Trust in his 'stuff' the difference for Medlen
Numbers. Statistics. I've never been a numbers guy. In graduate school I would break into a sweat and hyperventilate in the mandatory statistics classes. I guess I wasn't born with a "numbers " gene.
But I do understand baseball statistics. Those numbers fascinate me.
Baseball has evolved with the introduction of intriguing metrics that dissect player performance in every phase of the game. I respect that type of statistical analysis. However, I still look at traditional statistics among the components of my pitching evaluations. I concentrate on ERA and WHIP. However, the focal point of my work is personal observation of mechanics, repertoire and mound demeanor.
This year, there are eye-popping numbers screaming for attention.
Consider the statistics of Kris Medlen.
Atlanta Braves right-handed pitcher Kris Medlen will turn 27 on Oct. 7. The 5-foot-10 inch 190 pound native of Artesia, California has been a master of consistency and efficiency in what has become a dream season.
His numbers are almost shocking.
Medlen has pitched a total of 138 Major League innings this season. He has pitched out of the bullpen in 38 games, while starting 12.
To date, he has a record of 10-1, with his next start likely coming in the postseason. But what I find most remarkable are the two pitching statistics I value most. Medlen has an incredible 1.57 ERA and a miniscule 0.913 WHIP.
The Braves have won 23 straight games started by Medlen. Astounding.
He has walked only 23 batters while striking out 120. He hasn't hit a batter all year. He has yielded only 26 runs, 24 of them earned. He has given up only 103 hits in those 138 innings.
Those are the numbers.
How does he do it?
First and foremost, he trusts his "stuff."
Kris Medlen doesn't overpower hitters. He keeps them off balance. He changes their eye level. He uses virtually flawless pitching mechanics, superb command and control and a complete and efficient repertoire. Most importantly, he throws strikes. He keeps the ball in the ballpark. He has yielded only six home runs all season.
Medlen is a pitching clinician.
Medlen has the ability to repeat his smooth, simple delivery. That's extremely relevant because he had Tommy John surgery in 2011.
At Santa Ana College, Medlen played a dual role. He would start games as the team's shortstop and then be called upon to pitch as the team's closer. He probably could have been drafted as a shortstop. Most scouts viewed him as a pitcher first.
The Atlanta Braves selected Medlen exclusively as a pitcher in the 10th round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.
Medlen is not unique in converting from shortstop to another position. For example, Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton was actually selected as a shortstop in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. Good athletes can adjust. Medlen is a good athlete.
Medlen showed he was special from the time his professional career began. In 2006, his first professional season, Medlen threw 22 innings in relief. Pitching for Danville in the Rookie League, Medlen fashioned a stunning .041 ERA and a WHIP of 0.727. He saved 10 games. He had begun to flash some numbers. In short, he was dominating.
His second season was just as strong, if not stronger. He pitched in three classifications with a combined ERA of 1.53 covering 47 innings of relief work. Remarkably, his WHIP was only 1.085. He walked 12 hitters while striking out 63 for the season. Scouts took notice.
Medlen's first real opportunity as a starting pitcher came at Double-A Mississippi in 2008. He won seven games in 17 starts. Again, his ERA and WHIP were solid, but he didn't dominate as he had done in the bullpen
My first look at Medlen occurred after the 2008 Minor League season in the Arizona Fall League. Medlen threw 21 total innings, 19 of those in relief. I was seeing with my own eyes what I had been hearing about Medlen's repertoire, control and command.
In that Arizona Fall League season, Medlen had a 2.14 ERA. He walked one batter and struck out 25. He gave up only 15 hits in those 21 innings. His performance was a harbinger of things to come. Believe me, I took notice.
In his career to date, Medlen has pitched parts of five Minor League seasons at every level of the Braves organization. He made his first appearance for the Major League club in 2009. He started four games and scuffled a bit with his command. That detour was very short.
Medlen's repertoire includes a 2-seam and 4-seam fastball, a curveball and a devastating changeup -- probably his best and most successful pitch.
There isn't much velocity difference between his two fastballs. He throws both in the high 80's to low 90's. The movement on those pitches is what makes them so effective.
His curveball is the sharp breaking, 12-6 variety with tremendous life and depth. His curveball usually sits at 75-77 miles per hour.
It's his changeup that really makes him special. It's a pitch he can command with precision and use at any point in the count. It's a very consistent, highly effective "out" pitch.
Medlen shows virtually no difference in arm action between his fastball and changeup. Using his fluid motion, the changeup is usually about 10 miles per hour slower than the fastball with enough spin to take the ball out of the batter's hitting zone.
Now about to climb aboard the biggest stage of his professional career, the postseason will provide an opportunity to showcase his talent to a wider audience.
Medlen's numbers speak volumes. Ultimately, they are the measurable result of the ability required in the art and craft of top-notch pitching.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.