March 4, 2013 at 12:52 pm by Franklin Rabon under Atlanta Braves
Franklin, Ben, Andrew and Mark discuss Ben and Jason Heyward’s epic ‘twitter war’ that eventually ended with them affectionately referring to one another as “Jay” and “Benihana”. Also, some technical discussion of platoon splits, bench spot battles and polar bear heads.
OR Directly Download the mp3:
OR Subscribe via iTunes from the sidebar Link ——>
March 4, 2013 at 9:00 am by Andrew Sisson under Atlanta Braves
There seem to be two main questions when discussing Kris Medlen in 2013, how much of last season’s success can he repeat and can he hold up for a full-season workload. I’ll start off by saying neither of these questions can be answered with much certainty since there is still a bit of an unknown with Medlen given his small body of work. A couple of weeks ago, Mark looked at Medlen and why he is so effective pitching to contact. Today, I wanted to look at some reasons why I think Medlen will be okay handling the increase in innings this season.
Last season was the first time in his professional career that he has thrown 150+ innings, and he JUST reached that level (including his Triple-A innings). Even with the safety net of a great bullpen, I think it will be very important for him to be an “innings eater” this season after taking into account the looming question marks with the rest of the rotation. Here are my three biggest reasons.
1. Never given the chance
Coming up through the minor leagues, Medlen was constantly flipped back and forth between starting and relieving. His appearances were split 25%/75% between starting and relieving in the minors. His proportion of starts to relief appearances with his time in Atlanta have actually been the exact same, 30 starts and 90 relief appearances. As we’ve seen, he has proven to be successful in either role, but because of this dual effectiveness, the Braves have bounced him back and forth for whichever role presently fit best.
I think it is fair to say that just because he has never been given the chance to prove he can handle a large inning total, doesn’t mean he can’t.
2. No restrictions from TJ
This in a way builds off of the previous point. As you probably know, Medlen had Tommy John surgery in August of 2010. It forced him to miss all of the 2011 season except for throwing a couple of innings in the final weeks of September. Heading in 2012, the Braves decided to place Medlen in the bullpen even though many felt he would provide more value in a starters role. While that thought process is true, organizations like to ease their pitchers back from TJ surgery, which is exactly what the Braves appeared to do. It wasn’t until later in the season, when he started being compared to side by side with fellow August 2010 Tommy John-er, Stephen Strasburg, that many began to uncover this as a possible explanation. Whether the move to stick him in the bullpen at the beginning of the season was intended to keep his innings down following surgery or not, it worked out in the teams favor. Heading into the season he will have no limitations or restrictions in 2013.
Pre-surgery, some questioned his durability as a starter and whether or not his arm would be able hold up. From what I’ve been able to find, that is really the only injury he has ever suffered. Seeing as close to three-quarters of pitchers come back as strong or stronger, there is reason to believe Medlen’s should be able to hold up now that he has physically matured at age 27. Of course, there is always injury risk with throwing a baseball 90+ MPH, but considering he has fairly sound mechanics, there doesn’t seem to be much added risk (see: Hanson, Tommy).
Personally, one of my favorite parts about Kris Medlen is how efficient he is on the mound; it makes him a pleasure to watch. He attacks the hitter and will throw any pitch in almost any situation, which often results in him get ahead in the count. It is pretty rare to see him go to a three ball count. By putting hitters into unfavorable counts,aided by his stellar command, it puts him in the driver’s seat and helps induce weak contact.
We can look at Medlen compared to the league average starter last season with pitches thrown. Looking at pitches per inning, Medlen (13.65) had thrown about 15% fewer P/IP than the league average starter (16.11) in 2012. He also managed to face each batter with about 4.5% fewer P/PA than a league average starter.
While both of those are very impressive, each will likely regress closer to league average over a full season, but he still should remain pretty darn efficient. As I mentioned, he rarely gets himself into deep counts that eat up pitches, which allows him to go deeper into games. Last season he threw 6+ innings in 10 of his 12 starts of the season (first 2 starts he was still being eased into role). Another factor that comes into play is that hitters generally become more comfortable facing a pitcher the second or third time through the order. If Medlen is able to work through the order quickly early on, without showcasing all his pitches, he will be more effective late in games because hitters will be seeing pitches they may have not seen much of in their first couple trips to the plate. The way in which Medlen attacks hitters allows him to be effective, yet efficient.
Having success on the mound should leave him with a high inning total at season’s end. Innings pitched and pitching success do commonly correlate, but the success is what leads to higher inning totals. That being said, I’m on the record saying that I think Medlen will have a successful year. The CAC projected aggregate fWAR for him was a tick above 4. If it’s worth anything, the average starter who finished between 3.5 and 4.5 fWAR last season averaged 31 starts and exactly 200 innings.
There is definitely still some alarm given the fact that he has never started 30+ games in a season, but just because he’s never done it, doesn’t mean he can’t. I don’t think health should be an issue aside from the general risk that comes along with repetitively pitching a baseball. The concerns are completely understandable, and maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I think these reasons suggest he should be able to handle an increased workload. If I had to handicap which pitcher is most likely to reach the 200 IP mark, I would probably give Medlen a slight edge over Minor. Having him develop into the top of the rotation pitcher would be very encouraging for a rotation which contains it’s fair share of concerns.