The Kris Medlen Interview

We love Kris Medlen at ModernPastime. He’s an easy player to root for. He’s got personality, he’s not a physical freak, and he’s battled adversity with his head held high. He was a favorite in Atlanta and I’m sure that Kansas City fans love him as well. My first piece here at MP was about how getting Medlen back from Tommy John recovery last summer was akin to a blockbuster trade for the Royals (link). So obviously I was very excited when I found out that my first ever interview of a major league baseball player would be Medlen himself. I had tons of stuff that I wanted to ask him, from questions about his relationship with sabermetrics to more personal questions about his time in Atlanta.

I want to thank Kris’ lovely wife Nicki for facilitating this and I want to mention the Medlens’ work with the wonderful Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research. The interview was conducted electronically while Kris and Nicki were traveling to Atlanta for a Rally event. I also of course want to thank Kris for agreeing to do this and for really sharing so much. I was worried that I had too many questions and at the end, I wished that I had asked more.

Just a quick thought before getting into the interview: As a stat nerd I always hope that players are into them as much as I am but through reading other interviews and conducting this one, I have come to learn that players have much more to worry about and focus on than their numbers and what they may mean. I don’t think that discounts sabermetrics but it should be a reminder to those of us in that community that stats are not everything. Players do believe in mental edges, team morale, etc, so maybe we are wrong to discount such things (or maybe not). That was the motivating force for Philip and I for starting this blog, to balance saber (something we both believe in) with the traditional ways of looking at the game.

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Great day for KC, Sad day for ATL

Who was your favorite ex-brave/old guy who hung around during spring training and why?

It’s tough to pick one because the braves did a great job of having not only great baseball players but great people who would come back and stay involved, so it was cool for you as a current player… David justice. He did a great job of mixing it in with pitchers and position players, and told such unbelievable stories and brought a lot of energy. It made you want to show up to the field and go to work. Seeing him as excited to be there as he was was definitely infectious.

What about your favorite Braves beat writer and favorite national guy?

Same with the organization is the same with the media. Braves had a lot of good people which creates an environment for players if they wanted to come out of their shell and say what they were thinking. The clubhouse was always covered by some pretty trustworthy people. Combination of covering the sport and being a cool person away from the sport- David O’Brien. Nationally- Ken Rosenthal, any report that comes out nowadays always comes through Ken which shows his work ethic and I can appreciate that. Not to mention any face to face run-ins I’ve had have been with him, he’s always been a great conversation and very genuine.

In your opinion, how important is clubhouse chemistry?

It’s something that is the glue for your entire team. With mediocre teams it makes the team better and with good teams it makes them great as I’ve seen firsthand.

What is the most player-friendly stadium on the road? Like cushy clubhouse or best food or whatever. 

The Yankees. It’s exactly what you’d expect from the organization. First class, over the top everything. Amenities, food, clubhouse attendants.

Do you like playing Sunday night games on ESPN?

Sunday night games on ESPN are the absolute worst. They make the games so late and a lot of Sunday games are getaway days and makes the travel a little more difficult.

How important is the All-Star game to you?

I think the All-Star game is something every player should strive for, but with the way the voting is set up, some guys get left out and it’s almost out of your control. So I think not worrying about it and letting the process take care of itself is the best approach. I love the game and festivities and the attention it brings this awesome game.

Do you feel like the playoffs are a crapshoot after such a long season or does the cream really rise to the top? (I don’t mean anything negative by this. Obviously the royals were great last year but sometimes it feels like it’s just the hot team that wins it all).

I don’t think you can accidentally win a World Series so I feel the best team does win despite what people say on how they got there. People use the word lucky, I try to take that out of my vocab. Making that run through the playoffs shows that yes the hottest team can win but it’s a testament to an entire season of work and chemistry clicking at the right moment and it’s something spectacular to see and be part of.

How long does the feeling last after winning the World Series? Like is it something that you’re still high on or have you already moved on and feel like you do every winter/spring?

