You've presumably heard that, after last night's much-needed shut-down of the Nationals, the Braves have won Kris Medlen's last 16 starts. That's a new franchise record, which is kind of mind-boggling considering the Braves' wealth of great pitching over the years. Here are the best streaks in Braves franchise history (since 1918):
As you can see, Medlen's streak hasn't come about because his pitching has been particularly dominant. He's also given up 11 home runs during the streak, which isn't bad, but is a far higher rate than anyone else on the list allowed. If you showed me Medlen's numbers, I'd think of a Solid #2 Starter, not a Franchise Record-Holder.
So what does this mean? Well, for one, it means he's played for good teams with good offenses* to bail him out during his occasional bad starts. Secondly, it means he's gotten lucky with particularly good run support. The Braves have scored an average of 6.25 runs per game during Medlen's streak, only twice scoring fewer than 5 runs (and they scored 4 and 3 runs in those games).
* Medlen's arm injury, which caused him to miss nearly all of the 2011 season, actually helped this streak. The Braves' offense was much weaker in 2011 than either in 2010 or this season.
Because this streak is so dependent on Medlen's teammates, I like to think of it as more of a team record, and not a particularly meaningful one at that. It is certainly fun to think about, however, and I'll obviously be rooting for the streak to continue indefinitely.
You may be wondering at this point just how long the Braves' streak would have to continue to break the MLB record. Well, Medlen & the Braves are moving up the list (tied for 13th all-time), but they've still got a ways to go to match the MLB-best 22 in a row, shared by White Ford of the Yankees and Carl Hubbell of the Giants. (The full list is after the jump.)
At this point, you're probably thinking two things:
- That's some pretty good company for Medlen & the Braves.
- Who the heck is Tom Filer, and how did he start in 19 straight wins with those numbers?
As for #1, there are a lot of impressive names on the list. Six of the 16 players on the list are or should be in the Hall of Fame, and many of the others were really good pitchers, too. LaMarr Hoyt, Ron Guidry, Whitey Ford (in '61), Chris Carpenter, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens all won Cy Young Awards during the seasons of their streaks. Lefty Grove and Carl Hubbell won MVPs.
In addition, most of the teams on the list were excellent. Only two teams on the list didn't make the playoffs during one of the years of its streak: Ewell Blackwell's 1947 Reds and Chuck Finley's 1997-98 Angels. It helps that many of these teams were particularly strong at the plate (it's no accident, for instance, that the '61 Yankees placed a pitcher on the list).
Putting that all together, the secret to having a streak like this seems to be combining a great pitcher (or a good pitcher having a career year) with a very good team.
Which leads us to #2, in which a very undistinguished pitcher somehow made the top 5 all-time despite averaging less than 5 and a half innings per start and walking more than he struck out (in an era in which that was rare). Oh, and Filer's streak spread across 6 years and 3 teams. How on earth did that happen?
Filer was 25 and not much of a prospect when he debuted for the Cubs in 1982. He made eight starts that year and gave up exactly 3 or 4 runs in seven of them (the other was a 7-shutout-innings performance). The Cubs won his last five starts, despite the fact that Filer didn't make it out of the 4th inning in two of them. After that, Filer went back to AAA Iowa, where he spent all of the '83 and '84 seasons.
Before the '85 season, Filer signed with Bobby Cox's Blue Jays as a minor-league free agent. The Jays won all 9 of his starts, thanks largely to averaging 7.2 runs per game. (I should note that the '85 Blue Jays were an excellent team, winning 99 games and the AL East.) Filer pitched past the 6th inning just once, and twice didn't make it through the 4th. At that point, he hurt his arm, missing the entire 1986 season.
After another year in the minors, the Jays sold Filer to the Brewers. He then finished his streak by winning his first 5 starts with the Brewers, including a complete game shutout. The streak was broken when the Brewers got shut out by the White Sox, which of course wasn't Filer's fault at all. But that's the nature of these kinds of streaks; you need your team to score runs to make them happen. Filer is now the Pirates' AAA pitching coach.
That brings us back to Kris Medlen, who like Filer, missed a year due to injury in the middle of his streak. He hasn't been nearly as lucky as Filer, but you can see just how dependent he is on the Braves' offense. All it would take is one game when they failed to muster any runs and the streak would be over, no matter how well Medlen pitched that day.
At the same time, you have to admire Medlen's consistency and persistence. Not many pitchers would be able to put up Medlen's numbers as a starter while also dealing with a major arm surgery and repeatedly being shuffled back-and-forth from the bullpen. One day, he'll have a bad start, or an unlucky one, and the streak will end. But until then, the streak is a great occasion to appreciate a pitcher who most fans outside of Braves Country probably aren't very familiar with--and the resurgent Braves offense thats helping him out, too.