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:

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:


(.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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Tags: Atlanta Braves Kris Medlen

  • fireboss

    I’m certainly not smarter than you but I’ll take a crack at why he’s better as a starter than in relief.
    While all pitchers go over the opposition before games the starter spends significantly more time deciding who he’ll pitch to and how. He works out with the pitching coach and his catcher who’s hot who’s not and how he’ll go after them . Relievers don’t see much more than the next 4 or 5 batters based on the situation they come into. they rely on the catcher to run the game plan adjusted to their style.
    If they enter with runners on they are hampered by what they can throw and how well they settle in against hitters already into the flow of the game. That means he’s not really pitching to a plan as much as a situation. He outsmarts hitters as a starter. They think they have him sized up after once through but he’s never predictable. When batters think too much they get confused an easier to beat if you’re fearless and accurate.
    Meds is a control and pitch to contact pitcher. He strikes men out based on movement and eclectic pitch selection – any pitch in any count. he likes to throw first pitch strikes and in relief hitters are expecting him to try to get ahead instead of looking to see a couple. So he can get ambushed easier than a power arm. Power arms have the advantage in relief because even if they miss it’s hard to time them well enough to center the pitch.
    Meds was most successful when starting an inning because he has a chance to plan ahead and if it’s long relief he changes the game’s rhythm. Coming in with men on eliminates his immediate advantage.

  • fireboss

    As I was reading John Smoltz’ book tonight I found the answer to your query put more succinctly that anyone like myself who hasn’t done it could ever do. Chapter 7 Closing for Dummies says in part; “Say you’re at work. You get in your car and start the drive home. You drive the speed limit and get back to your house, no problem. That’s starting. That’s structured. You know where you are going and you were absolutely comfortable getting in the car and going there. Now go back to work and try it again, only this time, when you get in your car, get it up to 100 miles an hour immediately, and this time, no matter what, don’t let up on the gas until you arrive home. Along the way try to avoid the following scenarios: causing an accident, running off the road, and harming yourself and/or anybody else. Now, how do you feel? Were you in control? Were you confident that you were going to arrive home safe and sound? Well, that’s closing. And now you know why only a limited number of guys can do it.”
    (I should have included (Sic) every other line of that but suffice to say Smoltzie isn’t an English Grammar major. he writes like he talks so the bad syntax, run – on sentences, and over use of prepositional phrases are all Smoltz bless his little heart.)
    I stumbled all over the place trying to say something similar. I know Meds wasn’t a closer but he had the same goal. Be ready when you enter, put the pedal to the metal and don’t let anything get broken until it’s the next guys turn or the game is over. Completely different mentality.
    If you haven’t got the book get it.

    • Carlos Collazo

      That does make sense. Also hearing Medlen talk about it himself last night during the game.. It seems he is more comfortable starting, it slows the game down for him and he has a chance to set up his pitches and find out what is working that day.

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