Kris Medlen Vs. Tim Lincecum: The Similarities Are Freaky
The mystery pitcher? Here’s a hint: it’s not Tim Lincecum.
The two-time Cy Young Award-winning Freak definitely did not have Tommy John surgery, and he’s never been part of the bullpen (well, not unless you count a rare relief effort in the 2010 NLCS in Philadelphia). Oh, and he’s never donned a Braves uniform.
But Kris Medlen has.
In 2010, when Lincecum was pitching lights-out in Arlington, Medlen was beginning a rehabilitation process that would keep him off the Braves’ roster for all of the 2011 season, save for two relief appearances last September. And he started in the bullpen this year until he made the transition to starter in late July. He’s been downright Lincecum-like ever since.
Let’s start with the physical. Lincecum’s listed at 5-foot-11—a pretty generous extra inch for Tiny Tim—and he’s certainly wirier than the 190-pound former reliever (think of a comparing a whippet to a bulldog). These two defy the outmoded notion that better pitchers are of taller stature, but it’s still worth acknowledging.
The real devils are in the details. Medlen’s statistics, tendencies and strengths are uncannily similar to those that elevated Lincecum to All-Star status. If you take a look at the data accumulated by FanGraphs—a site not for the baseball novice or for the faint-hearted, for that matter—their stats line up.
Medlen and Lincecum like to throw fastballs for about 50 percent of their total pitches (Lincecum’s career percentage is 49.1 and Medlen’s throwing them 49.3 percent of the time this season). But their two-seams don't blow up the radar the way fastballs do for other flame-throwers around the league. What makes Lincecum and Medlen unique is the way they compensate for their lack of height and pitching speed. They dominate the field with careful and calculated deception, accuracy and control. (Note: these attributes don't necessarily reflect Lincecum's current season, but those two Cys aren't flukes.)
Essentially, they have killer breaking balls; both are best known for reducing even the most accomplished hitters to knee-buckling amateurs with a signature changeup.
FanGraphs also has its own complicated method of calculating the value of a certain type of pitch for any given pitcher. If Medlen had racked up enough innings to qualify (he’s only at 77 2/3 IP), he’d have the best changeup among starting pitchers in the entire league. By comparison, Lincecum’s changeup also led the league during his 2009 Cy Young season.
So, Lincecum generates more speed (albeit, only a couple miles per hour) on each of his pitches. He's small and thin; Medlen is short and squat. Lincecum mimics a catapult when he pitches; Medlen has a more compact delivery. And Lincecum’s hair is inky and flowing, while Medlen hides his spikes under his cap…The comparison’s not perfect, but it’s a start.
True, it might be a bit premature to compare the two. Medlen’s numbers are likely exaggerated due to his truncated season, but his successes on the diamond can’t be overlooked. Since making the transition to pitcher, he’s 8-0 in 11 starts with a microscopic 1.04 ERA. Hitters have a .196 batting average against him, and that number plummets to .083 against that fatal changeup.
You can assign any amount of uncertainty to his numbers, but you can’t dispute the records. Since 2010, the Braves have won each of his last 22 starts. Those are numbers that match records set by Cooperstown greats Whitey Ford and Carl Hubbell—in the 1950s and 1930s, respectively. Medlen and the Braves are looking to extend that streak to 23, as they aim to stand alone at the top.
The last game Medlen started was the one in which the Braves clinched their playoff berth. All things considered, this upcoming game against the Mets on Sunday is a pretty big one, too.