he is capable of maintaining his .279 mark so far this season. Vargas’ strand rate is over 80% at the moment, so we will likely see a little regression there. Otherwise, his numbers look sustainable.
The biggest weakness for Vargas is the long ball. His career HR/9 sits at 1.14, but he has been slightly better than that the last two seasons. If Vargas can keep the HRs in check, he is capable of being a neutral contributor in both ERA and WHIP.
One factor that cannot be underestimated is the Kansas City Royals’ defense. The Royals have plus defenders at every position on the diamond. Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez all won gold gloves last season, yet Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar may be the two best glove men on the team. This lineup is quite literally a pitcher’s dream.
A guy like Vargas who generally pitches to contact is going to consistently benefit from the outstanding plays these guys are making behind him. Sure base hits often turn into web gem outs in KC.
Vargas is an average pitcher who could be in the perfect spot to post above average numbers. If the K rate starts to ascend a little, he will be ownable in all 12 team mixed leagues. For the rest of the season, Vargas should provide owners with an ERA in the high 3s, a WHIP between 1.20 and 1.25 along with a neutral K rate.
The only significant difference between Minor and Vargas is the Ks, but it is possible that even that tends to even out as the season progresses.
Make no mistake, Mike Minor is better than Jason Vargas. If you are seeking another SP for your team, however, you might be better off plucking Vargas off the waiver wire than you would be trading away a quality bat or a closer to acquire Minor. The numbers are too close for me to justify paying the price to get Minor.
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