Kris Medlen’s Repertoire, Animated

Anyone who’s made his way to these electronic pages is likely well-aware that Kris Medlen has been excellent of late — is, in fact, the majors’ best pitcher over the last month by most relevant measures. Nor, really, has Medlen been more excellent of late than he was on Monday afternoon against the Colorado Rockies (box), during which game he recorded 12 strikeouts and zero walks en route to conceding just a lone, unearned run in nine innings.

While our Ben Duronio provided entirely able analysis in re Medlen just last week, it occurs to the present author that the People could tolerate more in the way of Medlen-related analysis.

Below is a more or less competent examination — accompanied by more than less animated GIFs — of Medlen’s repertoire.


While it might be customary to begin a discussion of a pitcher’s repertoire with his fastball, Medlen’s changeup is his best offering — has, in fact, been among the best in the league this year. Among all pitchers who’ve thrown at least 50 of them (i.e. changeups) this season, Medlen’s has prevented the most runs on a rate basis.

To wit, the league’s top-10 pitchers, by runs above average per 100 changeups thrown:

Name Team IP % Thrown Total Runs/Avg Runs/100
Kris Medlen Braves 104.0 20.5% 295 14.1 4.8
Yovani Gallardo Brewers 173.1 1.9% 56 2.6 4.7
Fernando Rodney Rays 62.1 35.1% 329 15.3 4.7
Huston Street Padres 36.0 17.3% 89 3.4 3.8
Danny Duffy Royals 27.2 10.9% 57 2.0 3.6
A.J. Griffin Athletics 51.2 14.9% 125 4.4 3.5
Freddy Garcia Yankees 93.2 9.6% 148 4.9 3.3
Andrew Cashner Padres 36.2 16.6% 107 3.5 3.3
Chris Tillman Orioles 61.0 14.7% 155 4.7 3.1
Juan Cruz Pirates 35.2 12.2% 82 2.4 3.0

Medlen has thrown the pitch about 20% of the time this year, nor did Monday’s start represent any sort of departure from that usage pattern: 25 of Medlen’s 111 pitches (22.5%) against Colorado were changeups. As Ben Duronio recently noted, it’s a pitch he’s willing to throw to both opposite- and same-handed batters: of the 41 total pitches Medlen threw to left-handed batters, 11 were changeups (26.8%); of the 70 total pitches he threw to righties, 14 of them were changes (20.0%). This likely represents a departure from the way many other pitchers utilize the change.

Here’s something pretty close to an “average” changeup for Medlen — to strike out Carlos Gonzalez in the ninth — both in terms of velocity (80 mph) and movement (8.3 inches of armside run, 6.2 inches of rise relative to a ball unaltered by air current/spin).

While the standard deviation of the velocity on Medlen’s change is quite small (he threw all 25 of them between 78 and 81 mph on Monday), Medlen will occasionally alter the amount of armside run it features. Here’s an example — to Dexter Fowler in the sixth inning — of a change with a little more run (ca. 10 inches) and a little more drop (about 2-3 more inches than usual):

And here’s another, with less run (just five inches) for a called strike three to Chris Nelson in the seventh:

Two-Seam Fastball

In some cases, pitchers who are reported as having a two-seam fastball by PITCHf/x are actually throwing just a single fastball that effs with the system’s pitch-classification algorithm. In the case of Medlen, however, there really do appear to be separate pitches, as noted by this by chart from Medlen’s Monday start:

And, more importantly, by Medlen himself:

Medlen’s usage of the two-seamer, more than with any other pitch, is dependent on the handedness of the batter — or, at least this was the case on Monday. Of the 41 pitches he threw to left-handed Rockies batters, only 11 were classified as two-seamers (26.8%); meanwhile, about 44% (or, 31) of 70 total pitches to right-handers were two-seamers.

None of the two-seam fastballs thrown by Medlen on Monday induced a swinging-strike — and he’s posted just a 3.2% swinging-strike rate on the pitch all season relative to the league-average of about 5%, according to Harry Pavlidis). Still, as Medlen notes, it’s possible that part of his changeup’s effectiveness is its resemblance to this pitch.

Here’s a the most “average” two-seamer (in terms of movement) thrown by Medlen on Monday — to Wilin Rosario in the first:

Four-Seam Fastball

According to Brooks Baseball, Medlen has thrown his four-seamer almost three times as often against right- than left-handed batters (13% vs. 5%). Against those right-handed batters, he’s thrown it almost twice as often while ahead in the count (17%) than while behind (10%). In short, the four-seamer is a pitch that Medlen will throw rarely — but when he does throw it, he’s normally throwing it against a right-hander and looking for a strikeout.

