As our very early mock draft moved into rounds 6-10, we saw an expected run on starting pitchers. With the true aces like Justin Verlander & Clayton Kershaw well off the board, this is where you’ll see the second-tier guys coming down, the type of pitcher you don’t want to overdraft but that you also can’t really live without. Jack Moore kicked off the sixth round with Cliff Lee, and by the time the first of my two swing picks at 6.11 came up, Madison Bumgarner, CC Sabathia, Jordan Zimmermann, Adam Wainwright, & Chris Sale had gone as well. I finished off the round with Jered Weaver as my second pitcher behind Stephen Strasburg – yes, he’s a bit overrated, but it’s hard to argue consistent wins and ERA in fantasy, especially with that offense supporting him – and then with guys like Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore, & Roy Halladay still on the board, I kicked off the seventh round with a potentially high risk/reward pick: Kris Medlen.
Medlen’s story is no secret at this point, of course. After blowing out his elbow in 2010 and missing nearly all of 2011 thanks to the ensuing Tommy John surgery, Medlen spent the first few months of 2012 in the Atlanta bullpen before moving into the rotation on July 31 and making a dozen late-season starts. By the time the season had ended, Medlen had become the darling of Braves fans, allowing only nine earned runs to go along with an absurd 84/10 K/BB split in the 12 starts – all Atlanta victories.
Twelve starts from a recovering pitcher without much of a track record isn’t really that much of a sample size, and so usually that comes with a fair amount of skepticism, but Medlen was so dominant that it demands attention. (Just for fun, if he’d been able to keep up that dozen-start pace for a full season of 32 starts, his K/BB would be 223/26 and we’d be wondering if it was enough to merely give him the Cy Young Award or if it should be renamed after him). It’s that kind of performance that made me take somewhat of a risk and grab him over potentially more sure things like Cueto, who finished fourth in the NL Cy Young, and Moore, who finished in the top ten in strikeouts in the American League and should only improve.
Obviously, is isn’t fair to expect Medlen to keep pitching like an inner-circle Hall of Famer for an entire season, and he won’t. Even so, you can ding Medlen for regression and it would still leave him as a fantastic fantasy option in 2013, because of how many different things he did right. Sure, he struck out a ton of hitters, but by pairing that with excellent control (just a 3.2% BB rate as a starter), plenty of groundballs (54.7% as starter), and avoidance of the big hit (0.54/9 homer rate) Medlen hit all the checkmarks of “things you want a pitcher to be”. All of that comes in no small part thanks to his changeup, which ranked as one of the more effective pitches in the game.
Besides, it’s not like Medlen’s strikeout ability and control came from completely out of nowhere. In 240.1 minor-league innings dating back to 2006, he had an excellent 275/57 K/BB mark, and in 60 games over two seasons with Atlanta before his injury, he struck out three times as many as he’d walked. If anything, I’m beginning to believe less that Medlen’s great performance to end 2012 makes him overrated and more that he was just underrated previously, which happens more than you’d think to pitchers who are less than six feet tall.
So sure, Medlen’s almost certainly not going to pitch like he did down the stretch last year, simply because no one could, and perhaps it’s a stretch to put so much faith in 12 starts. I might regret this choice at the end of the year, but for now, I don’t really wish I had taken Moore, Cueto, or anyone else available.