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

Underestimating Kris Medlen


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.

GS Dec IP H R ER BB SO ERA WHIP
12 W-L:9-0 83 57 11 9 10 84 0.97 0.805
BA OBP SLG OPS BAbip WPA RE24
.191 .218 .265 .483 .249 2.755 28.97

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.

twit1

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

Twit2

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.

 

Player ERA IP WHIP SO GS W L ERA+
Kris Medlen 3.11 197 1.22 157 31 15 12 124

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.

Player ERA IP WHIP SO GS W L ERA+
Clayton Kershaw 1.83 236 0.915 232 33 16 9 194
Madison Bumgarner 2.77 201 1/3 1.033 199 31 13 9 120
Cliff Lee 2.87 222 2/3 1.01 222 31 14 8 133
Adam Wainwright 2.94 241 2/3 1.068 219 34 19 9 123
Hyun-jin Ryu 3.00 192 1.203 154 30 14 8 119
Kris Medlen 3.11 197 1.223 157 31 15 12 124
Travis Wood 3.11 200 1.145 144 32 9 12 127
Mat Latos 3.16 210 2/3 1.210 187 32 14 7 121
Julio Teheran 3.20 185 2/3 1.174 170 30 14 8 121

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.

GS Dec IP H R ER BB SO ERA WHIP
15 W-L:10-1 106 2/3 75 22 16 19 87 1.35 0.805

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.

Pitcher Games Pitcher Games
Clayton Kershaw 21 Homer Bailey 12
Cliff Lee 18 Kris Medlen 12
Adam Wainwright 16 Mat Latos 12
Jordan Zimmermann 16 Patrick Corbin 12
Madison Bumgarner 15 Stephen Strasburg 12
Cole Hamels 14 Andrew Cashner 11
Matt Cain 14 Dillon Gee 11
Matt Harvey 14 Francisco Liriano 11
A.J. Burnett 13 Jhoulys Chacin 11
Bronson Arroyo 13 Hyun-jin Ryu 10
Gio Gonzalez 13 Jeff Samardzija 10
Jose Fernandez 13 Mike Minor 10
Mike Leake 13 Zack Greinke 10

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.

IP GS QS QS% RS/IP
Chris Capuano 105.2 20 7 35% 2.5
Travis Wood 200 32 24 75% 2.6
Jacob Turner 118 20 9 45% 2.8
Jeremy Hefner 130.2 23 14 61% 2.8
Cole Hamels 220 33 25 76% 2.9
Kris Medlen 197 31 22 71% 3
Brandon McCarthy 135 22 10 45% 3
Ian Kennedy 181.1 31 14 45% 3
Tom Koehler 143 23 9 39% 3.1
Eric Stults 203.2 33 20 61% 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.

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  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    Oh, how quickly people forget that Kris spend most of 2011 rehabbing from TJ surgery, and people forget that in an abbreviated season, his 2012 was spectacular. I said earlier in the year that Meds numbers don’t tell the whole story, and as they improved toward the end of the year, they still didn’t reflect how good he really is. Trade Meds? That would be a stupid move! You’re right, apparently someone doesn’t bother watching him actually pitch!

    • fireboss

      Compared with the Michael Wachas and Shelby Millers of the world Meds doesn’t throw high octane gas but he touches 93 when he muscles up and varies it – we used to call it add and subtract – throughout an at bat by up to 5 mph. That will mess your timing right up. We heard a lot about how Wacha was so devastating because his change and fastball came out of the same arm slow with a huge difference in speed. Guess what? Meds arm slot is the same for every pitch and his spreed varies by 8 mph on the change and 14 on the curve. He’s not Wacha, Miller, Hernandez or any of the flame throwers you might name who can just blow it past a bat when necessary – most of the time. However he knows how to pitch thanks I think in part to Huddy and uses that to get his strikeouts. In isolation you can say others strike our more or walk less but taken together he’s been a top 15% starter. Considering who’s around him that’s pretty dang good

      • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

        Yeah, in this age of ever-increasing reliance upon speed and hard-throwing, finesse pitchers still exist, but have taken a backseat to the flamethrowers in the media, and I think in the culture of many organizations. That saddens me, because some of the best pitchers ever were finesse types. That’s what I consider Meds, and when he’s varying his speeds as you referenced, he’s tough to hit.

  • Lee Trocinski

    Medlen doesn’t have the stuff to be a big FIP-defeater, so I’d expect next year to be closer to his 3.48 FIP than 3.11 ERA. That being said, you’re still talking about a 3-WAR pitcher, which is just fine by me. People underestimate “average” in this game, and Medlen is above-average.

  • JosephLS

    “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.”

    Congratulations on announcing to everyone who reads this that you don’t what a theory is, or what a fact is.

    Here’s a fact: FIP correlates better to future ERA than current ERA does. xFIP is even better. So the “fact” is, Medlen is more likely to pitch to his FIP/xFIP in the future than to his ERA. The same statistical principles that form the basis of modern science prove it.

    • fireboss

      Congratulations of letting everyone who reads this know that you didn’t read for context. I know exactly what a theory is, I know what statistical analysis and I know the difference between projection and performance.
      Medlen was that good this year and the numbers that prove that are real reflecting actual performance. They say he out performed his FIP, xFIP and Siera this year – and last year come to that. At the end I gave my personal opinion based on watching him pitch that he was good the last two years and would continue to improve as a pitcher.
      I’m not sure why some saber disciples insist on attacking and talking down to those who don’t believe their numbers are sacred and irrefutable in every case as they do. You could easily have said “I understand he out performed them this year but I believe xFIP and Siera will show a regression.” We could have discussed it or not, respectfully agreed or not and moved on. Instead you chose to take a throw away line meant to be a lighthearted way of saying “I see your numbers and understand them but that isn’t what this is about” and turned it into a personal attack on my intelligence and personal beliefs about the way the human factors affects performance. I see the same sorts or responses in other blogs and comments and even on TV. They do nothing to explain rationale and are in fact counterproductive.

      As Lee said in his comment below, Medlen doesn’t have the pure stuff to continue to beat projections the way he has so far. That doesn’t negate what he’s actually done so far nor does it lower my respect for his performance and what I see for him in the future.

      • JosephLS

        I responded to your dismissive tone. If you know what a theory is, then you know that saying “facts win” is nonsense.

        • fireboss

          I wasn’t trying to be dismissive, I’m sorry you took a lighthearted line the wrong way, I’ll work on improving my wording.