How can someone that has struggled, as mightily as Mike Minor has, be mentioned in the same breath as Tom Glavine?
Claiming Mike Minor and Tom Glavine are anywhere close to pitching equals borders on baseball blasphemy in Atlanta. Glavine is one of the hallowed legends in Atlanta Braves history, while Minor has been widely considered a disappointment thus far.
Besides both throwing left-handed, many fans would argue Minor and Glavine have absolutely nothing in common. Glavine is a guaranteed Hall of Famer, two-time Cy Young winner and 300-game winner. Conversely, Minor has drawn the ire of the Braves fanbase for his stretch of rocky outings in his young career.
Minor may even be close to losing his spot in the rotation, as he is currently the poorest performing starter since the recent resurgence of Jair Jurrjens. With almost daily reports on MLBtraderumors.com claiming the Braves are interested in trading for a top of the rotation starting pitcher, and the recent signing of former All-Star Ben Sheets, it appears Minor is pitching on borrowed time.
Despite his struggles so far, I still attest that Minor is more like Glavine than most, if not all, fans give him credit for.
Am I claiming Minor will actually finish his career as heralded of a pitcher as Glavine is? Of course not. Do I believe that Minor is as dominant of a pitcher as Glavine was? Again, no—not yet.
Saying the Minor of today is on the same level of the early '90s Glavine is just silly, but he is on track to be, according to the numbers.
What makes me conclude that the Minor of today could very well be on his way to becoming as dominant as the early '90s Glavine?
My answer: Glavine of the late '80s. Before he became the Glavine that pitched his way to an upcoming spot in Cooperstown, Glavine was just an '80s version of Minor, but with a mullet.
The Atlanta Braves became the darlings of the baseball world in 1991 when they were the first team in MLB history to reach the World Series after finishing the previous year with the worst record in baseball.
Just eight years old and living in Florida, I watched the dramatic 1991 pennant race unfold on my TV thanks to TBS. The fervor of the fans during home games did just as much to inspire me to become a Braves fan as the players did on the field. The sellout crowds, where each and every fan brandished a foam tomahawk, loudly chanting and chopping in unison to the Tomahawk Chop, captivated me. I was hooked.
Being a brand new member to the Braves nation coupled with my youth, I had no knowledge of how miserable they were prior to that magical season. My first exposure to Glavine was during that "worst to first" season where he was named the NL's best pitcher, earning his first Cy Young Award. As far as I knew, Glavine was always amazing.
Glavine went on to dominate NL pitching for more than a decade. By career's end he had made the All-Star team 10 times, won the Cy Young twice, finished second or third in Cy Young voting four other seasons and won a total of 305 games.
With his laundry list of accomplishments at the forefront of their memory, what most Braves fans fail to realize is how badly Glavine struggled in the early portion of his career. His struggles are eerily similar to those of Minor.
In Glavine's first full season as a starter, he finished with a record of 7-17 and a 4.56 ERA. He didn't become the dominant pitcher we remember today until his fifth season. He had four years to learn and grow at the big league level, three of which were full seasons as a starter. In fact, Glavine may have never become a Braves legend if it weren't for a chance encounter with a ground ball during a session of batting practice during Braves spring training in 1989.
In 1992, Leigh Montville wrote a great article for Sports Illustrated titled, "A Gripping Tale: The accidental discovery of a two-seam changeup has made Tom Glavine baseball's best pitcher."
In the article, Glavine recounts how he accidentally stumbled upon his signature pitch, the circle change, when throwing a ball back in to the infield during a session of batting practice. Despite his luck of stumbling upon the pitch that would eventually launch his career as one of baseball's pitching elite, it still took Glavine two full seasons of working in the major leagues with the new pitch before he became the pitcher we all remember today.
In this excerpt from the article, Montville describes Glavine's struggles during the beginning of his career: "He was pitching some good games but getting hurt by big innings. A walk would lead to another walk, and then, suddenly, the count would be 2-0 on the next batter and Glavine would be trying to force a fastball over the plate. Not good. He realized he had to cut out those buzz-saw innings."
You could replace Glavine's name with Minor's and you would be able to accurately describe Minor;s entire young career.
Prior to entering his start against the Cubs, Minor has started 38 games with the Atlanta Braves. In those starts, he has a 12-11 record with a 5.34 ERA and 1.50 WHIP in 209 innings. Compare that to Glavine's 7-19 record with a 4.99 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 212.2 innings in the same number of starts.
Minor has five more wins and eight fewer losses. His ERA is only 0.35 points higher than Glavine’s, and their WHIPS are almost identical.
