Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Too Much Meds

As Tommy Hanson walked a small village (and showed them second base as well) over five miserable innings (but he got the win because he's a gamer), Fredi needed to go to the bullpen quite early.  He called upon Kris Medlen and all Meds did was not allow a hit over three innings and walk just one while striking out five.  In five innings, Hanson allowed an average of two runners an inning and Meds only allowed one while facing ten batters.

Since early this season, "Medlen to the rotation" has been a supported alternative by Braves fans to the mess that has become the rotation.  The Braves entertained the idea briefly as they sent Medlen down for a three-start run as a starter at Gwinnett.  However, the results weren't that particularly noteworthy.  He struggled in his debut, was solid in his second game, and average in his third outing.  In the time he went down, Mike Minor and Randall Delgado showed some life, the bullpen was struggling badly, and the choice was pretty easy to put Meds back in the pen.

Since the recall, he's allowed four earned runs in 26 innings with solid metrics to back up his success.  His July FIP is at a Kimbrelesque 2.34.  So why are the Braves fiddling around with Jair Jurrjens or acquiring some guy named Ryan Dempster (hey, Ry-Ry...thanks for the love)?  Why not just do what the Braves were thinking about in early June and put him in the rotation?

I have been pretty consistent on my thinking when it comes to Medlen - Leave him in the pen.  Not because I support Atlanta's decision-making process (flip a coin, eeny-meeny-miny-moe, jump to conclusion mat).  Instead, I look at the data and, while the Braves could add a player or two to change this decision, I question how you can move Meds from the pen when it had been pretty miserable this season.

When Jonny Venters began to struggle with his sinker, the bullpen was undone by its reliance on him.  With Venters right, the bullpen looked stellar with the O'Ventbrel combination supported by long man, Lispy Martinez, and rubber arm Chad Durbin.  However, in a major league bullpen, one weak link could screw up everything.  Not that it has been all Venters' fault.  We have seen O'Flaherty struggle, Lispy has been incredibly unlucky (2.98 FIP, 2.55 SIERA, 4.21 ERA), and really, who in their right mind ever wants to depend on Derrrbin to do anything but suck?

But Venters was the key to success or failure for the Braves and his numbers took a bad dive.  Since his activation, he has looked more like himself in low pressure situations, but I'm not ready to say he's all the way back.  Even if he is, I'm not sure moving Meds out of the pen makes a lot of sense.  Someone else has to be relied on in close games than the top three.  Martinez has been used in low-leverage long-relief situations and maybe he deserves a bigger, expanded role...but the baseball Gods have shit all over him this season.  Durbin?  Please.  Peter Moylan's on the comeback trail, but he hasn't been a solid, healthy player since 2009.

Moving Meds might seem like the simple, easy answer.  But beyond just the impact that a move would have on the bullpen, who's to say that Medlen's success would translate to the starting rotation?  It's tough to value his split statistics because the sample is small, but in a shade over a hundred innings as a starter, Meds has posted a 4.22 FIP.  Like I said, that number is hurt by the sample size, but common sense tells us that that there is a difference between starting and relieving in how pitchers attack hitters, use their pitches, and conserve energy.  In Medlen's case, however, that might not be that significant.  Medlen's K/9 numbers aren't significantly impacted by starting/relieving and in fact, this season, Meds has slightly re-invented himself and given up K's for groundballs.

And while it may seem logical to say that the Braves should acquire a reliever or two and move Meds to the rotation, does that make the Braves more formidable?  It might make them slightly better, but the Braves still need a better starter, especially with Hanson continuing to regress to Kyle Davies II.  Unless you believe that Medlen can be that guy to fortify the top of the rotation that is a Tim Hudson oblique strain away from being non-existent.  I like Medlen, but I don't think he will provide much of a change over Delgado at this point.  I'm warming up to the idea of allowing Medlen to battle for a spot next spring, but at this point, his value is just too high in the pen.

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