Underestimating Kris Medlen

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Atlanta Braves pitcher

Kris Medlen

is an understated pitcher who simply gives you seven innings and doesn’t let the other team score. So why does everyone underestimate him? Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Kris Medlen had another fine year for the Braves and started game one of the playoffs. The loss in that game and the one last year has some fans underestimating how good he’s been for the Braves. I hope this clears that up

Looking Back at Kris Medlen

Kris Medlen finished 2012 at a pace no pitcher could maintain. Reluctantly inserted into the rotation on July 31 Medlen was from that point forward simply the best starter in the game as his numbers show.

GSDecIPHRERBBSOERAWHIP
12W-L:9-0835711910840.970.805
BAOBPSLGOPSBAbipWPARE24
.191.218.265.483.2492.75528.97

Permanent Link

After the season Jody McDonald suggested on Twitter than we trade Meds for Alex Gordon. I suggested that Jody Mac hadn’t watched the Braves enough to propose such a trade. He asked me what I expected of Medlen this season and that exchange is in the screen caps below.

Kris Medlen Discussion was the subject of a Twitter discussion following 2012.Please credit graphic created by Fred Owens

Kris Medlen Discussion was the subject of a Twitter discussion following 2012.Please credit graphic created by Fred Owens

2013

I predicted an ERA in the low 3s, 15 wins, 140ks and a WHIP of 1.250. Jody Mac implied – or at least I took it that way – that Medlen didn’t belong on the list of  pitchers I provided with numbers in the range I predicted. Turns out Medlen was better than I predicted and pitched himself into pretty good company this season.

PlayerERAIPWHIPSOGSWLERA+
Kris Medlen3.111971.22157311512124

Using Meds numbers as a guide I ask Play Index over at Baseball-Reference.com For a list of NL starting pitchers with similar or better all around numbers; specifically at least 185 IP, an ERA under 3.20, a WHIP under 1.230 and with 140 or more strikeouts.

PlayerERAIPWHIPSOGSWLERA+
Clayton Kershaw1.832360.91523233169194
Madison Bumgarner2.77201 1/31.03319931139120
Cliff Lee2.87222 2/31.0122231148133
Adam Wainwright2.94241 2/31.06821934199123
Hyun-jin Ryu3.001921.20315430148119
Kris Medlen3.111971.223157311512124
Travis Wood3.112001.14514432912127
Mat Latos3.16210 2/31.21018732147121
Julio Teheran3.20185 2/31.17417030148121

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used

Generated 10/30/2013.

Those are as you can probably tell sorted on ERA.

The AL had four by the way; Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer.

Medlen also did things that don’t always show up in the box score. He was dependable and rarely woke the bullpen up early; 22 of his 31starts were quality starts. Those who’ve read me for a while no I agree with Nolan Ryan that a real quality start is seven innings and 2 runs or less. Medlen went seven innings or more 15 times – 10 of those giving up two runs or less- posting a very familiar line.

GSDecIPHRERBBSOERAWHIP
15W-L:10-1106 2/375221619871.350.805

It’s familiar because it’s very close to his line in the last half of 2012.  In the four no decisions he twice left at the end of an inning with a lead and the bullpen lost the games. He left behind by one run twice but allowed only one run in those games. The lineup did come back to win but of course he didn’t get credit for that.

He pitched into the seventh inning on two other occasions and gave up 2 runs – total – winning both of those games. Baseball-Reference.com lists tough luck losses – games blown by the bullpen – (Medlen had four of those) and cheap wins (Meds had two of those.)  Six times in Medlen’s 12 losses the lineup left their bats in the locker room getting shut out once and scoring only one run five times. It’s reasonable to say that he could – with a little help from his lineup –  have won 20 games.

Context

Where did Medlen fall when compared to the league for this season?  There were 2430 games last year started by 163 different pitchers. Of that 163, 107 managed to to 7 innings and give up 2 runs or less at least once. There were 641 games where that occurred for a 26% league average. Medlen did it in 32% of his starts.  There were 25 other pitchers that did it more than 10 times, that list is below.

Meds tied for 12th in ERA and 12th in least walks allowed. He was also 13th lowest in earned runs, 15th in K/BB ratio and 22nd in innings pitched and 24th in strikeouts. Those overall numbers put him in the top 15-20% of NL starters.  As I mentioned before the lineup didn’t show up for him far too often. He tied for 5th least runs received while he was actually in the game.

IPGSQSQS%RS/IP
Chris Capuano105.220735%2.5
Travis Wood200322475%2.6
Jacob Turner11820945%2.8
Jeremy Hefner130.2231461%2.8
Cole Hamels220332576%2.9
Kris Medlen197312271%3
Brandon McCarthy135221045%3
Ian Kennedy181.1311445%3
Tom Koehler14323939%3.1
Eric Stults203.2332061%3.2

Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table

Generated 10/31/2013.

That’s A Wrap

Looking back on the year it’s amazing that Medlen won as many games as he did. I checked back through the 2003 season and no Braves pitcher has ever received so little run support while actually in the game.  In 2008 Jo-Jo Reyes received 3.6 runs and he finished 3-11 more recently Derek Lowe received just 3.3 runs and finished 3-17 and was given to Cleveland the next year.

Medlen is a 45+% ground ball pitcher who played in front of one of the worst fielding second basemen in the game and a third baseman who, though improved this year, is still just average. It’s true he had the game’s best shortstop and a pretty good first baseman too but consider how much a solid all around infield would help him.

Does all of this mean I think of Medlen is an Ace? No. His performance however makes a very good argument that he be called a legitimate number one.

Before I get a lot of FIPs, xFIPs and Sierra’s thrown at me I’d like to point out that all those numbers are theory and the numbers above are fact. Facts win.

Could he be worse next year? Of course.

Do I think that’s likely to happen? No I don’t.

People have been underestimating Kris Medlen for a long time and he’s used to it. He was a 10th round draft pick – #310 – in 2006, passed over because he didn’t look like a pitcher. Fredi Gonzalez famously told him when they first met that people said once he put Medlen in the rotation he wouldn’t be able to take him out. Then he held him out until forced to insert him last year. There was no grand plan to save his arm. The Braves have even denied that. They simply didn’t think he could do it. He proved them wrong by going on a record setting run. Everyone said Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and others would take his place. They’re gone but he’s still there. He’s proven people wrong all along the line and there’s no reason he won’t continue to do so.  Make no mistake, Medlen is good; very good and getting better – smarter – all the time. Underestimating Kris Medlen is a mistake.