Tuesday night, Braves starter Kris Medlen put together another fantastic performance, shutting out the Padres over eight innings, striking out nine without a walk. In six starts this year, Medlen has a 0.66 ERA in 40 2/3 innings, striking out 38 and walking just five. Medlen is performing for the Braves like they thought Tommy Hanson, who was called up at nearly the same time as Medlen back in 2009, would this year.
The diminuitive ace has stabilized Atlanta's rotation in the face of recent struggles from Ben Sheets and Hanson. Can Medlen keep up this torrid pace? Well, the results are…mixed.
In Medlen's six starts, all of which have come since the All-Star Break, he's faced the Padres twice, the Nationals, the Mets, the Astros, and the Marlins. Of those six teams, only Washington and San Diego rank in the top half of NL offenses since the break, with Miami, New York, and Houston making up three of the bottom four teams in the league. But if you look at the remainder of Atlanta's schedule, Medlen gets an easy run over the team's final 32 games.
His next start is scheduled for Monday against the Rockies, and it's his most difficult start in the season's final month. The Rockies have the fourth highest OPS in the NL in the second half, but Medlen gets a break: the game is in Atlanta, Colorado's OPS for the season is nearly 200 points lower on the road than it is at Coors Field. Medlen's next start is against the Mets, then the Nationals, followed up by a pair against the Marlins and a start in the season-ending series with the Pirates. In those final six starts of the year, he faces just two teams he hasn't started against this year: the Rockies and Pirates.
You can make a case for the familiarity aspect of things, as in that seeing a pitcher the second time around will give them more familiarity. But hey, Medlen sliced and diced the Padres on Tuesday in his second time facing them.
As for Medlen's actual stats in his starts…there is mostly a lot of good here. He's allowing just a .492 OPS as a starter, but the .283 BABIP he's allowing actually isn't horrifically low in comparison to other small sample size wonders. Medlen's strikeout and walk rates are amazing, but he's always been able to keep them strong. Then, the elephanst in the room: strand rate and homer/fly ball rate. 95.4% of the baserunners that Medlen is allowing this year haven't scored. The league average is 72.4%. There could be a hefty regression coming in regards to that over the season's final month. As for the homers…well, Medlen has allowed one homer as a starter this year. That one homer has resulted in only 3.5% of his flyballs resulted in home runs. Medlen never has been one to allow homers, but he's not going to keep a rate that low all season. The league average is 11.3%, and the lowest by any qualified starter in baseball this year is 5.9%, held by Johnny Cueto and Jarrod Parker. Over a full season, Medlen's HR/FB will likely end up doubling at the absolute bare minimum.
Despite all of the hubbub about Medlen, I think he's in a good place to be Atlanta's best starter down the stretch. Mike Minor and Paul Maholm have both been fantastic for the Braves since the midsummer classic, but Medlen has been on another level. His ERA in August is half that of Felix Hernandez's, and he threw a perfect game! Medlen has also struck out more batter than Hernandez in fewer innings this month, just to put things in comparison. That's how good Kris Medlen has been in August: Felix Hernandez bows down in comparison. He'll probably regress over the last month of the year, but he's a fantastic option for the Braves.