Kris Medlen is showing everyone that he wants the ball, and he wants it in the first inning. (Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE)

Looking into Kris Medlen

There has been a lot of talk about Kris Medlen—also known as the bulldog in my dorm—lately, and rightfully so. Medlen stepped out of the bullpen and into the rotation and actually got much better. Normally the opposite is true, so clearly Medlen is trying to tell the Braves that he wants to be a starter.

I’m not going to show you that he is more valuable as a starter than a reliever (most of us know by now) I just want to talk more about how good Kris Medlen has been since joining the starting rotation.

Since the end of July, Kris has made 7 starts, and is 6-0 with a .54 ERA. A nice little note that was in the recap of yesterday’s game is that the Braves have won every game Medlen has started since 2010, an 18 game streak. That’s what ace pitchers do right? Win games? Darn skippy.

Like I mentioned a minute ago Medlen has been more successful in the rotation than the pen. How much more, is a bit ridiculous actually:

IP K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP xFIP WHIP BABIP
Starter 49.2 9.06 0.91 .54 1.66 2.43 0.83 .280
Reliever 54.1 5.96 2.15 2.48 2.74 3.72 1.09 .280

Normally I try and give you guys the numbers, and then explain what’s going on, or tell you what’s going on and then use the numbers to back it up. I can honestly tell you that I don’t know why Medlen is doing so much better as a starter than as a reliever. It just doesn’t make sense, and the difference isn’t minimal, it’s significant.

He is striking out 3 more batters per nine innings and walking more than one less as a starter. His ERA/FIP/xFIP splits are all less than significantly lower as well. The only two stats that have remained close or the same are his WHIP and BABIP. His BABIP is exactly the same and his WHIP difference is less significant than the ERA/FIP/xFIP.*

*however a small change in WHIP is more significant than the same numerical change in ERA/FIP/xFIP. For example an “excellent” WHIP is 1.00 while “awful” would be 1.60. An ERA of 1.00 and 1.60 are both extremely good.

Either way we know Medlen has been a better pitcher as a starter than a reliever. Hopefully some one much smarter than me can come along and answer all the “why” questions but for now let’s just enjoy another one of the great mysteries of baseball and move on to his arsenal. Also, know that I am using data from June until now to get a better idea of what he is doing as a starter.

stats and graphs from Texas Leaguers

Usage Velocity Vertical Mov. Horizontal Mov.
Two Seam 43.9% 89.6 6.68 -7.50
Change Up 21.0% 80.6 5.83 -8.67
Curve Ball 19.2% 77.5 -7.77 6.60
Four Seam 15.9% 89.8 9.28 -3.27

medlen movement graph

This graph gives us a visual to explain why Medlen’s change up is so good. The vertical movement is shown on the y axis and the horizontal movement is shown on the x axis. Essentially, this graph shows us that Medlen’s change up and two-seam fastball have almost identical movement. These are Medlen’s most used pitches and a significant part of his success.

The changeup will come in and look just like the two-seam Medlen just threw… only the pitch is 8-10 miles per hour slower, and then they look like this:

Medlen-Maybin-K

(.gif courtesy of Ben Duronio and Fangraphs)

Clearly, it is an effective combination. Add the fact that Medlen has fantastic control and works extremely quickly and it starts to become less surprising that Kris has been so dag on good.

If we look at another graph another hidden element of the Bulldog’s change up becomes apparent:

medlen movement graph w gravity

This shows the movement of Medlen’s pitches with the force of gravity taken into consideration. You can see that the changeup has noticeably more drop than the two-seam fastball. This literally happens because the pitch is so much slower, and it has more time to naturally fall towards the ground. Nifty isn’t it?

If you look back at the .gif of Maybin and his wonderful swing, it won’t be hard to see the drop and fade (horizontal movement) of the change.

It has been extremely cool to see another no-name pitcher (outside of Braves world of course) step up and produce for the Braves like Brandon Beachy did last year. Like Beachy, Minor has stepped up and become Atlanta’s number one pitcher when we really needed one. Tommy Hanson was the “big name” when he and Medlen were up-and-comers in the Braves organization and you can see how well that has done him.

Oh yeah, Kris is also the NL Pitcher of the Month. Here’s to Bulldog’s continued success.

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