As most Atlanta Braves fans know, it has been a rough stretch for AJ Minter. It could arguably be considered the worst stretch of his career. In his last 4 outings, he has allowed 10 runs over 3.2 innings with 10 hits against him.
That is a 24.55 ERA. Which I can confirm is not good. The Braves were hoping Minter would hold it down while Raisel Iglesias was injured. Hoping he would take his 2022 season, where he finished with a 2.1 fWAR (5th best among relievers), and carry that over into 2023.
That has not been the case for Minter. At least not so far. Unless there is an injury we do not know about, the recent stretch has been a disappointment for the Braves reliever. However, even with the poor play as of late, I think we will see elite AJ Minter again this season.
The Metrics Support AJ Minter
We never want to see an 8.53 ERA from a reliever. Especially one that is trusted with some of the bigger moments in the game. The numbers are not all bad though. As it currently stands, he has a 2.72 FIP, 3.56 xFIP, 3.32 xERA, and 3.15 SIERA. Suggesting there has been some bad luck.
Going into his batted ball profile, there is a lot to like. The average exit velocity of 86.6 ranks in the 79th percentile, while his hard-hit rate ranks in the 83rd percentile. His .253 xBA, 431 xSLG, .328 wOBA, .316 xwOBA, and .418 xwOBAcon all rank near league average or a tick below.
However, he has only been barrelled 3 times this season. While that ranks him in the 46th percentile, it is not as high as one might think for a guy with an ERA over 8. In fact, that number is only that high because of Yordan Alvarez, arguably the best hitter on the planet and a guy who will put a dent into a lot of pitchers' numbers.
An issue could be that Minter's strikeouts are down from when he posted a career-high 34.7% strikeout rate in 2022. His current 27.8% strikeout rate is closer to his career average of 29.1%, but a 6.9% drop in strikeouts from one year is not ideal. He also has seen his first pitch strike rate drop from 66.1% to 55.6%. That is a significant drop that puts him below the league average of 60.8%. Starting a batter off in a 1-0 count is different than starting them 0-1.
Minter's whiff rate is slightly down from 33.0% to 30.8%. Interestingly enough, Minter is getting opposing hitters chase rate is up from 33.6% to 36.4%. Usually, that would be good, suggesting that a pitcher is fooling a hitter. Yet, the contact on those chases have gone up from 51.3% to 57.5%. Instead of getting swings and misses out of the zone, opposing hitters are making contact and spoiling those pitches.
Instead of putting batters away, they are putting a few more balls in play currently. With the shift restrictions, we are seeing more ground balls get through in general, which is leading to higher BABIPs across baseball. Minter currently has a .400 BABIP. Over his last four appearances, he has a .692 BABIP.
His BABIP will come down. Meaning the rest of his numbers will return to form soon.
A theory I have seen suggested is maybe Minter is struggling adjusting to the new pitch clock. It is worth considering as there was the belief it could affect pitchers and hitters coming into 2023.
Minter has (obviously) had to quicken his pace this season. In 2022, Minter has a pitch tempo of 23.0 and a pitch timer equivalent of 17.0 with the bases empty and a 27.9 pitch tempo and a pitch time equivalent of 21.9 with runners on base. This season, with the bases empty, his tempo is down to 17.9 with an average time of 11.9 and with runners on base his tempo is down to 18.4 and average time down to 12.4.
While I love the pitch clock has done for the pace of play, could it be affecting Minter? He is working 5 seconds quicker with the bases empty and 9.5 seconds faster with runners on. While that may not feel like a lot, that could mess with a pitcher's rhythm.
Maybe Minter has not adjusted to the new pace of play and it is hurting his performance? It is something that some thought could happen coming into 2023.
Minter Shouldn't Pitch the 9th
I believe maybe a more plausible theory is that Minter just cannot pitch the 9th inning for whatever reason. Check out his numbers.
AJ Minter for his regular season career in innings 4-8: 178.1 innings, 60 earned runs (3.03 ERA). In extra innings, he has 6 innings pitched with 2 earned runs (3.00 ERA). In the 9th inning, he has pitched 78 times, allowing 40 earned runs (4.62 ERA).
Looking at the 8th inning, where has has thrown the most in his career (90.2 innings pitched), he has a 2.98 ERA.
He has been one of the best relievers in baseball for the last several years. In his career, he has a 3.50 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 3.49 xFIP, and 3.23 SIERA. It has just been rough sailing, for whatever reason, when he pitches the 9th inning.
I am a big numbers guy and love the analytics involved in the game. In this case, there are no real numbers to describe why some guys cannot pitch the 9th inning. I do not want to say Minter cannot be a big moment pitcher because that would be untrue. He has been a part of some huge moments for the Braves over the last two years and was a vital member of the 2021 team that won the World Series.
It just takes a special breed to pitch the 9th inning sometimes.
Maybe Minter can figure out his 9th inning woes someday. However, it looks like he will be going back to a more comfortable setup role, as Raisel Iglesias is nearing a return to the big league club.
It has been a rough stretch for Minter. Maybe there is an injury we do not currently know about. Hopefully not but it could be the case. Looking at his overall numbers, I think we will see Minter get back into form soon and become that dominant lefty out of the Braves bullpen. The guy that was a top 5 reliever in all of baseball in 2022.
Stay faithful Braves fans. Minter is coming.