It’s one of the best experiences of my baseball career, something you’ve always dreamed of and once it happens you don’t know what you are going to feel because you’ve never experienced it before so you just go with it. I went from an extreme high to extreme low with the death of my best friend* soon after the World Series. Spring training feels like business as usual, getting the kids ready to travel and do it all again.

*Kris and former Brave Tommy Hanson came up together through the minors and were best friends. Hanson passed away suddenly November 9, 2015.
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Filthy

You walked hitters at a higher rate last year (2.78/9 innings compared to 2.2 for your career). Was that something that you were aware of or were struggling with when you first returned, or is it just a case of small sample size and your command and control were as they always have been?

I really try not to pay attention to numbers because they end up working out. I don’t know if the first half of my outings had more walks or the second half. But after having my second long break from injury you lose a little bit of feel and it’s something you work to get back. Also, having to navigate myself through American League lineups which everyone knows is a big difference probably had something to do with that.

Your velocity was up in 2015 on all your pitches compared to 2013. Do you feel stronger now then before your last injury?

I took my 2nd Tommy John by the balls. I knew what to expect and worked even harder. I didn’t make excuses or take short cuts. Anytime you do that you are going to see results. So yes this is the strongest I think I’ve felt. Signing with the Royals was the best thing for me, the knowledge and effort that’s put into everything. That organization has helped me out a lot, although a lot of work was put into before that.

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According to fangraphs data, you are throwing less two-seam fastballs and more four-seam fastballs compared to earlier in your career. Is this true? If so why?

Everything revolves around a four-seam fastball. It’s the simplest pitch if you think about it, but you have to be mechanically sound staying behind the ball, on top of the ball, and through the ball which then translates into your other pitches and makes them more effective. When throwing a two-seamer the more you try to make it move the less it will. So keeping that four-seam mentality with a two-seam grip makes it that much better

In 2012, post all star break, you had a run that most players only dream of having. At one point you had a 4 start stretch where you pitched 33 innings, gave up 0 earned runs, and struck out 34. Did you feel different during that run? Was there a heightened level of confidence or something that took you to that next level that only few ever get to? Or did you feel the same as other times you’ve been healthy and pitched well but just didn’t get the results?

Nothing happens in baseball without the pitcher releasing the ball, so I found myself in a groove in terms of not thinking too much and executing pitches. And for a pitcher executing pitches is all you should really think about. But baseball is a team game and I wasn’t striking everyone out. I found myself in a situation where everything clicked in terms of getting breaks and my team scoring runs but after the season I realized what I had done and wanted to build of it for the following season.

 

What do you think about the Win stat for pitchers? Some think that a pitcher’s win-loss record is meaningless because it’s kind of out of their control. Some think that winning games is something you can control by going deep into games or that there is such thing as a “gamer”. Where do you stand?

I think at times it can be a little misleading but in terms of earning a win there’s not a better feeling however it is you get the win. Sure, every pitcher will have days where he puts up zeroes, but baseball is a test for a players will to win and compete. I think it becomes more of a pride thing and it may not mean much to media types, but it’s all that matters to a guy on the mound. I don’t pitch for quality starts, I pitch for wins.

What do you think about advanced metrics/sabermetrics? Like are you super into them or are you aware of them but don’t care for them or somewhere in between? Do you have a favorite statistic or metric?

I believe when used properly they can be beneficial, but from a player standpoint the term paralysis by analysis can takeover when you are in the middle of the game and you are thinking about multiple things. It’s doesn’t matter what statistics say, you are going to hang a pitch or you are going to miss a pitch because you are sitting there overthinking. In terms of preparation it can be useful but it varies player to player. I don’t have a favorite stat or metric.

Are you into the “moneyball” movement or do you prefer a more old school approach? Not just the nerdy stats but specialization, shifts, preaching walks for hitters, etc.

I believe in well-rounded players that can do everything well. I think that is the most effective way to win games. It also creates an environment with less weakness with depth of lineup/roster.

Who is a hitter that always makes you sweat? Like maybe you have good numbers against them but they always work your at bats or maybe they just own you. How do you approach or prepare for a known player that hits you well? Stay with your plan and hope results even out or adjust?

