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Entries in Atlanta Braves (42)

Thursday
Oct042012

NL Wild Card K-Factor: Kris Medlen

The Atlanta Braves have managed to do what this year's Boston Red Sox team could not; they erased their failure to clinch the NL Wild Card in 2011 by making a strong run into the playoffs. They now have a one game, loser goes home playoff against the same team that knocked them out of the running last September: the St. Louis Cardinals. You can bet that Atlanta will be gunning for some retribution on Friday as they take the field in front of their home fans looking to take down the defending champs.

St. Louis sends RHP Kyle Lohse to the mound in the midst of a career season for the veteran starter. On the other side, Atlanta will throw young phenom Kris Medlen. Fresh off Tommy John's Surgery, Medlen was relegated to bullpen duty to start the season, being used in mid to high-leverage situations in a bullpen that featured both young fireballers lefty setup man Johnny Venters and right-handed closer Craig Kimbrel. 

On July 31st, Medlen was moved to the rotation, and every fifth game since then, the Braves have won a game. In those twelve starts, Medlen broke a long standing record winning each of the past 23 games he started. The major factor in this game is going to be if the young gun can stand the heat of the post season and continue posting zeroes on the scoreboard. Let's take a look at what Medlen has done since his first start of the season.

Just looking at his overall stat line is a quite a marvel:

12 starts, 0.97 ERA, .801 WHIP, .191 AVG against, .218 OBP, .265 SLG, .483 OPS, 9.04 K/9, 84 K to only 10 BB

Medlen's AVG against since becoming a starter July 31st

Since his first start, Medlen has given up less total bases than he has struck men out (79 TB). His strikeout pitch has been the fastball, reaching back for a little extra 48% of the time. His preferred location: down and away from right handers, and inside on left handers. 

St. Louis hitters have had only 22 total PAs versus Medlen this year, making him a mystery to most of their offense. The key matchup for Medlen will be versus Matt Holliday, whom he has already struck out once this year on a changeup. So far this season, Holliday has victimized offspeed pitches down and in averaging .333 and hitting 7 extra base hits.

Holliday versus Down and In Offspeed

If Kris Medlen can continue to control the plate with all three of his pitches then the Braves can look forward to increasing the win streak to 24.

Saturday
Sep082012

Maholm's Breaking Stuff Getting Chases, Ks in Atlanta

The Braves pushed hard to pick up Ryan Dempster in July, but the now-Texas Ranger's decision to veto a trade to Atlanta has actually worked out splendidly. Atlanta homed in on another available Cubs starter, Paul Maholm, and the lefty has posted a 117 ERA+ in 44 innings pitched (Dempster has a 104 ERA+ with Texas). Maholm's breaking stuff is a big reason for his success: More chases and less contact against his curveball and slider has led to an uptick in strikeouts.

With Chicago, Maholm threw more of his curves and sliders in the strike zone (49%) than the average starting pitcher (46%):

Maholm's curveball and slider location with the Cubs

But as a Brave, he's tossing far fewer of his breaking pitches in the zone (just 36%):

Maholm's curveball and slider location with the Braves

Happily for Maholm, hitters have expanded their zones and gone after those off-the-plate breaking pitches. Maholm's curveballs and slider chase rate has jumped from 34% with the Cubs to 40% in Atlanta (32% average for starters):

Maholm's curveball and slider swing rate by pitch location with the Cubs 

 

Maholm's curveball and slider swing rate by pitch location with the Braves

They're coming up empty on many of those outside swings, too. Maholm's miss rate with his breaking stuff was 24% in Chicago, far below the 30% average for starters. In Atlanta, hiss miss rate is 39%:

Maholm's curveball and slider contact rate by pitch location with the Cubs

 

Maholm's curveball and slider contact rate by pitch location with the Braves

By using his curve and slider as chase pitches, Maholm has struck out 7.8 batters per nine innings pitched with his new club. He whiffed 6.1 per nine with Chicago, and his career K rate is just 5.7 per nine. We might have to revisit that whole "finesse lefty" tag if he keeps this up.

Tuesday
Sep042012

More on Medlen's Changeup

The Atlanta Braves unveiled a new stud starter on July 31, and they didn't even have to pull off a trade to get the guy. Kris Medlen, who missed the 2011 season following Tommy John surgery and spent the first four months of 2012 in the 'pen, has made a bigger impact than the likes of Zack Greinke and Ryan Dempster since deadline day. Medlen has a 50-to-5 strikeout to walk ratio in 49.2 innings pitched as a starter, posting a 0.54 ERA in the process. No other starter since 1901 has posted a double-digit K-to-BB ratio and had an ERA under one while throwing at least 45 innings, according to Baseball-Reference.

Bill Chuck provided a nice breakdown of Medlen's success, but let's add to the Medlen Bedlam by taking a closer look at his changeup.

- Medlen has thrown his low-80s changeup 21% of the time as a starter. Unlike most pitchers, he's not bashful about using it against hitters on both sides of the plate. Medlen has thrown his change 26% of the time against left-handers and 16% against right-handers. The only starters who throw a higher percentage of right-on-right changeups are Jeremy Hellickson (31%), James Shields (27%), Edinson Volquez (24%), Felix Hernandez (22%) and Kyle Kendrick (17%). Righties are batting .067 (1-for-15) against Medlen's changeup, compared to a still-paltry .103 (3-for-29) for left-handers.

 - Medlen has the highest changeup strike rate (80%) among starters throwing the pitch at least 100 times this season. The MLB average is slightly under 63%. They're quality strikes, too. Here is Medlen's changeup location heat map as a starter:

Medlen's changeup location as a starter

 

Talk about hitting your spots. Medlen has thrown just 18.5% of his changeups over the horizontal middle of the plate. The big league average, by contrast, is slightly over 24%.

- The only starter with a higher changeup chase rate than Medlen (55%) is Baltimore's Miguel Gonzalez (63%). The MLB average is about 36%. Lefty batters would need a boat oar to connect with some of the fading Medlen changeups that they're swinging at:

Average swing rate by pitch location vs. changeups

 

Hitters' swing rate by location vs. Medlen's changeup since 7/31

- Medlen's change has a 45% miss rate, trailing just Stephen Strasburg (53%), Jarrod Parker (48%), Cole Hamels (47%), and Jaime Garcia (46%). The MLB average is 29%.

- Overall, opponents are batting -- and slugging -- .091 against Medlen's changeup. The average slugging percentage on changeups for starters is nearly 300 points higher, at .389. Congratulations to Steve Lombardozzi, Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa and Everth Cabrera for being the only hitters to squeak out a single against Medlen's changeup.

 

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