Kris Medlen Is Dealing

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:

Count Speed Pitch Result
0-0 77 Curveball Ball
1-0 77 Curveball Foul
1-1 81 Changeup Swinging Strike
1-2 80 Changeup Swinging Strike

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.



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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.


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Jack
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Jack
4 years 1 month ago

He’s really Medlen with those batters minds.

Just the facts, sir
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Just the facts, sir
4 years 1 month ago

Enough with the puns for Kris sakes.

Seamus
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Seamus
4 years 1 month ago

Boooooooooooo!

Brazen Reader
Guest
4 years 1 month ago

Hey, those’re fair t’medlen puns.

whatzitmather
Member
whatzitmather
4 years 1 month ago

With the way he has been pitching, Medlen could be a huge part of Braves pitching rotation that was looking pretty suspect after Hudson. Presumable playoff rotation (if Barves have luxury of setting it) would be Hudson, Medlen, Hanson, Minor maybe?

Still, with the fastball where it is now, I have to wonder if “above average pitcher for years to come” might be a bit of a stretch. It would be easy to lose that confidence in the change if he’s establishing the fastball at 88/87 instead of 91/90. Maybe he sustains current performance, or maybe he loses a MPH a year and loses effectiveness a la Hanson/JJ.

In any case, I’ll enjoy watching him down the stretch. Nice writeup Ben.

Brent
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4 years 1 month ago

I think Maholm is in there instead of Hanson, but otherwise that’s right. Medlen has been pretty awesome to watch. It just shows you (1) you can get great results by limiting walks, and (2) K% is way better indicator of strikeout ability than K/9 for a pitcher like Medlen. Medlen this year has sort of been what Braves fans always hoped Jurrens would be, a control freak with great movement and change of speeds.

whatzitmather
Member
whatzitmather
4 years 1 month ago

I’m a moron, somehow missed Maholm. Thanks.

Mr. Sanchez
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Mr. Sanchez
4 years 1 month ago

Awkward sentence construction…
“15% of his changeups coming against right-handed hitters and 25% of his changeups coming against left-handed hitters in his six starts ” leaving the remaining 60% of his changeups to be thrown to switch hitters or amputees.

gobears
Member
gobears
4 years 1 month ago

And yet he’s still not available on FanGraphs: the Game!

Bronnt
Member
Bronnt
4 years 1 month ago

Still can’t understand the Braves mucking around with him so much. I know that he’s not THIS good as a starter, and they certainly couldn’t have expected this, but you’d think they’d recognize his value as a starting pitcher. But they send him down to work on stretching to start for them, and then they recall him afterward and he goes back to pitching an inning, or an inning and two-thirds, at a time, with no change in his usage. Julio Teheran was called up to make a start instead, struggled, and was sent back down, and Medlen remained in the bullpen.

Team was still looking for starting pitching help, so Jair Jurrjens, despite his failure to get out hitters at AAA, gets recalled to fill that spot as Meds stays in the pen. He had a few starts where he skated by while Ben Sheets was also added. Ben Sheets makes his debut on the 15th, so it’s not like the Braves got him to “save” Medlen, who would make his first start just two weeks later. In fact, Randall Deldago came back to pitch a double-header on the 21st, just ten days before Medlen made his first start as a result of Jair Jurrjens being repeatedly drilled. Medlen apparently wasn’t considered for this spot, as he was still being used to throw one inning at a time, at that point.

Then, the very day that Medlen makes his first start for the Braves, they make a trade to add ANOTHER starting pitcher, essentially threatening to take his spot in the rotation as soon as he’d gotten there. They then went to a 6 man rotation because they couldn’t seem to make obvious choices, and were still debating sending him back to the pen even at that point.

Makes you wonder if this front office is really all that good at developing pitchers, despite their reputation.

