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Circling the Bases: Don't Meddle With Medlen

Ray Flowers

Ray Flowers

The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: M-F at 5-8 PM EDT), Ray Flowers has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. You can follow Ray on Twitter (@BaseballGuys), he never sleeps, and you can also find more of his musings at BaseballGuys.com.

Which pitcher has been excellent for the past 365 days though some seem ready to give up on him as a potential fantasy ace? I'll take a look at that hurler and breakdown his teams starting rotation before we delve into a deal for pitching between the Cubs and Orioles.

WHO AM I?

Over the last 365 days I've won 14 games while losing only seven.

I've struck out an average of 7.85 batters per nine innings.

I've walked a mere 1.82 per nine innings.

I lead baseball with a 1.95 ERA.

I also have a sharp 1.02 WHIP that is sixth in baseball.

Oh, and I was rumored to be removed from the starting rotation of my team when a hurler returning from Tommy John surgery finally reached full health.

Who am I?

I'm the Braves' Kris Medlen.

Do you see now why it was so asinine to think that when Brandon Beachy was ready to return from surgery that he would be inserted into the rotation and Medlen would be sent back to the bullpen? Let's look at the Braves rotation. Medlen, as noted, has performed at elite levels the past year.

Tim Hudson is a winner, at least until this season. For his career Hudson is 201-111 and that's 90 games over .500 which is excellent (among all pitchers who have ever won 150 games his .644 winning percentage is 17th all-time). Does that mean his 4-7 record to this point turns around? History says yes since he's never had a losing season in a career that began in 1999 (he's also won 17, 16 and 16 games the past three seasons). Despite the record, and poor 4.22 ERA (career 3.45), Hudson continues to eat innings for the Braves. He's also sporting a better than career average K/BB ratio (2.52 to 2.23), and though his GB/FB ratio is a career worst it's still a 1.88 mark (Hudson has never finished with a mark under 2.20 so we're either seeing the deterioration of his skills or you can expect a few more ground balls the rest of the way). Given that he's still working a 1.21 WHIP and .275 BABIP this season, numbers that are slightly better than his career marks of 1.23 and .279, one would think some turnaround is likely to occur. Regardless, he's not losing his spot in the rotation.

Paul Maholm could be traded or lose his spot to a demotion to the pen, but he continues to be a solid option for the Braves. In 2011 the left posted a 3.66 ERA. In 2012 that mark was 3.67. This season that mark is, wait for it, 3.69. Not just consistent, and amazingly so I might add, in the the ERA column, check out his WHIP totals as well: 1.29, 1.22 and 1.29. Sure he doesn't strike anyone out (6.43 per nine this season) so he isn't a great fantasy option, but he induces grounders (2.18 GB/FB) and keeps the Braves in the game nearly every time he takes the bump. No reason to remove him from the rotation.

Mike Minor has been the Braves best pitcher. Not only is he 8-3 with a 2.98 ERA but he's sporting an elite 4.75 K/BB ratio and 1.05 WHIP). He's on pace for 16 wins, a sub 3.00 ERA, a WHIP of slightly over 1.00 and about 190 Ks. Yeah, that's good.

Julio Teheran has a strong 3.12 ERA and 1.19 WHIP this season as he's seemingly finally “arrived” after years of being on the cusp. But things are even better than that cursory review of the numbers suggests. Take a look at his production over the past 10 starts: 2.28 ERA, 0.99 WHIP with 61 Ks in 67 innings pitched. He's even struck out 7.65 batters per nine innings this season and he's completely stopped walking batters leading to another elite mark – his 4.76 K/BB ratio. He's been fantastic.

Beachy had a setback with his elbow, but he threw a couple of times over the weekend and that reportedly went well. He will still need at least a couple of rehab outings before the Braves will feel comfortable in returning him to the majors, so don't expect to see him until the end of July. As I noted when discussing the hurlers though, I just don't see where Beachy fits in this rotation right now. However, I do see a way for him to start games this season (provided he can stay healthy). Let's return to the case of Medlen.

