How The Cardinals Can Beat Kris Medlen
Cardinal Nation is shivering nervously today over the flea circus wild card showdown with the Atlanta Braves scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. Much of the anxiety revolves around Braves starter Kris Medlen, the 26 year-old righthander with the unblemished 23-0 record in games he has pitched this season. At first glance, a face-off between the Cardinals’ oft-sputtering offense and Medlen’s showy record seems like a baseball version of David and Goliath.
But Atlanta’s choice to start Medlen is nothing more than a voodoo curse; scare and intimidate your opponent into making their fears a reality. Medlen is not unbeatable. He’s not invincible. His extraordinarily odd string of unbeaten appearances relies on luck as much as skill. Taking nothing away from Medlen (who has been excellent this season), but this Cardinals team – with the right approach - can end his vaunted streak and leapfrog into the NLDS.
Let’s take a look at some numbers. First of all, this is most likely the lineup aligned against Medlen in the wild card play-in game:
The numbers following each player represent these rarely considered statistics:
- SS% = Swung at strikes percentage
- %PS = Total percentage of pitches swung at
- CON = Contact percentage on a swing
- 1PS = First pitch swinging percentage
- SOL =
Shit out of luckStrike out looking percentage
This becomes important when considering Medlen, because this season (and most of last season, too) he has been controlling counts incredibly well. Here are the stats accumulated by Medlen against his opponents this season:
- SS% = 69%
- %PS = 48%
- CON = 77%
- 1PS = 66%
- SOL = 40%
As the numbers show, Medlen jumps out in front of hitters with first-pitch strikes (two-thirds of the time, to be exact). He induces a lot of contact, or else he strikes out hitters with nasty off-speed stuff.
Here’s another thing to consider about Medlen: He has only reached a 3-0 count on hitters 2% of the time. In other words, Medlen throws lots and lots of strikes.
This works to the Cardinals’ advantage. As the numbers show, they are a high-contact team (look at Jay and Molina!), and several players aggressively go after the first pitch. With Medlen largely throwing strikes early in counts, the Cardinals’ approach should be to go up there hacking in the early innings.
Medlen has five pitches. Here they are, followed by number of pitches thrown and their average velocity in 2012:
- two-seam fastball: 1,846 / 90.0 mph
- changeup: 1,016 / 80.7 mph
- fastball: 1,011 / 90.0 mph
- curveball: 683 / 78.1 mph
- slider: 19 / 80.1 mph
Medlen uses his two-seam fastball as an establishing pitch. He either throws it in the strike zone or up, attempting to establish a first strike via called strike or a swing and a miss.
Meanwhile, Medlen uses his changeup as his strikeout pitch. It is rarely in the strike zone (40.6%) and induces the most swinging strikes (26.0%). It is responsible for nearly 40% of Medlen’s strikeouts.
The following graphs demonstrate how Medlen uses these pitches against left and right handed batters.
Most of Medlen’s establishing fastballs (denoted by blue diamonds and purple triangles) are on the inner half of the plate or high. Meanwhile, Medlen uses his changeup (denoted by red squares) inside and low.
If the Cardinals hope to reach Medlen, they need to be looking for mid-range fastballs on the upper inner half of the plate at the beginning of at-bats. If behind in the count, they need to look for that inside changeup, preferably laying off of it.
If they can do that, then they’ll force Medlen to throw a strike on a three-ball count. When Medlen reaches a three-ball count, he almost always throws a fastball for a strike (10 for 12 in those situations). As you can see, though, Medlen rarely reaches a three-ball count. The Cardinals need to be aggressive early, patient in the middle, and aggressive late in the count.
While Medlen has had tremendous success this season, he can be beaten with the right approach. The Cardinals, with their high contact rates and an aggressive approach, should stand a good chance of reaching Medlen.
Let’s see if they can execute such a plan under the high pressure of a do-or-die game.