Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The Atlanta Braves are second in baseball in ERA and third in quality starts, and there's one big reason why: 6-foot-4 left-hander Mike Minor.
While the rotation has solid veterans in Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm and Kris Medlen and an up-and-coming youngster in Julio Teheran, the true ace of the staff and one of the top pitchers in fantasy baseball is the 25-year-old Minor.
Minor, a former first-round pick who was drafted six picks after Stephen Strasburg went No. 1 overall to the Washington Nationals in 2009, is 8-2 with a 2.44 ERA in 84 2/3 innings this season. He's one of the frontrunners to start the All-Star game for the National League.
The left-hander's renaissance dates back to July 2012, which means he has been performing at an ace level for nearly a full season's worth of innings. He went 7-4 with a 2.21 ERA in his final 15 starts last season, making him 15-6 with a 2.32 ERA over his last 178 1/3 frames.
Minor is an extreme flyball pitcher who induces a lot of weak contact, as evidenced by his 8.7 percent HR/FB. Minor's .241 BABIP suggests he'll regress, but I wouldn't count on it. Flyballs go for a hit far less often than line drives or groundballs, and his low HR/FB with a 45 percent flyball rate means that most of his batted balls are being hit in the vicinity of one of the top defensive outfields in the game (Jason Heyward and the Upton brothers).
The 25-year-old had an 11.7 percent HR/FB last season, but he allowed 18 of his 26 home runs prior to July. Over his last 178 1/3 innings, Minor's HR/FB is just 8.1 percent.
His command also has taken a huge step forward in that span. After posting a 1.9 K/BB in his first 85 2/3 innings last season, Minor has recorded 151 strikeouts and 35 walks in his last 178 1/3 innings. That's a 4.3 K/BB and a 1.77 BB/9.
There's perhaps no bigger sign that Minor has taken his game to another level than his road stats this season. Minor went 4-6 with a 5.14 ERA and a 1.97 HR/9 on the road last year, compared to 7-4 with a 3.25 ERA and a 0.74 HR/9 at pitcher-friendly Turner Field.
In 2013, he's still getting the job done at Turner -- 2-1, 2.52 ERA, 1.14 HR/9, 36/2 K/BB -- but his numbers on the road are equally as impressive: 6-1, 2.38 ERA, 0.79 HR/9, 42/15 K/BB.
Minor's chase rate is up from 26 percent to 31.1 percent since 2012, and his swing-and-miss rate is up from 7.8 percent to 10.1 percent in that same timeframe.
According to FanGraphs.com, Minor's fastball ranks as the third most valuable heater in baseball at 14.5 runs above average, and he also has the 10th most valuable changeup at 4.5 runs above average.
He has used that lethal combination to become one of the top hurlers in all of baseball. If he doesn't start the All-Star game, it certainly won't be because his numbers are not worthy.
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