Earlier today I was running a few errands and ran into a guy at the grocery store who is a huge baseball fan. So of course we got to talking about our favorite teams and other teams around the league who may be capable of making the post season. He pointed out that last year the Braves experienced a collapse of epic proportion which was just throwing salt in a nearly healed wound. I acknowledge what he said as a fact, what else could I do? So he then asked me what the difference was between this years team and last years? Why would the result be different?
I stood there for maybe a second or two and said “Kris Medlen”. Even being a big baseball fan he said “the name sounds familiar but I can’t put my finger on who that is, I know Craig Kimbrel”. That to me said it right there. Kris Medlen is in a thankless role in the middle of our bullpen. He’s not a closer and really isn’t even the official set up man. He just goes about his business and gives us effective innings the majority of the time he steps on the mound.
But what people don’t realize is that he is the glue that holds this bullpen together. There has been a lot of talk lately from fans in regards to moving Medlen to the rotation. Their view point is that he’s better then several guys we are currently running out there every 5 days. They would be correct but I couldn’t be more against moving Medlen to the rotation and I think it was a blessing in disguise that the move didn’t happen earlier in the year when he got sent to AAA to get “stretch out”.
Rare Breed: Medlen is a freak of nature. He combines starter like stamina with bullpen type aggression. I can’t think of another guy in baseball off the top of my head that does what Medlen does. Fredi can call on him to pitch 1,2 or even 3 innings at a time and know that he’s going to be reliable 90% of the time if not more. In a bullpen you typically have 1 inning guys like Kimbrel or Venters who throw hard and can get you 3 outs, anything more is pushing your luck. Or you have guys like Livan Hernandez who can throw 3 or 4 innings but in the process will give up 3 or 4 runs. The ability to do both is what makes Medlen so valuable.
The Bridge is Long: Sometimes as a fan you’re watching a game and just praying that they can take the lead into the 9th inning where your closer can have a shot to shut the door. Closers have evolved so much in the last 10-15 years. Almost every team has one and the majority of them are fairly effective. However the issue for a lot of clubs is bridging the gap between their starter and closer. Nothing is more frustrating then watching a bullpen blow a lead in the blink of an eye that took 6 innings to build. So if you’re team is up 7-4 in the 6th inning it can seem like an eternity until you get to the 9th but not with Medlen. Fredi can use him to go 2 or sometimes 3 innings if need be. This closes that gap with one managerial decision, not 3 or 4 calls to the bullpen. This is just a luxury that most clubs don’t have.
Added Depth: Johnny Venters has missed 2 weeks of the season and when he has been in there’s been a string of ineffectiveness. If this was happening last year there would be mass panic in Atlanta but this year there isn’t. I haven’t even heard Venter’s named mentioned that much this year at all. Medlen has been able to fill the void along with the resurgence of Eric O’flaherty. Having that added arm in the bullpen compromises for struggling and injured relievers a like.
Identity: Players need to know their roles in order to be affective. You can’t keep switching him back and forth between starter and reliever. That’s not good for his body or his mental state. He’s settled in very nicely with this bullpen role and I think that as long as he’s content and is succeeding there’s no reason to take him out of it.
So in conclusion the Brave have an excellent weapon in their arsenal when it comes to Kris Medlen. His ability to help shorten games and eat up innings has been a god send to this Atlanta Braves team all year. I think if the Braves are going to make a deep run in the playoffs then Medlen will certainly be a major part of it.
By: Bob McVinua