Kris Medlen: Is the Atlanta Braves Starter Seriously THIS Good?

Herb HatleeContributor IIISeptember 4, 2012

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 03: Kris Medlen #54 of the Atlanta Braves pitches against the Colorado Rockies at Turner Field on September 3, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Prior to blowing out his elbow in 2010, Kris Medlen was 5-0 as a starter. Since his return to the starting rotation this year, Medlen is 6-0 in seven starts. An 11-0 record over the last two seasons as a starter is pretty impressive. But, just how impressive is Kris Medlen?

Sporting his flat-billed Braves cap, the "California Wonder Kid" has quickly asserted himself as the staff ace since his return to the rotation on July 31st. All Medlen has done as a starter is win. In his 25 starts over his career, he is 12-2 with a 3.08 ERA in 152 innings pitched.

What makes Medlen so successful? He doesn't have the arm strength of Stephen Strasburg. His curveball is not as vicious as Clayton Kershaw's. Johnny Cueto's windup, where he turns his back to the hitter before uncoiling and coming to the plate, is much more complicated and deceiving to the hitter than that of the fluid and simple Medlen wind-up. What is it that makes this 26-year-old so effective as a starter?

Simply put, Medlen is a gamer. He doesn't rely on overpowering stuff, but instead, mixes his pitches, stays ahead in the count and keeps the ball in the yard.

Medlen limits the number of free passes by pounding the strike zone. Since returning to the starting rotation, Medlen has thrown 456 of his 642 pitches for strikes—an impressive 71percent. For the purposes of comparison, Kershaw has thrown 64.5 percent of his pitches for strikes this year, while Felix Hernandez has a solid 65 percent strike rate.

Furthermore, of the 36 hits Medlen has given up over his 49.2 innings pitched as a starter this season, he has given up only one home run, three doubles and zero triples. That means 32 of the 36 hits he has given up have been singles.

Medlen has limited the damage against him by keeping the batters off balance and in the yard. If you factor in that he has only walked five batters during that same span, Medlen's recipe for success is a tasty one. 

Can Medlen pitch a full season as a starter with a 0.54 ERA, 0.83 WHIP and 10.00 SO/BB? Probably not. If Medlen were to do that, he would have the single-best season as a pitcher in baseball history. So while he has been lights out since returning to the starting rotation, it is safe to assume that he will have some sort of statistical regression going forward—and that's OK.

In the 23 starts following his rocky first two starts of his career, Medlen has posted a 2.69 ERA over 143.2 innings pitched. Because he has done so well over a span of years, instead of just a single season, it appears the Braves' righty is the real deal. 

The Braves were just as knowledgeable of Medlen's success as a starter, so what took the Braves so long in putting Medlen back in the starting rotation?

Apparently, it was a similar situation that the Nationals are going through with Strasburg—an innings limitation (via Yahoo! Sports). In the postgame wrap-up of Medlen's most recent start against the Rockies, AP sports writer Charles Odum quotes manager Freddi Gonzalez discussing the innings cap for Medlen as saying, "it was basically the number that Strasburg is facing right now, 160 to 170, because they both were coming off the Tommy John surgery." 

If Gonzalez ever deserved praise for how he manages the Braves, how he has handled the situation with Medlen is definitely one of them. While the Nationals will have their best pitcher on the sidelines during the playoffs, the Braves will have their new staff ace on the mound.

Just because Medlen won't be able to pitch at a sub-1 ERA as a starter for a full season doesn't mean that he isn't on the verge of establishing himself as one of the games best starting pitchers. He was pitching very effectively in his early 20s and won't turn 28 until the end of the 2013 season.

The Braves' pitching future looks bright now that Medlen has returned to his rightful spot as a starter. With the return of Beachy in 2013 and the further improvement of Mike Minor, the Braves have much to look forward to for years to come.