If there is a glaring weakness in the Astros’ bullpen, it’s the lack of a quality left-handed reliever.
You didn’t have to watch many Astros games last season to know there wasn’t a reliable left-handed reliever in the bullpen. Tony Sipp was proven to be inconsistent in the midst of earning $6 million. Francisco Liriano had a shaky tenure in Houston despite the premise of him being a quality reliever not being far fetched.
Hey, Liriano isn’t terrible at getting left-handed batters out. A career .273 wOBA and 2.84 FIP against left-handed hitters isn’t headline-worthy, yet it is solid enough.
That said, the Astros need a more reliable option as a left-handed reliever. Manager A.J. Hinch depended on Chris Devenski in some situations against left-handed batters. Devenski throws with his right hand. Sometimes the left-handed reliever versus left-handed batter matchup tends to be over exaggerated, yet there is a value in having at least one quality southpaw in the bullpen.
Enter Mike Minor.
Minor’s career began as a starting pitcher with the Braves. A shoulder injury though forced Minor to sit out the entire 2015 season while Atlanta cut ties with him. Eventually he accepted a two-year contract with the Royals before the start of the 2016 season.
Unfortunately for the veteran lefty, the rehab process from his should injury took longer than expected. He only threw 42.1 innings in the minor leagues that season. Minor would be forced into a relief role with Kansas City after it became clear that he didn’t have the durability and arm strength to be a starting pitcher in 2017.
Alas, the transition to a reliever was proven to be a successful one.
Minor threw 77.2 innings of relief this most recent season. He posted a 2.55 ERA, 2.62 FIP and 2.1 WAR. Quite solid numbers. And much better than Sipp and Liriano. Just saying.
More importantly though, Minor was one of the best against left-handed batters last season. In those 77.2 innings, he faced 102 batters that swung from the left-side of the plate. Out of those 102 left-handed batters, Minor allowed zero home runs, eight walks and fifteen total hits. At the end of the season, he posted a 0.68 ERA and .196 wOBA against left-handed batters. In terms of wOBA, he had the fifth-best split against left-handed batters. Number four on the list was Dallas Keuchel.
So, yeah, Minor was quite good against left-handed batters.
The question now is how much will Minor sign for in free agency, which won’t be cheap for any team. A three-year contract worth about $6-to-$7 million in annual salary sounds about right. And that isn’t outlandish. This hypothetical contract would be similar to the contract that Sipp signed a few years ago. The nice aspect about Sipp’s deal is that he will be a free-agent following the conclusion of the 2018 season. His contract shouldn’t have anymore negative impact on the Astros’ budget past this upcoming year.
A more curious aspect of Minor could be his future as a reliever.
I wouldn’t be shocked if he would like to transition back into a starting pitcher. One reason why Kansas City used him in relief exclusively in 2017 was due to the belief that his arm wasn’t ready for starting. But Minor was ridiculously effective as a reliever. I’m curious to see if he can replicate a similar season as a reliever in 2018. He could, in theory, close games as well. Teams value that kind of arm in the bullpen. Versatility as both a reliever and a starter though could make him an ideal fit for the Astros.
After all, Brad Peacock did quite well in both roles last season. And Houston isn’t afraid to utilize their starters in relief roles. However, that was more of a product of the postseason. It is not a style that can be sustained over the course of an entire season. Alas, injuries happen to pitching staffs. It would be a luxury to not only have Peacock as an fall-back option in the rotation, but Minor as well. Of course, you will have to find a way to stretch out his arm for multiple inning outings once again.
Minor won’t be short on suitors, though. The Astros will have to offer a lucrative deal if they would like for him to pitch in Houston. But I have a feeling that he may be worth the investment.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**