As the Washington Nationals approach their pivotal 2014 campaign, their fiercest division rival, the Atlanta Braves, were dealt a devastating blow to their rotation. Kris Medlen left his start Sunday with an injury that now appears to be pushing Medlen towards his second Tommy John surgery in less than three years. Medlen, along with Brandon Beachy who is also having his own injury problems, are seen as lynchpins to the Braves’ rotation, which is probably what spurred the organization to sign Ervin Santana. Santana fills a void left by either Medlen or Beachy, though it’s safe to say Santana is probably going to fill in for Medlen.
Medlen returned to the major leagues from his now first Tommy John surgery the same season the Nationals were planning to shut down Stephen Strasburg. While many analysts were criticizing the Nationals for shutting down Strasburg and having him break camp in the rotation, they were just as intensely praising the Braves for how Medlen was brought along following his injury. The Braves, rather than placing Medlen in their rotation, broke camp with Medlen in the bullpen, and he proceeded to appear in 50 games, though he made only 12 starts. His first start came July 31, and he was in the rotation from then on. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, which plan worked out better?
It would be relatively safe to say that the Nationals’ plan worked out better than Atlanta’s did, and here is why. In 2012, Medlen pitched only 138.0 innings in the regular season. Throw in Medlen pitching in the minors in 2012 (13.1 IP) and his Wild Card Game start (6.1 IP), and Medlen threw a combined 157.2 innings in 2012. Strasburg threw 159.1 innings in 2012 and did not pitch in the postseason. Now, I know what you are probably thinking: “There’s not a huge difference in innings, so this doesn’t make sense.” Not so fast, dear reader. Strasburg threw 159.1 innings in 2012, but they were thrown as a starter 100 percent of the time. There was no period where Strasburg needed to be stretched out or change his routine.
As previously stated, Medlen threw 138 regular season innings, which is 21.1 innings less than Strasburg. Take out his relief innings, and Medlen was only a starter for 83.2 innings. That alone is relatively alarming and even more-so when throwing in Medlen’s 2013 innings total. Medlen’s innings total jumped dramatically to 197 innings in 2013 compared to Strasburg’s jumping to 183. If you are counting at home, that is about 110 more innings as a starter for Medlen compared to Strasburg’s jumping only about 23 or 24 innings.
In conclusion, what Washington did was bring Strasburg along slowly and consistently. They made very few deviations to his routine and mannerisms as a starter. The Braves, on the other hand, made Medlen a swing man for most of his 2012 season and then tossed him back into the rotation in 2013 and expected him to pick up where he left off — which he did do for the most part. Unfortunately, the Braves’ approach to Medlen’s recovery ultimately had him set up for failure.