Kansas City Royals Kris Medlen Provides Depth And Upside
Kris Medlen will be competing for the fifth spot in the Kansas City Royals rotation this spring.
As the Kansas City Royals enter Spring Training, Kings of Kauffman will release a series of articles on the 25-man roster. We will be going through each individual player, including the locks, bubble players, and a few prospects. We will progress through the roster from the top down, starting with the rotation.
So far, we have looked at Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, and Danny Duffy.
Today, we will be looking at Kris Medlen.
All statistics provided by Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and Brooks Baseball
"2015 stats – 6-2, 4.01 ERA, 40 SO, 18 BB, 1.27 WHIP, 4.13 FIP2016 Steamer – 8-8, 3.96 ERA, 89 SO, 35 BB, 1.29 WHIP, 4.23 FIP"
Projected Role – Bottom of the rotation starter/long reliever
When Dayton Moore signed Medlen to a two-year, $8.5 million contract with a $10 million mutual option for 2017, it was an investment beyond 2015. Coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2014, Medlen didn’t make his first appearance as a Royal until July 20 and
So, to a certain extent, his 2015 season was just a wash because he was signed for what the Royals expect him to do this year.
In a perfect world, he would be able to replicate his 2013 season, where he posted a 3.11 ERA (alongside a 3.48 FIP) over 197.1 innings with the Braves.
However, what we saw from Medlen in 2015 leaves that possibility very much up in the air.
Medlen caused a stir in Kansas City with his first rehab start for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, by going 4.0 innings, striking out five, and lighting up the radar gun.
I was at the game and watched Medlen hit 96 on the gun, having previously never touched 95 in his career. It was later found that the Hammons Field radar gun was scalding hot.
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However, when he finally reached Kansas City, we did see a slight uptick in velocity from Medlen, averaging just under 91 MPH on his fastballs. He sat more around 89 MPH from 2012-13, his only two full major league seasons.
This is in part due to a drastic decrease in two-seam fastballs from Medlen in 2015, compared to the rest of his career.
Going into 2015, just under 50% of Medlen’s pitches had been two-seam fastballs, as opposed to just 12% four-seam fastballs. In 2015, just 35% of his pitchers were two-seam fastballs, with 25% being four-seam fastballs, a career low and career high, respectively.
We saw the success of his two-seamer drop as well, with his wFT (two-seam fastball runs above average) coming in at a negative (-3.8) for the first time in his career. His four seam registered at 4.5, the second highest of his career.
As his repertoire was either changing or adjusting, post-injury, his ability to keep the ball on the ground remained the same, with nearly 50% of his batted balls being on the ground.
With Medlen not having above average swing and miss stuff, this has been his bread and butter.
What we know about the Dave Eiland, Alex Gordon, and Lorenzo Cain era is that it has been historically beneficial to keep the ball in the air.
This has factored into the success of guys like Chris Young, Danny Duffy, Ervin Santana, and even Jeremy Guthrie, who unlike the previous three, doesn’t have a low BABIP alongside a higher flyball percentage because he gave up so much hard contact.
So hypothetically, Medlen would be better suited to be a flyball pitcher, especially with Alex Gordon returning and Dyson looking to get legitimate time in the outfield.
However, the Royals infield defense is arguably just as good. Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer are both Gold Glover winners, while Mike Moustakas has a top-ten defensive fWAR at third base since 2013 and Omar Infante nearly topped AL second basemen in defensive fWAR in 2015.
When it comes to his role for 2015, the Royals expect him to in the rotation, according to Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star.
"“We come into it with an open mind,” Yost said of Medlen. “But as I sit here right now, yeah, I expect him to be in the rotation.”"
The question will be whether or not he can rediscover some of that success from 2013.
We already talked about his shifting arsenal, but the effectiveness of those pitches is still to be seen in a starters role over a full season.
It’s also worth noting that as a starter in 2015, Medlen posted a 4.50 ERA.
The tough thing about projecting Medlen is that he is 30, nearly two years off his last full season, and with a limited track record of success.
The velocity is definitely encouraging. If there is one metric that has consistently helped in nailing down established big league pitchers, it’s velocity stability.
Next: Danny Duffy Is Still Role Searching
There are a lot of question marks with Medlen, but that is to be expected of a guy with recent success who has went nearly two years since being in a starting rotation for a full season.
However, with the Royals defense being as good as they are and the top of the Royals rotation being as settled in as it is, any real innings contribution from Medlen will be valuable.
Any real success on top of that will be icing on the cake.