When crafting these 2021 Season in Review posts—for me at least—I try to consider what a player’s story is within the season. Anybody can go to Fangraphs and read player stats, after all; my job is to provide context and decide which numbers are the most important for a player.
Sometimes, this takes some thinking. It absolutely did not take any thinking for Mike Minor, whose 2021 story can be told cleanly in two parts.
Part One: Minor, the Free Agent Innings Eater
Nobody throws 200 innings anymore. It used to be pretty common in the same way that dial-up internet used to be common: it is simply not done anymore. When Bret Saberhagen won his Cy Young with the Royals in 1989, a whopping 52 pitchers threw more than 200 innings. A decade later, that number fell to 44. When Zack Greinke won his Cy Young in 2009, it slipped even more to 36. And in 2019, the last normal season in pre-pandemic times, only 15 pitchers threw 200 or more innings.
Mike Minor was one of those 15 pitchers that year, a season where he was selected as an All-Star and was eighth in Cy Young voting. Fortunately for the Royals and unfortunately for Minor, his 2020 season was a huge step back, as Minor was essentially a replacement level player.
But it was the Weird Year We Don’t Speak Of, so the Royals thought Minor a reasonable bounceback candidate. Minor signed for two years and $18 million, one of only two multi-year deals for free agent pitchers that year (and, thus far, the only multi-year deal given to a non-alleged sexual assaulter).
They did so because they knew their stable of young arms was unproven and they’d need a lot of innings. And innings Minor gave—in fact, Minor led all Royals pitchers in innings pitched by a whole 25 innings, with 158.2 over Brad Keller’s uninspiring 133.2 innings. Furthermore, Minor matched up well against the other similar free agent signings, Robbie Ray notwithstanding.
2021 Free Agent Pitcher Performances
It’s easy to look at Minor’s ERA of 5+ and give him crap for not performing well. Minor also led the team in pitching losses at 12, which is never a good thing to see on the stat sheet, even if it’s not particularly revealing data. But, really, Minor did precisely what the Royals wanted him to do: he was a 1 WAR pitcher who stayed healthy and was the most reliable member of the rotation.
Part Two: The Pitching Split of Doom
As pitchers go through the batting order, they get worse and/or batters get better. However you want to cut it, there’s about an 8-10 point increase in wOBA—weighted on-base average, designed to give proper value to each hitting event—through the third time through the batting order.
Now, this doesn’t always happen routinely. Much of the time, pitchers see the worst of it the third time through the order, and this desire to avoid the “third time through the order penalty” is why you get teams pulling their star starters in key playoff games after two times through the order.
But for Minor, well, let’s just say we saw a lot of this:
In the first four innings, Minor cruised. But in the fifth inning, Minor unraveled, allowing four hits and a wild pitch. Even Cleveland’s outs were hit well, with all three outs coming on lineouts. Looking at his splits by inning are, well, not pretty.
Mike Minor’s Splits By Inning
Ultimately, this comes down to one simple thing: Minor was excellent the first time through the order, but stunk the second time through the order. Royals fans watched Minor start so many games sharply but then just fail to finish it.
Mike Minor’s 2021 Season Grade
Overall, when considering what Minor was supposed to do for the Royals this year, there are a lot of things going for him. And when you consider that much of his mid-innings woes were due to his manager not taking him out early enough, well, I think it’s hard to be too harsh on Minor.
As a result, I’ll go ahead and give him a B. But what do you think?
What grade would you give Mike Minor for 2021?