What did the Braves do when Medlen was hurt and needed surgery? Think back to last season ... they started by using Medlen in the bullpen before inserting him into the rotation. Why wouldn't the Braves do the same thing this year, use Beachy out of the pen for a while to build up arm strength, comfort, and to prove that he's physically capable of handling the work? When he proves that he's healthy, guess what, Teheran might be close to being shut down. I'm hypothesizing here, but will the Braves let Teheran throw 200 innings this year? I kinda doubt that given his innings pitched totals the past few years:

2010: 142.2 innings
2011: 164.1 innings
2012: 137 innings
2013: 95.1 innings (pace for about 190)

Not only has Teheran never thrown 175 innings in a season, he didn't even make 140 innings last season. Will the Braves monitor his innings perhaps curtailing them while allowing Beachy to pick up the slack? Seems plausible to me.

The bottom line for me is this – no matter what happens with Beachy, I would be knocked off my chair shocked if Medlen was removed from the rotation to make room for Beachy.

CUBS AND ORIOLES DEAL

Here are the specifics.

Orioles receive: Scott Feldman, Steve Clevenger.
Cubs receive: Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop and cash considerations.

Feldman is the biggest name in the short-term. He'll enter the Orioles rotation (he's a free agent at the end of the year). Feldman owns a solid 3.46 ERA in 15 start this season, but he now moves to the AL East which will significantly hurt his outlook. Moving to the AL from the NL is never good for a hurler, but now Feldman will pitch in arguably the toughest division in baseball. That makes it even more unlikely that we'll witness a career best effort from Feldman this season. After all, his current ERA is 1.20 runs below his career mark and his 1.14 WHIP is light years from his career rate as well (1.39). Feldman doesn't strike a lot of batters out either, he's never reached seven Ks per nine in a season, and without the pitcher to hurl the rock at, and now facing the DH, will his 6.63 K/9 mark do anything but go down? He's a solid add for those in need of an arm in AL-only leagues, but his value in mixed leagues takes a hit.

This news could be a positive though for Arrieta owners in dynasty leagues. Arrieta will have the opposite situation going on from Feldman in that he moves to the NL. It might also be nice for Arrieta to get a fresh start as things certainly have not worked out in Baltimore (20-25, 5.46 ERA, 1.47 WHIP for his career). Though those numbers aren't pretty Arrieta does own a nice arm, one that has led to 132 Ks over his last 138.1 innings, and while there might not be top of the rotation stuff here, he could easily slide into the vacated spot of Feldman for the Cubs. Arrieta is worth a speculative add in NL-only leagues but it would be wise to temper your enthusiasm in mixed leagues given his overall numbers the past two seasons: 4-11, 6.38 ERA, 1.44 WHIP.

BY THE NUMBERS

0.10: The difference between Justin Verlander's WHIP (1.40) and the league average. How awful is that? Verlander is slightly better in the ERA column with a 3.77 mark versus the league average of 3.93. Hey, at least he's better than the average in that category. The last four seasons Verlander's ERA has been 2.95 and his WHIP 1.08.

.500: The batting average of Jason Kipnis the past two weeks as he has 20 hits in 40 at-bats. I can't decide if that is more impressive than the three homers, four steals and 10 runs scored though. The most impressive thing though I haven't even mentioned yet. Kipnis has driven in 17 runners in the 12 games. Wow is right.

2: The number of deep flies that Ryan Roberts hit Monday night. His reward? He was sent to Triple-A Durham. Roberts has a career slash line of .245/.322/.394 while his effort this season has led to a .250/.303/.402 line. What exactly were you expecting Rays?

3: The number of times that Jordan Zimmermann has allowed more than three runs in a starts in his 17 starts this season. Moreover, in 13 of his 17 outings this season he's allowed zero, one or two runs. He's arguably been the most consistent start-to-start hurler in the game.

1,958: The career Ks of Andy Pettitte as a member of the Yankees, the most in the history of the storied franchise. Pettitte has 66 punchouts in 86 innings this season. Pettitte has long used volume to get his strikeouts, he's thrown a lot of frames in his career, but he's never reached 185 strikeouts in a season (his career best was 180 in 2003).

Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.

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