Over the same number of starts, Glavine walked 90 batters while only recording 94 strikeouts. Minor has been able to strike out 192 batters while only walking 79 batters.
Both their H/9 and BB/9 are very similar, with Glavine performing better on giving up fewer hits, and Minor performing better on walking fewer batters. Their biggest statistical divergence is HR/9 over their first 38 starts. Glavine averaged just 0.68 HR/9—16 home runs allowed—compared to Minor's robust 1.3 HR/9—31 home runs allowed.
Minor has had a very difficult year with flashes of brilliance. He has had four games this season where he has given up one run or fewer, but six games where he has given up six runs or more. After his eighth start this season, Minor had an ERA of 7.09.
Interestingly enough, after Glavine's ninth start of the season, in his first year as a full-time starter, Tom's ERA had ballooned to 7.90.
As far as stats go, Glavine and Minor's numbers over their first 38 starts are indeed similar. Does this mean that Minor is the next Glavine? Of course not, but he sure does seem to be following a similar statistical path thus far.
The Braves fans would gladly welcome a second coming of No. 47, but the faithful must remain patient with Minor if they ever hope for him to reach that level of excellence. Glavine was afforded three full seasons at the big-league level to mature into the pitcher we know today. This is Minor's first full season with that opportunity, and it will probably get cut short.
The biggest difference between the Glavine and Minor’s situations is that the Braves of the late '80s were at the bottom of the barrel. Because the Braves were so bad, it allowed for team to let Glavine learn his craft at the highest level without an adverse effect on their playoff plans, as they didn’t have any real shot at making them. With the “win now” culture of the sports fan today, the level of patience developing talent at the big-league level is thin at best.
Minor has just as much physical talent as Glavine, but developing that talent to reach its potential is a whole different matter. Whether or not Minor can turn the corner in his career, and take his potential and turn it into consistency, is yet to be seen. For Glavine, that corner was throwing a circle change for the first time by chance in a batting practice session. If he is ever able to find his “switch,” Minor has all the physical tools to become a dominant pitcher.
Braves fans have all seen those glimpses of why the Braves scouts feel he is so special; it’s just a matter of letting his game mature in the big leagues long enough to have those glimpses become the norm.
If/when Minor is sent back down to the minor leagues this season, his chances of ever evolving into the next Glavine will greatly diminish. Just like Glavine, learning his craft at the highest level would only benefit Minor and the Braves over the long haul. The talent level drop-off between the majors and the minors is too great to thoroughly challenge a talent like Minor. While the minor leagues may be useful to help work on mechanics, Minor’s issues aren’t something you can hammer out in triple-A.
The next mountain Minor must master is pitching in the big leagues, at a high level, on a regular basis. You don’t learn what it takes to be a premier starting pitcher in the big leagues playing against the Mud Dogs. You climb that mountain battling through a Hall of Fame lineup of the Yankees on a hot summer night.
The question becomes, do the Braves management and fanbase have the Zen-like patience to weather the tempest of a young pitcher gaining his bearings while tweaking his game? Sadly, probably not.
While winning when the playoff window is still open is important, the Braves have a bevy of truly talented young arms in their organization that need consistent time in the majors to develop. Stud young arms don’t immediately translate into young aces, but the chances of them ever evolving into No. 1 starter material is hampered by demotions to Triple-A and a lack of support from the fans.
Pitching is as much mental as it is physical. Just look at Greg Maddux. For some pitchers, losing confidence is all it takes to derail a career. In 1998, we all watched in disbelief as Mark Wohlers lost all ability to command any of his pitches, despite no physical ailment.
However, if Minor is still getting shelled in 2014, with no improvement over that time frame, then it would seem his window has more or likely passed.
Even though he had a great outing against Chicago July 5, the naysayers will be out in force the next game Minor shows he’s still learning on a very steep curve here in the majors. Just don’t forget Glavine was a very similarly talented Braves lefty who played just as poorly as Minor has during the same number of games, and he still ended up with his number retired in Turner Field and he will soon have a plaque in Cooperstown.
In short, don’t be so quick to judge players with smaller bodies of work. Throughout baseball history, there have been countless examples of players that emerged as some of the game’s greatest ever, despite miserable performances in their first few seasons.
All Braves fans would love to see Mike Minor become as great of a pitcher as Tom Glavine was. While it is unlikely, it is still possible. If given the opportunity, time will tell. Also, it would greatly benefit Minor to volunteer to field every single batting practice from now until he has his Tom Glavine moment and adds that last piece of the pitching puzzle.