The Atlanta Braves went to a six-man rotation because they couldn't move Kris Medlen back to the bullpen, he was just too good as a starting pitcher. At the end of the month when the team will presumably go back to a five-man rotation, they still won't be able to move Kris Medlen back to the bullpen. In just a short time "Meds" has become the ace of the Braves starting pitching staff. I, for one, am not surprised he's done so well, but still floored that he's done so well.
Who would have thought that Medlen would be the stopper for the team; that he would be the guy the Braves turn to on the mound when they need a pitcher to shut down the opponent for a win? But how is he doing it? This year as a reliever he was good: a 2.48 ERA, a WHIP slightly above one, and a .232 batting average against. This year as a starting pitcher, through five starts, he has a 0.83 ERA, a WHIP slightly below one, and a .222 batting average against.
It hasn't been any sort of luck factor, as his batting average on balls in play is almost identical between starting (.287) and relieving (.280). He has certainly upped his strikeout game, raising his K/9 rate as a starter and more than doubling his strikeout to walk ratio from 2.77 as a reliever to 5.80 as a starter.
Medlen has also turned around his fortunes in high pressure situations. As a reliever, with men in scoring position, batters were hitting .319/.385/.511 off of him -- not good at all. Keep in mind that some of those hits scored inherited runners, so they didn't affect Medlen's ERA. Meds allowed 9 of 16 inherited runners to score -- at the time, the highest number and highest percentage on the team. But as a starting pitcher, Medlen is holding opposing batters a .125/.222/.125 line with men in scoring position.
Dominance like Medlen has shown has to come from somewhere, and we should be able to see that dominance in the effectiveness of his pitches, and pitch selection. Medlen has always had a good changeup, but this year it has risen to new levels of effectiveness. While opposing batters are hitting just .218 off Medlen this year (starting and relieving), they are only hitting .093 when Medlen throws his changeup. Batters are swinging and missing his changup 21.1% of the time.
Medlen has also paired his changeup with another out-pitch, his curveball. Batters are hitting just .167 off his curve with an impressive 13.2 swing-and-miss percentage. Medlen hasn't had two pitches with this much effectiveness since his rookie year, when it was once again his changeup and curveball. He's also raised the effectiveness of both his two-seam and especially his four-seam fastball, giving him four pitches to pair with what has been impeccably sharp command this season -- a sharpness that seems to have grown as he moved into a starting role.
The Braves have now won the past 16 games that Kris Medlen has started, dating back to 2010. That is the longest streak in Braves franchise history, and the longest current streak in the Major Leagues. No manager or baseball player is going to mess with a streak like that. As effective as Medlen is as a pitcher, he's much more effective as a starting pitcher. However all of the facets of his game add up, he's a guy that the Braves can't take out of the rotation, and they should consider him one of their must-start pitchers should the team reach the post-season.