Wade Davis is the gem of the closer market. Even though he had down year based on his standards (2.30 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 3.57 xFIP, 3.29 SIERA), he still saved 32 out of 33 games for the Chicago Cubs and he remains as the most obvious solution available in free agency for teams looking to fix their closer issues.
But not every team that needs closer help has enough cash to sign Wade Davis, and only one team can sign him. So what should other teams do if they want to sign Wade Davis, but cannot? Signing Mike Minor is one alternative as he may become the next Wade Davis.
Back in 2013, Wade Davis struggled as a starter. In 31 appearances (24 as a starter), he threw a 5.32 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 4.15 xFIP, 4.27 SIERA. He did not strike out many hitters, only striking out 18.5% of batters faced, resulting in a rather ordinary 7.58 K/9.
The Royals then moved Davis permanently into the bullpen in 2014 and he became unhittable. Davis posted a 1.00 ERA, 1.19 FIP, 1.93 xFIP, 1.61 SIERA as a reliever in 2014. He also struck out 39.1% of batters faced, resulting in a 13.63 K/9 ratio. The average velocity on his four-seam fastball and his cutter also increased by 3.52 and 2.98 miles per hour, respectively.
|Wade Davis' Average Velocity||vFA||vFC|
Mike Minor has had a similar trajectory though for different reasons. Minor actually had a stellar year in 2013 as a starter, recording a 3.21 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 3.64 xFIP, and 3.56 SIERA. But after spending 2014 pitching through shoulder soreness, he missed all the 2015 and 2016 seasons after tearing his labrum.
The Royals, who signed Minor in 2016 to a two-year deal, moved him to the bullpen for the 2017 season. Like Davis, Minor’s performance improved as he posted a 2.55 ERA, 2.62 FIP, 3.59 xFIP, and 3.16 SIERA. Minor struck out 28.7% of the batters he faced, resulting in a 10.20 K/9 ration. As a starter, he never struck out more than 23.2 % of the batters he faced. Minor’s velocity improved, as the average velocity on his four-seam fastball improved from 91.68 in 2014 as a starter to 94.63 in 2017 as a reliever.
After moving to the bullpen, Wade Davis had both one of the best fastballs and cutters. In 2014, he saved the Royals 15.0 runs (wFA of 15.0) when he used his fastball and 9.0 runs (wFC of 9.0) when he used his cutter, largely due to a whiff percentage of 15.89% and 18.39% on the four-seam fastball and the cutter, respectively. Davis still generated a high percentage of whiffs off those pitches in 2017, recording a 14.05 whiff percentage with his four-seam fastball and an 18.28 whiff percentage with his cutter, but the value of his four-seam fastball and cutter decreased to a 5.5 wFA and an 8.7 wFC in 2017
Minor does not quite have Davis’ bat missing pitches, but he still generates a high number of whiffs on four-seam fastballs and sliders. In 2017, hitters whiffed on his four-seam fastball 11.31% of the time and his slider 13.97 % of the time. But while Minor may not have the same ability to induce swings-and-misses, he has a valuable four-seam fastball and slider. In 2017, his fastball had a 8.7 wFA, while his slider had a 14.9 wSL.
While Mike Minor appears to have a similar trajectory and very similar stuff to Wade Davis, teams should be aware of a couple of valid concerns when signing him. Minor experienced a long road to recovery after tearing his labrum, an injury that even now has a less than certain outlook for pitchers. Shoulder injuries are the most volatile and unpredictable injuries, and they can end a pitcher's career in an instant.
If a team looks to sign Minor as a closer, they should know the step up from setup man to closer is large. Curating the ninth inning requires a mentally tough player who does not shy away from the spotlight and can move on quickly after having a bad outing. Minor had nine appearances in save situations in 2017, and he recorded a save in six of them. Minor was not the primary closer for the Royals last year so no conclusions should be drawn from his appearances in 2017, but teams should know not every good setup man can handle the ninth inning.
Despite these concerns, though, Mike Minor has shown that he could become another version of Wade Davis. Minor might not be as dominant as Davis, but for a team looking for a closer, gambling on Mike Minor could serve as a creative, less expensive but nearly as effective alternative.