Serendipity [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] noun: an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident; finding without looking.
On June 25, 2010, my mom and I went to see the Atlanta Braves host the Detroit Tigers at Turner Field. On the hill for Atlanta was a 5'10" 24 year old kid named Kris Medlen who had torn up the minor leagues a few years earlier, and who had experienced moderate success coming out of the Braves bullpen in 2009.
I didn't know much about the pitcher, but that day he impressed me with his 90 mph fastball and excellent change-up. He even showcased glimpses of what his curveball could be if it were worked on.
He left with two outs in the seventh. He walked off the mound after allowing six hits, one walk, and only one run, striking out five in the process.
I began to get excited about this pitcher after watching him shut down the likes of Miguel Cabrera with such ease. However, disaster struck, and Medlen was forced to miss virtually all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery.
Atlanta then turned to the other young arms it had stockpiled, and the names of Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran, and Arodys Vizcaino soon took the place of Kris Medlen. This put Medlen out of the thoughts of Braves fans everywhere.
However, Medlen made a comeback. Due to the Braves' logjam at the starting pitcher position and the fact that Medlen's arm wasn't ready for a full season of starting, Fredi Gonzalez decided that Medlen would best serve the Braves as a long-man out of the bullpen: pitching two or three innings when needed.
He thrived in this role. His numbers of 54.1 innings pitched, a 2.48 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and a .280 OBP against are certainly marks of extreme success. He was no longer striking out hitters at the same rate as in the minor leagues, but maybe we need to stray from the idea that strikeouts are indicative of success.
But because this is the Braves, misfortune had to strike again.
Jair Jurrjens proved ineffective, and was shipped back to the minors. Randall Delgado showed glimpses of greatness, but his inconsistency was not constructive to Atlanta's playoff hopes, and he too was sent back to the minors.
When Tommy Hanson went down with an injury, Atlanta was left with four major league-caliber starting pitchers: Tim Hudson, Ben Sheets (a lottery ticket at that point in time), the newly acquired Paul Maholm and the ever-improving Mike Minor.
So on July 31, 2012, Kris Medlen stepped into the rotation, starting his first game of the season. The move was only supposed to be temporary, but Medlen had earned a few spot starts to fill in during Tommy Hanson's absence.
Medlen though, had other ideas.
Facing the Miami Marlins, Medlen allowed four hits, one run, and one walk through five innings. He walked away the victor.
Gaining confidence, Medlen fanned six Houston Astros through five and a third innings his next turn in the rotation, once again allowing just one run.
And then he took off.
Traveling to New York, Medlen retired seven Mets on strikes through 6.1 innings, allowing one run and walking only one.
Five days later, he tossed a complete game shut out in which he surrendered just five hits.
And finally, just last night, in what may have been his most impressive outing of the season, Medlen walked into the hostile territory of Washington D.C., and simply refused to let the Nationals sweep the Braves. Seven innings, one walk, seven strikeouts, and zero runs later, Medlen emerged a savior.
Some remain skeptical of Medlen's performance, pointing to his 6.72 K/9 rate on the season.
Maybe these same people are skeptics of the tremendous Johnny Cueto (owner of a 7.16 K/9 rate), or the unflappable Jered Weaver (6.87 K/9). Medlen has heard your questions, and has answered them during his 32.2 innings started this year, striking out 29.
Through his five games in the starting rotation, Medlen has pitched to the tune of a 0.83 ERA (!), a 0.95 WHIP, and has shown impeccable command by throwing 70 percent of his pitches for strikes.
Someone who throws this many strikes though, needs to have a high ground ball percentage. Luckily enough, Medlen has induced ground balls in 52.6 percent of his battles with opposing hitters.
Medlen keeps the ball down, issuing only 0.21 HR/9, and while his 82.6 percent strand rate will probably inch closer to 78 percent by the end of the year, it is certainly not indicative of a major regression.
In fact, through his 32.2 innings started in 2012, Medlen has allowed a .287 BABIP against, which is a stat that clearly suggests that Medlen can continue this level of success.
Lastly, Medlen's FIP (a stat that suggests what a pitcher's ERA should be, based on neutral fielding and luck), stands firm at 2.52 in 2012, while his ERA is 1.86. Forget the 0.83 ERA; a 2.52 ERA would still assert itself as a top-of-the-rotation number on any staff.
Paul Maholm has been fantastic. Ben Sheets has proven to be an excellent pickup.
The best deadline move by the Atlanta Braves however, has been to plug Kris Medlen into the starting rotation.
Under Atlanta's nose the entire time, the Braves have gained serendipity, finding their ace without even looking for him.
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