Here he is doing all those things at once, on an 0-2 count against Andrew Brown in the eighth:


Like most of his other pitches, the curve is one that Medlen will throw to both right- and left-handed batters. Of the 23 he threw on Monday, eight of them were to left-handers (or, 19.5% of all the pitches he threw to left-handers); to right-handed batters, he threw 15 curves, or 21.4% of all the pitches he threw to righties. Generally speaking, Medlen’s curve is pretty hittable in the zone: opposing batters have a 98.2% contact rate on curves at which they offer within the zone against him. Related to that is this: while the average major-league curve has a called-strike rate of ca. 45%, Medlen’s is about half that this season, at ca. 21%.

To combat the hit-ability of the pitch, Medlen goes outside the zone with it more often than other pitchers. Here is he doing that to Dexter Fowler in the third inning, with an 0-2 count:

Data from Brooks Baseball was helpful in the compsition of this piece.

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

14 Responses to “Kris Medlen’s Repertoire, Animated”

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  1. DD says:

    That first changeup to CarGo is nasty, great late movement.

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    • TheoK says:

      Gives me a goddamn chubby.

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    • tz says:

      His eyes must have nearly popped out of his head waiting to pounce on that pitch. I wonder how many hitters strain their shoulders swinging and missing on filthy changeups like that.

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  2. Bip says:

    I saw that changeup to Chris Nelson in the recap of his game, and I thought it was a slider. I wonder if he varies the movement that much on purpose. If he did, that would help explain why he doesn’t vary his usage with the handedness of the batter.

    It’s also interesting that Medlen has the exact same repertoire as Strasburg but ~10mph slower, and yet Medlen has been so good at preventing runs that he’s the one having these articles posted about him. Not expecting this to continue, of course.

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    • Wil says:

      I’m not sure it’s going to continue quite at the pace he has been going but he has a 1.56 ERA with a 2.22/3.10 FIP/xFIP. So even if there is regression it could be slight.

      Stras for comparison has a 2.93 ERA with a 2.63/2.74 FIP/xFIP.

      You have to believe that Medlen’s HR/9 will come back to earth eventually. He’s only given up 2 HR’s in 104 IP. But other than a slightly lower BABIP and higher LOB%, he isn’t greatly out performing his peripheraps. So the real Kris Medlen could be pretty dang good.

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      • Alex says:

        I highly doubt his command will continue to be as phenominal as it is. He’s always been good in hist short stints though. A 3.5 FIP can be expected, no?

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      • Wil says:

        I don’t know if his command will be as good as it has been, but it won’t be much worse. He’s walking about 1.5 batters per 9 now, and for his career he is close to 2 per 9, which is still, as you know, pretty good.

        As for the projection of his FIP it’s hard to say. He only has 281 MLB innings with a line of 3.00/3.08/3.38 ERA/FIP/xFIP and that’s for a guy relatively new to the league. What his projections going forward will be, I couldn’t say personally.

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      • MC says:

        I actually like this guy a lot, obviously because of his numbers but also because he’s young, not a stereotypical flamethrower like they’re pumping out of the minors, and most importantly, knows how to pitch.

        I think, before, in baseball these types of pitchers were much more common than they are now. Nowadays if you don’t throw 95 no one wants to look at you. Medlen, RA Dickey, some others are showing people that there’s more to pitching than straight velocity.

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  3. David Sitrick says:

    Not that it matters, but there’s a typo in the last sentence, missing an “o” in “composition”.

    He has a low whiff rate on the two seamer, but gets the most called strikes with it (25%), which seems to me to emphasize how effective having the change and two seamer look so similar has been for him…hitters see changeup and just get frozen.

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  4. Danny says:

    These are awesome. They are by far the best visual look of a pitcher’s stuff out there. It would be fantastic if you could create a catalog of these for as many pitchers as you can. It gives a very good visual preview of a pitcher I am about to watch or looking up without going through for 25 minutes. Well done.

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  5. DuPu says:

    Dat glorious Turner Field CF camera.

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  6. tz says:

    The key with Medlen appears to be how late these pitches move. After the GIFs of the changes and 2-seamer, it was almost laughable to watch the 4-seamer to Brown look like it just jumped over his bat at the last millisecond.

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    • MC says:

      Yes watching the Mets telecasts in the mid-2000’s, Tom Seaver would say that there are three components to pitching: (1) velocity (2) location (3) movement.

      I think he always said that you could be really, really good if you have 2 out of 3 but awful if you have only 1 out of 3. Medlen may not have the velocity but he seems to have the other two in spades.

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