It’s a funny game. Sometimes you do well against the best hitters and the guys towards the bottom of the lineup beat you. I don’t sweat about anyone because I feel prepared and can execute a pitch that can get someone out. Half of the battle is confidence.

If someone hits me well, I’ll study the players weakness and try to execute. As good as these hitters are, players get paid to hit those really good pitches. Focus on what you can control and just execute really good pitches. Also just because a guy has a hit off you, go back and look at the film and it’s a dribbler down the line. Technically you beat the guy but he gets credit for a hit. It varies.*

*Just a quick note here: I think its interesting that Kris is clearly not a saber guy, but probably doesn’t realize how saber/moneyball this comment is.

Do you or other pitchers in the league think the over protection of pitchers has led to more injuries around the league? I’m talking pitch counts or the tight management of workouts. What about the tightening of the strike zone making it harder for pitchers to get outs and putting more stress on each pitch?

it’s really hard to answer because everyone tries to generalize injuries and causes of injuries when every persons anatomy is different. Guys throw the ball different ways and different pitches. I don’t think it can be generalized and made that simple.

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Medlen’s changeup is filthy

What percentage of pitchers use an illegal substance on the baseball?

I know guys do, but I don’t think it’s a cheating issue as much as an aid in not killing hitters. You see guys swing and lose their bats and then put pine tar on. Is that not an aid for them to feel confident in their grip?

Do you enjoy hitting in the majors? Do most pitchers?

Yes I really enjoyed it because it was a win-win. You are expected to get out, so any positive thing you do is magnified.

Who is your favorite player in the majors who has never been your teammate?

David Wright

Last question. Do you feel like umpires behind the plate are good enough or would your prefer laser strike zone?

I think umpires behind the zone are very good at their job, although sometimes flawed of course. I think having a laser strike zone would end up affecting the hitters. Some bigger breaking balls that are caught low from a catcher but the strike zone says caught in the zone. Either way hitters will cry about something. 

Atlanta Braves Reunite with Jeff Francoeur. No, Really.

[Featured Image Credit: CURTIS COMPTON / ccompton@ajc.com]


In a move that will please the sentimental and aggrieve the haters in Braves Country, the Bravos have reunited with Frency… or Jeff Francoeur if you want to be proper. The corner outfielder will be invited to Spring Training, where he’ll fight to make the club as a reserve outfielder… or at a different at different position as per my observation below.

Background

The product of Parkview High School in Gwinnett County, GA was drafted 23rd overall by the Braves in 2002. He was extremely highly touted during his time at Parkview, which I can attest to, having had to pitch to the star multiple times during his sterling prep tenure at the Atlanta powerhouse.  Read More

Sympathy and Criticism: the Jenrry Mejia Lifetime Ban

Now former Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia will never play Major League Baseball again, at the behest of the league’s PED policy. This lifetime ban due to breaches in the policy is unprecedented, and is likely to send ripples through the league ahead of Spring Training.

You can read more details about the suspension from many other sources. Let’s skim over the story here, and spend about 5 or 6 minutes together discussing a couple of ideas related to the MLB doping policy.

If Jenrry doesn’t sound familiar to you, it’s because injuries and cheating have kept him from really having much of a career, despite a promising trajectory as a very young Major Leaguer.

– Jenrry entered the league in 2010 at age 20, to much excitement in the Mets organization at the time.

– Injuries limited him to 10 games between 2011 and 2013.

– He reemerged as a back-end reliever in 2014 and earned the closer role for the Mets entering 2015.

– After being sidelined by yet another injury shortly after Spring Training, he was slapped with his first PED suspension. Before he outlived that one, he was caught with his hand in the banned substances cookie jar again. Before returning from the 162 game suspension for the second violation, he has now been found yet again to have been using PEDs.

You read that right. Mejia tested positive twice and earned a lifetime ban before returning from his first PED suspension.

