Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Has Kris Medlen Pitched Himself to the Bullpen?

It's difficult to be down on Kris Medlen.  After all, at this time last year, he still hadn't been moved to the rotation.  From July 31st to the end of the season, Medlen took the ball 12 times as a starter and for two months, he was an ace-quality performer.  He picked up a pair of complete games, including a five-hit shutout against the Padres and an even better outing against the Rockies.  On September 1st, he was charged with an unearned run and struck out 12 while going the distance.  The Braves rolled in all twelve starts from Medlen with the opposition never scoring more than three runs.

The future was bright with a Cy Young contender in the rotation heading into 2013.  And things seemed to go that way early.  While his record was 1-5 during his first ten starts this season, there were things that made you think he was pitching far better than his useless win-loss record.  Hitters were only hitting .249 against him, his ERA was 3.16, and he had a 2/1 K/BB ratio.  On the other hand, there were potentially concerning issues.  A 1.33 WHIP isn't what you usually see from a guy who might be heading to his first All-Star Game, or at least we thought that was possible back in March.  His GB/FB rate fell from 1.18 in 2012 to 0.78 through the first ten starts.

All of that would have been chalked up to a guy struggling to adjust.  But the next ten starts happened. Suddenly, batters were hitting .309 against him.  Not only that, the ball was exploding off the bats of the opposing hitters to the tune of 25 extra-base hits.  His 1.44 WHIP was masked to some extent as he got lucky and the runners weren't scoring against him through the first-half of his second ten starts.  That luck dried up quickly and the runs started to pile up.  So did the loses and unlike earlier this year, Medlen is not a hard-luck loser.  He's just a loser.

That's harsh.  Meds is a great guy and he has talent.  But if you ignore 12 starts last season, Medlen is an average pitcher, completely living up to his 1.0 fWAR.  More, his struggles aren't just limited to later in the game.  The first-time through the lineup, hitters are OPSing .813.  Ouch.

Watching a Medlen game is an act of utter frustration.  Brian McCann sets up outside and the pitch is inside.  McCann settles inside and the ball is out over the plate.  Evan Gattis tells him he wants it high, it's at the belt.  Gerald Laird indicates with his glove he wants Medlen to bury his curveball and it hangs, often landing 50 feet beyond the wall.  And sometimes, the changeup is a thing of beauty.  But the next changeup has no movement and the batter is on second with a double.

Medlen can contribute at this level and maybe coming out of the pen will benefit him.  I'm not confident of that because location is often mechanical and Medlen recently spoke of a flaw he saw in his delivery.  I want to believe it's that because of his previous success at this level.  And I'm not overly confident in Alex Wood replacing Medlen full-time, though I admit I am fascinated by a return of Brandon Beachy so we can try to get a better look at what the latter can provide down the stretch and going into next season.

Last month, Medlen said he didn't want to go to the bullpen, but recently said he would do whatever is asked of him.  It's that attitude that we love and it's that attitude that makes us root for him.  I can't blame Fredi Gonzalez is he sticks with Medlen for awhile longer.  I also can't fault him if he makes a move soon.  The Medlen of today is not the Medlen of 2012.  It's unfortunate because that ace would be a tremendous addition like it was last year.

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