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Entries in Atlanta Braves (42)


No Meddlin' with Medlen

Kris Medlen (7-1) struck out a career high 12 and won his sixth straight decision as the Braves defeated the Rockies, 6-1. He allowed just five hits while walking no one in his second complete game of the season. Medlen now has a 1.56 ERA and a 0.962 WHIP.

Yesterday, against the Rox, Medlen extended his streak of scoreless innings to 34.2, the Braves' longest since Greg Maddux in 2000, before the Rockies scored an unearned run. While Medlen has won five straight starts, he has made 23 starts without a loss:

Start           End                 Games  GS  CG   SHO  IP            H          R       ER     BB      SO  HR     ERA
5-31-09   9-3-12 23 12   0   23 2 1 143.2   132   46   43 25 125  15 2.69


The great thing for the Braves is how they have used Medlen, first as a reliever appearing in 38 games throwing 54.1 innings, and now as a starter making seven starts going 6-0 with a 0.54 ERA. Medlen missed most of the 2011 with Tommy John surgery, and the way the Braves have used him this season brings up natural comparisons with the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg. And now, with two Strasburg starts remaining before he is shut down, Medlen is undoubtedly the hottest pitcher, and perhaps most valuable pitcher, in the game today.

To see how terrific Medlen was yesterday, let's go to the heat maps...

Medlen threw 111 pitches, 86 for strikesMedlen only threw 25 pitches yesterday that went for balls, that's less than three per inning.

He threw 63 fastballs and gave up four hits and struck out just three.

Medlen's killer pitch yesterday was his change-up

Medlen threw 25 change-ups and batters swung and missed on 64% of them.Medlen recorded seven strikeouts on his change-up and no hits. He also mixed in 23 curves allowing one hit and two whiffs.

Since July 31, Medlen has been brilliant:

Batters are hitting .206, slugging .240, and have an OPS of .468In 49.2 innings pitched as a starter, Medlen has allowed 36 hits, struck out 50, and walked (are you ready?) just five.

The Braves have handled him brilliantly and now they are smart enough not to meddle with Medlin.





Sheets Getting Swings and Misses

Ben Sheets is 33 years old, hadn't pitched in the majors in nearly two years prior to July following Tommy John surgery and last posted an ERA better than the league average back in 2008. Yet Sheets, signed to a minor league deal a little over a month ago, has quickly become the Atlanta Braves' ace by putting up numbers (1.46 ERA, 23/6 K/BB ratio in 24 innings pitched) that best what he did as a workhorse for the Brewers the better part of a decade ago. He's doing that by racking up swings and misses with his fastball and signature curve.

Sheets isn't wowing hitters with velocity, averaging 90.5 MPH with his fastball and maxing out at 93 MPH. But he's peppering the zone with the pitch (62% have been thrown over the plate, compared to the 52% average for starters) and getting a surprising number of whiffs. Check out his contact rate with the fastball compared to the average for starters:

Sheets' fastball contact rate by pitch location


Average fastball contact rate by location for SP


Sheets has a 17.6% miss rate with his fastball, well above the 14.7% average for starting pitchers this season. The last time Sheets was on a mound with the A's in 2010, he had a 10.8% fastball miss rate.

His curve, by contrast, has been used as a chase pitch (just 35% have been thrown in the zone, below the 45% average for starters). And hitters have obliged, going after 43% of Sheets' out-of-zone-curves (28% average for starters). Those hacks aren't leading to much contact:

Sheets' curveball contact rate by pitch location


Average curveball contact rate by pitch location for SP


Batters have missed 37.5% of Sheets' curves, well north of the 29% average for starters. His curveball miss rate was 27% with Oakland in 2010.

While he was tuning up at Double-A Mississippi this time last month, it's now hard to imagine the Braves' once-vaunted rotation without Sheets. For all the preseason talk of Atlanta's starting pitching surplus, this retread has given the Braves renewed life in the NL East and Wild Card races.


Sheets Gets Whiffs in MLB Return

The Atlanta Braves' seven-strong starting rotation quickly crumbled in 2012, with Arodys Vizcaino and Brandon Beachy getting matching Tommy John scars and Julio Teheran coming down with whiplash from all the homers given up at Triple-A Gwinnett. Enter Ben Sheets, the one-time Brewers ace whose career has been short-circuited by back, shoulder, finger and elbow injuries, including his own Tommy John procedure in August 2010.

Sheets, who sports the 12th-best strikeout-to-walk ratio among starting pitchers tossing at least 1,000 frames during the new Millennium, was sharp yesterday versus the Mets in his first MLB start since July 19, 2010. The now-33-year-old righty threw six scoreless innings, allowing two hits while striking out five and walking one. Sheets got Mets batters to whiff at 10 of the 40 pitches they swung at (25 percent), missing bats with both his fastball and sweeping curve.

Sheets averaged 90.9 MPH on the gun with his fastball, topping out at 93.3. That's still down a couple of ticks from his halcyon days with the Brew Crew, but he did manage to get David Wright to swing through a pair of high heaters. Josh Thole, Ike Davis and Kirk Nieuwenheis also came up empty against high fastballs:

Location of Sheets' fastball whiffs vs. Mets, 7/15/12

By contrast, Sheets kept his high-70s curveball low, getting whiffs on the pitch from Davis, Thole, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada and Andres Torres:

Location of Sheets' curveball whiffs vs. Mets, 7/15/12

While Sheets has never had a problem avoiding lumber with his curve, he had one of the 15-lowest fastball miss rates among AL starters when he last pitched with the Athletics in 2010. With so much contact being made, opponents slugged .583 against the pitch (third-highest among AL starters). If Sheets can miss more bats with his fastball while still snapping off quality curves, the Braves could have a low-cost solution to the club's unexpected rotation woes.

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