Now that I can be sure that you have some background, here’s the reason I set out to write this piece. There is a wrinkle in MLB’s 3-strikes-you’re-out provision in the PED policy. After one year, you can appeal to the commissioner for reinstatement, though you must sit out for at least two seasons before such an allowance could take effect. This might sound to many as mere negotiating clout from the MLB Players Union. Soft on crime sort of stuff. Personally, I’m supportive of the drug policy in baseball being punitive and strict, which I’ll touch on below. But I’m all for this discretionary loophole in the writing of the lifetime ban rule. Here’s why:

As far as I can tell, a player could be motivated to risk testing positive for PEDS three times for 2 broad reasons, which could potentially overlap.

1) Calculated decisions based on there being so much money on the table that it is worth risking the consequences of alienating yourself from your club, losing money, and potentially being booted out of the league.
2) Destructive decisions stemming from a combination of the highly competitive atmosphere of professional sports and personal mental health challenges related to things like addiction, self-doubt, and impulse control, among certainly other factors that I’m extremely unqualified to banter about.

I don’t want to wax too apoligist for Jenrry Mejia. I don’t know a shred of anything about his motivations for taking banned substances so brazenly, even after being given chances to right his ship. I do know that he came into the league with a lot of promise and hope for a bright future though, and then promptly had that pulled out from under him due to injuries. Remember, he broke in at age 20 and then didn’t pitch in more than 10 games over three seasons. That would sting. Players don’t make any real money until they accrue 3 seasons of service, at which time they are eligible for arbitration raises for three consecutive seasons. So you can see where motivation number 2 above could be greatly exasperated by the weight of a persisting injury bug.

If Mejia’s decision-making was a result of personal psycho-emotional problems that the young man was struggling with, and if that could be demonstrated unambiguously, then I can see a path back into the league for him that involved a responsibly outlined process towards correcting the destructive trend in behavior. I have no idea if the former Met may fall into this discussion, but it’s worth considering when any player tests positive for a third time with a highly lucrative career on the line.

Rather conversely, I just want to argue quickly for a stricter doping policy in MLB. Why wait for a third strike, despite the opportunity for puns that it provides? Players are certainly disappointing their teams after testing positive a first time, and the punishment for the first offense certainly has real effect on young players. But the consequence is clearly not enough for many young players that still turn to PEDs to gain an edge. It is far less often though that we see a player caught a second time. Why is this? There are likely several factors, but it can not be ignored that losing an entire season to suspension carries a much heftier cost to a player than the initial 80 game penalty. Development is stunted in a very significant way in the year-long version, and a team’s plans for the violating player may be greatly curbed as a result.

So why wait for the second offense? If MLB is serious about getting drugs out of the game, why not take a more aggressive approach that reflects the seriousness of the stance?

I’m rarely accused of being draconian in my approach to correcting undesirable behaviors, but here’s the thing: as long as poorly paid minor leaguers see other players using PEDs and making gains faster from them, and as long as they see those players get caught but recover in time to continue their trajectory of development, these fellas are going to be subjected to undue temptation to break the rules and do unhealthy things to their bodies to climb the ladder. This unfortunate temptation is particularly relevant for those coming from poverty in the US and the Latin American and Caribbean spheres.

So, I feel badly for Jenrry Mejia. In a real, empathetic way. I can understand what it feels like to stare down falling short of what you perceive as your former potential in sports. Especially with all of those injuries. Sheesh. Just the same though, Mejia wasn’t just cheating the game. He was tearing down his body at an age when his body wan’t even finished maturing. Who knows how much of this was going on before he was initially caught. MLB seems to take this matter seriously. Stepping up that first penalty is a real option on the table to dissuade all of those young no-name kids out there from doing harm to their bodies to try to set themselves apart. Most of them will never have the bright future that Jenrry squandered in the first place.

So hey MLB, make the initial penalty more severe. And kudos to you for leaving the backdoor open for discretion in the case of lifetime bans.

Freddie Freeman

MLB Arbitration Is behind the Times

Why Are We Determining Player Salaries Based on Statistics That We Know Are Inadequate? 