GTStD
Member
GTStD
4 years 1 month ago

It’s possible that the reason the Braves were so hesitant to throw him in the rotation is that he’s still coming back from Tommy John surgery. He had the surgery at roughly the same time as Strasburg, but his road back has been much slower, and it could be due to Wren leveraging his pitching depth to avoid needing to rush him back. The Braves have enough pitching depth available that he can afford to plug in young arms, trade for decent pitchers a la Maholm, and not need Medlen to throw 180+ innings in his first year back from surgery.

deadpool
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deadpool
4 years 1 month ago

I don’t think it’s a statement about developing pitchers. Reeding the interviews from Gonzalez made it pretty clear he just didn’t understand the relative value of starters and relievers. It was obvious he way overvalued having a “flexible” guy in the pen, even while the rotation took on water faster than the Titanic.

Anon21
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Anon21
4 years 1 month ago

You’d hope the actual brains in the organization, Frank Wren, would be making all the decisions about who’s in the rotation and who’s in the ‘pen.

Anyway, to speak to Bronnt’s larger point, I think it was completely understandable to start Medlen in the bullpen, given that he was coming off TJ. Far better approach than what the Nationals have done with Strasburg. But I agree that the decisionmaking since sending Medlen down to stretch out has been inexplicable, particularly the decision to put him back in the pen after that Gwinnett trip because the fourth and fifth starters (I forget, was it JJ and Minor or Delgado and Minor at that time?) each turned in one effective start.

I guess I’m just glad that they landed on the right answer in the end, and that Medlen is pitching so well that it would be impossible to move him back to the pen.

xdog
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xdog
4 years 30 days ago

Kris Medlen = Meld Sinker.

Gotta love a little righty, if just for their scarcity.

Medlen looked about 14 when he came up but I think he’d pass for 18 now.

He’s fun to watch. He gets the ball from the catcher, gets the sign, throws, repeats. He fields his position. He’s got a nasty pickoff move. Just ask SD.

SummerOfGeorge
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SummerOfGeorge
4 years 30 days ago

xdog brings up a great point. Medlen faced 3 above the minimum against SD, allowing 5 hits (0 walks) but erasing 2 with pick-offs. Awesome.

His stretch of 27 2/3s scoreless innings has been great to watch as a barves fan. Keep it going!

MatM
Member
MatM
4 years 29 days ago

A big reason that Medlen has made such a jump this year is that his curveball has turned into a consistent plus offering, and the change is still filthy.

I like the Maddux comparisons, of course it’s a bit of a stretch, but there are certainly similarities. What I have yet to see mentioned in the comparison is a big reason why his change up is so great. His 2-seamer moves a lot like Maddux’s fastball, it has that left to right fade (Maddux’s moved more left to right, but Medlen has a bit of dive on his). It looks awfully similar to his change up, just quicker and with less dive on it. This makes it awfully difficult to distinguish the two until it’s too late.

swfcdan
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swfcdan
4 years 27 days ago

Been an awesome fantasy pickup ill tell thee that!

bodie
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bodie
4 years 25 days ago

Compare Medlen’s 7 starts this year to Greinke’s first 7 starts of ’09. It’s eerie. I note that both their BABIPs over these stretches were in the .270 to .280 range (I could not get exact splits for the 7-GS stretches on BABIP):

Medlen: 35 days, 7 GS, 49.2IP, 50K, 5BB, 3ER, 6W, 2CG, 1SO, 0.54ERA

Greinke: 35 days, 7 GS, 45IP, 54K, 8BB, 2ER, 6W, 3CG, 2SO, 0.40ERA

bodie
Guest
bodie
4 years 25 days ago

Figures, I left out Greinke’s 7th start in my rundown. It’s closer when included

Greinke: 7GS, 53IP, 59K, 8BB, 3ER, 6W, 4CG, 2SO, 0.51ERA

evo34
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evo34
4 years 25 days ago

If you are trying to measure flukiness over a 40 IP sample, you should use xFIP, not FIP. FIP uses actual HR allowed, which is not predictive using a 40 IP history. (Medlen has allowed no HR during this stretch, which is driving his ERA and FIP so low).

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