While Craig Kimbrel has been absolutely lights out all season, it is possible that the most important member of the Braves’ pitching staff all season has been Kris Medlen. Between 38 appearances as a reliever and six starts, Medlen has thrown 95 innings and recorded an incredible 1.71 ERA.
Medlen was very impressive as a reliever, but his numbers as a starter are pure insanity. In 40.2 innings, he has a 0.66 ERA, 25.3% strikeout rate and 3.3% walk rate. His FIP over that time frame is 1.91, so the incredibly low ERA does not look flukey. In his past three starts, two of which did come against the Padres, Medlen has thrown 24 innings with 22 strikeouts, one walk, and no runs allowed. Even though he faced a lackluster offense in two of the three starts, those numbers are still awe inspiring.
His arsenal includes a heavily relied upon two-seam fastball, a changeup, a curveball, and the occasional four-seam fastball. At 5″10 (I’ll take the under on his listed height) with an average fastball velocity at roughly 90 miles per hour, power is not his game. Deception, athleticism, and top notch command are Medlen’s biggest attributes, and the changeup is most certainly his best pitch, which has accounted for 21 of his 74 strikeouts this year. That number becomes more impressive when you realize the pitch has been thrown with just a 20% frequency.
While Medlen does use his changeup more frequently against lefties and his curveball more frequently against righties, he does not fear using either pitch against any hitter. Both pitches are thrown roughly 20% of the time overall, with a 15% changeup frequency against right-handed hitters and 25% against left-handed hitters in his six starts — with the opposite being true for the curveball. His confidence in each pitch and ability to locate them puts hitters into a very difficult position. Medlen has helped himself by avoiding fastball counts, as he has been in just two 3-1 counts and 2-0 counts respectively.
The above GIFs show Medlen striking out both a right-handed hitter and left-handed hitter in his start last night against the Padres — in which he struck out nine batters over eight scoreless innings with no walks. He clearly has both hitters out in front and the fade he gets on his changeup is tremendous. His arm action drives the deception, causing both batters to lunge at the ball.
His sequencing against Maybin was particularly interesting, which can be seen below:
While it is just one plate appearance and is against a hitter who is friendly with strikeouts, this sequence explains Medlen in a nutshell. He was unafraid to throw his curveball consecutively despite missing with the initial offering, and he finished the right-handed batter off with back-to-back swing-and-miss changeups.
Medlen’s performance has been spectacular, and of course expecting him to be the next Greg Maddux is asking too much, but the potential for Medlen to be a very respectable number two starter and potentially even a number one is there. He can get both right-handed and left-handed batters out with regularity — with a 3.24 xFIP against lefties and 3.26 xFIP against righties — so sticking as a starter is not a worry. With his dominance since joining the rotation, Medlen is arguably the team’s top starter and should be in line to begin next season in the rotation since his innings limit, if he is again on one, will be significantly higher. As long as he can continue to command his off speed offerings with consistency, Medlen can absolutely be a an above average starting pitcher for years to come.