Thank you in advance, devoted readers, for tuning in as I follow up my recent piece about the MLB Qualifying Offer rule with a companion bore on the inadequacies of the current MLB Arbitration Process. I don’t actually think it’s boring, and you don’t either. But we are nerds as a result of our interest in this thing, so lets call it like it is.

 

MLB Arbitration

Nerding it up in Jodhpur, India. The struggle is real.

 

This topic is continually relevant to the game, but timely at the moment because a popular fella named Jake Arrieta just settled with the Cubs hours before going to an Arbitration hearing. Sounds good. The club and player took care of the business before some legal folks decided it. But wait, what about these legal folks? Who are they? What the hell do they know? Read More

Colby Rasmus qualifying offer

The Qualifying Offer is Getting Screwed

I’m going to argue with former-me in this piece. Or maybe it’s other-me, though a current one. This is a poor start so far.

There he is, that Tapley Jr. fella from MP going on about how MLB’s Qualifying Offer rule (QO from here on out) has proven itself to be garbage. He has a leg to stand on. It’s easy enough to argue that the QO set up has had unintended consequences. Just this moment in fact, several good players are sitting around twiddling their thumbs. They’re still wondering who will pay them loads of money for being incredible at hitting a ball and throwing it and whatnot. Read More

Former Atlanta Brave Todd Cunningham: A Modern Pastime Interview

NOTE: You can read an expanded and edited version of this interview over at Tomahawk Take, where I also write these days (Part 1 here, Part 2 here ). Mandatory Credit for Lead Image: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I recently caught up with Todd Cunningham, on his way out the door if you will. Todd was claimed on waivers by the Angels, so it was pretty humbling to be perhaps his last Braves-oriented interview before he takes off. Almost as if I’d snuck in a door I wasn’t normally allowed. Anyway, this is about Todd Cunningham, so out with it.

Here, unedited and unabridged, is our conversation via Twitter direct message:

Read More

Why the Short-Term Deal, Yo(enis)?

[Lead Image courtesy of Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images, featuring Cespedes after winning 2013 HR Derby]

Yoenis Cespedes just signed a deal. Finally.

I shouldn’t assume a negative tone about the prolonged wait, because it’s given baseball writers word count fodder for a few weeks while not much was going on. Just the same, it was an odd radio silence in terms of rumors surrounding the player until it ramped up in the last couple of days.

cespedes hat nydaily news father

Kathy Willens/AP

You won’t be burdened with a lot of contract details in this piece that you can’t find in more depth elsewhere. Instead, let’s take a look at the strategy that seems implicit to this deal for Cespedes, and the growing trend of opt-outs in free agent deals.

Generally, players that are in high demand in free agency look for a long term deal to lock in as many wheel barrows of guaranteed money as possible. This is particularly true for free agents that are closer in age to Yoenis (30) than the, say Jason Heyward (26). The reasoning seems pretty clear here; if you’re older, it is riskier to bet on your skill set staying with you long enough to secure a lucrative deal the next time contract negotiations come around.

So why would Cespedes settle for 3 years, particularly being that he had a 5 year deal on the table from the Nationals? [more on those “other teams” below… we know what you’re thinking, Braves Country.] Read More

You Should Be Excited For Braves Baseball

Let’s start 2016 off with some positivity, shall we?

2015 was largely a frustrating year for #BravesCountry. Though arguably it went very well if you look at the larger picture, I can’t fault people for not throwing parades for a successful rebuilding year. In 2016 the Braves are still a team in rebuilding mode and there is cause for concern of a repeat of last year, but I think the hard part is behind us and 2016 will be an exciting time for the Atlanta Braves organization and its fans. Now I’m not going to go full homer on you and say that the Braves are going to win or even compete for the NL East in 2016, but I think Atlanta will field a team at the major league level who will be fun to watch and competitive in a lot of games.

Much of my reason for excitement is demonstrated in a piece released earlier this month by Baseball Prospectus, Top 10 list for the Braves farm system. I highly recommend clicking the link, as it includes much more than just a prospect ranking. The top 10 list is as follows: Read More