KC Royals: What To Expect From Kris Medlen


KC Royals pitcher Kris Medlen, now 13 months into recovery from his second Tommy John surgery, traveled to Surprise, Arizona early this week to begin facing live hitters, according to NBC Sports’ D.J. Short.

Medlen suggested he would spend about a month at the team’s facility in Surprise before being cleared to begin a minor league assignment, this according to The Kansas City Star’s Andy McCullough (Subscription required).

That puts Medlen on a tentative track to return to the big club around or after midseason. This is obviously assuming a lot of things go right for Medlen, but what can the Kansas City Royals expect from the 29-year-old righty if he does return midseason?

A 5-foot 10-inch version of James Shields.

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Bear with me, but it’s actually impressive how similar the two are. According to FanGraphs Baseball’s advanced statistics, the two have some strikingly similar career stats :

Medlen: 7.62 K/9, 2.12 BB/9; 20.9 K%, 5.8 BB%, 15.0 K-BB%.

Shields: 7.74 K/9, 2.13 BB/9; 20.7 K%, 5.7 BB%, 15.0 K-BB%.

Medlen, like Shields, is a fastball-changeup pitcher, and the changeup is how both guys make a living. He also uses a curveball and a cutter. His two-seamer and changeup look identical. Shields has a few additional weapons (and five inches in height), but they’re both consistently productive pitchers who use a similar formula to get outs: fastball, dominant changeup and throw strikes.

Medlen, like Shields, is a fastball-changeup pitcher, and the changeup is how both guys make a living.

Here’s how good Medlen’s changeup is: hitters are a career 88-for-499 against his changeup, with a .176 average and a .214 on-base percent. Both guys have a great pick-off move and a bulldog mentality, too, but we’ll save that for a different article.

Sure, Medlen’s only pitched 512.2 career innings to Shields’ 1946.2 innings, but when Medlen is healthy he’s largely the same type of pitcher.

In 2012, Medlen was a top five starter in baseball for half a season. He went 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA – no worries, I double-checked that – with a 9.04 K/9 and a 1.08 BB/9 in the second half. He was worth 2.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in 83.2 innings – in the second half alone – a dominant number that finished behind only Felix Hernandez, David Price, Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander.  Check out some his highlights from 2012:

(Source of video: YouTube)

Digging deeper, however, Medlen stranded an impossible 93.3 percent of baserunners and had a career-high 54.7 groundball percentage in those innings, two statistics that don’t look repeatable.

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  • When Medlen returned in 2013, he pitched 197 innings of 3.11 ERA baseball, he won 15 games (lost 12) and was 2.8 WAR player, this time over an entire season. The big thing was his left-on-base percentage returned to normal (76.9%) as did his groundball percentage (45.3%), and he was still worth three wins – great signs for any pitcher.

    He’s not a top five starter in baseball, of course, but he’s an above-average pitcher who has been steady as the beating drum…when healthy.

    Medlen has career 34-20 record with a sub-3.00 ERA in more than 500 innings. In his last 335 innings pitched, he owns a 277-70 K/BB ratio. He’s also had two elbow surgeries and only pitched more than 130 innings two times in the Majors.

    This guy is real, but so are the concerns with his elbow. His fastball velocity fell to a career low before surgery, but on a 2-year, $8.5 million contract, the KC Royals might have landed a bargain, and yet another arm to help replace Big Game James.

    Next: Apologies and Elite Salvador Perez

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