Kris Medlen of the Braves had one of the greatest half seasons of pitching in recent memory. Medlen was so dominating in the second half of last season that if your tripled his second half ERA it would still be under 3.00 (it was 0.94). He also went 9-0 while holding batters to a .189 batting average against. Fueled by his stupendous second half run Medlen ended up outproducing the following hurlers in overall fantasy value in 2012 despite throwing only 138 innings: Jake Peavy, Mat Latos, Yovani Gallardo, Jordan Zimmerman, Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright etc. So heading into 2013 what do we do with Medlen? How highly should you rank him? Is the sky falling because he has no shot to replicate last years effort? The answer lies somewhere in there.
THE SECOND HALF
Kris Medlen made 19 appearances, 12 starts, in the second half. He went undefeated at 9-0 allowing him to tie the big league record for most wins in a season without a loss by a starting pitcher – ever. He was also on the hill for 23 straight team victories as a starter dating back to 2010. That’s the longest streak in baseball history. He struck out 95 batters in 95.1 innings. He posted a 0.94 ERA. He walked only 14 batters while holding hitters to a .189 BAA leading to a 0.82 WHIP. Can you pitch much better than that? The answer is no.
Medlen made 50 appearances on the year, 12 of them starts, as he threw 138 innings. All told he was 10-1 with a save and seven holds. He also had a 1.57 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP, held batters to a .208 average, struck out 120 batters and walked just 23 batters. No pitcher in the 21st century has, other than Medlen, posted an ERA under 1.60 in a season of at least 135 innings. If we go back to 1994 only one other man joins the list – Greg Maddux in 1994 (1.56 ERA in 202 innings, and he followed that up with a 1.63 mark in 209.2 innings in 1995).
You might be wondering why Medlen worked extensively out of the pen early in the year before being moved into the rotation? The reason for the move, and it was planned by the Braves, was so that Medlen could work his way back into a grove after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The club thought, rightly so, that if they eased him into game action out of the pen early on they could then transition him into the rotation later in the year while keeping his innings down. A success story no doubt, but it does raise one issue. How many innings will Medlen be able to effectively throw in 2013? Here are his innings pitched marks since he became a professional (including his minor league work):
Medlen has never thrown 155 innings in a season, and he’s never had back-to-back efforts of 110 innings. Are you so sure he will be able to throw 180+ effective innings in 2013?
Medlen struck out a solid 7.83 batters per nine innings last season. He at least matched that rate throughout his minor league career, but it should be noted that he isn’t really a dominating strikeout arm. It’s more about movement and location than it is about velocity (90.0 mph on his fastball last year). It’s more likely that his K/9 will recede slightly than grow in 2013.
Medlen walked 23 batters leading to a 1.50 BB/9 mark. In the 21st century only 12 hurlers have had multiple seasons of at least 135 innings with a BB/9 mark of 1.50 or lower. Obviously that is a phenomenal mark historically speaking, an it’s also substantially lower than Medlen’s already impressive 2.1 career mark in five minor league seasons.
It’s virtually impossible to think he’s going to post another 5.22 K/BB ratio (his minor league mark was about 4.8, another astounding mark). In a season of at least 135 innings there have only been 10 men in the 21st century with multiple seasons of a K/BB ratio of at least 5.20.
Medlen posted a 1.90 GB/FB ratio, an elite number. His ball certainly dives in the zone so it’s possible he will be able to repeat this mark, but it’s also fair to wonder if he will be able to repeat a 53 percent ground ball rate and a 28 percent fly ball rate. Also, his 18.5 percent line drive rate was just a bit below the league average of about 20 percent. It’s also fair to ponder if he will be able to replicate the .261 BABIP he threw up there last season. Because of all the grounders Medlen simply didn’t allow the long ball last season surrendering six dingers in his 138 innings. Is it reasonable to expect another season with a HR/F ratio of under six percent? I kind of doubt it, and so should you.
Medlen had an 85 percent left on base percentage last season, the highest mark in baseball (the big league average is usually right about 70 percent). There is no way he will repeat that number in 2013. None.
Medlen certainly has skills, but this is not Greg Maddux II – not after just one two-thirds of a season effort. He had one of the best runs that we’ve witnessed in a decade in the second half, but we’re talking about a total of 12 starts. Not only should there be some concern about whether or not his base skills are elite, there certainly should be at least a tinge of worry with Medlen when it comes to a potential workload increase. Not only has he never thrown 155 innings in a season, but he’s also never gone for 110 in back-to-back years and he threw 149 more innings in 2012 than 2011. If that jump in innings doesn’t cause some pause, I don’t know what will.
Can Medlen repeat what he did last season? No he cannot. Could he give 90 percent of last season? Maybe 85 percent? What about 80 percent? With the questions about workload, and the fact that you will likely have to draft Medlen as a borderline ace, I would pass on his services this season because he will almost assuredly be too pricey. That 1.57 ERA of his could double in 2013 while his WHIP is certain to climb upward, and sooner or later all the win/loss love will die out as well. Medlen has the look of a solid arm in ’13, failure is certainly not in the cards, but don’t be seduced by the power of a spectacular three month run to end last season – he’s not ever going to be that good again.
By Ray Flowers