$1.3MM is all that the Braves will pay for the services of reliever A.J. Minter this year. The two sides agreed on that amount back on January 15th. If the first-time arbitration-eligible fireballer maintains the dominant form he displayed in 2020, that price will turn out to be an absolute steal.
After building a good amount of clout as a late-inning performer over the previous two seasons, 2019 was a disaster for Minter, at least at the big-league level. A car accident that spring certainly did not help matters. He was in Triple-A by mid-season, and though he was steady on the mound there, it was not a place the Braves expected their Opening Day closer to end up.
Needless to say, Minter was a giant question mark entering 2020. Could he once again realize the potential he showed from 2017-18 or were his days as a high-leverage weapon already over?
Minter was with the MLB club in Spring Training last year, but he was optioned in early-March. Soon after that the entire league screeched to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Roster fluctuations and uncertainty through the spring and early-summer months eventually culminated in another opportunity for Minter at the outset of the shortened 2020 campaign. The southpaw did not waste it.
In 22 regular-season relief appearances this past summer, Minter was almost untouchable, posting a 0.83 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 24-to-9 K/BB ratio across 21.2 innings. Those walks were still a touch high, but he offset them with a .197 opponent’s batting average and only one longball.
With even more pressure on, Minter pretty much kept things right on rolling in the 2020 playoffs. He allowed just two earned runs on four hits while whiffing 10 over 6.0 postseason frames. In an incredibly memorable effort, MInter turned in perhaps the best outing of his career to date during an impromptu start against the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS.
First career start coming in #NLCS Game 5.
A.J. Minter was ELECTRIC. pic.twitter.com/6JlE5i79o0
— MLB (@MLB) October 17, 2020
What went so right for Minter last year? Most importantly, an improvement in command saw him avoid leaving pitches out over the plate. That plagued him the year before. Instead, he regularly buried the ball down-&-in to righties and down-&-away from lefties.
What exactly does that do to the opposition’s batted-ball profile? Well, Minter saw his hard-hit rate plummet like a rock from 45.5% all the way to 28.8%. In addition, his groundball rate went from 36.8% to 49.0% while his HR/FB improved from 10.0% to 5.9%.
The development of these trends while maintaining his swing-&-miss ability certainly suggest similar future results. An ERA below 1.00 cannot realistically be expected from any pitcher. However, a 2.82 FIP from Minter last season is just further evidence that his rebound was legitimate.
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