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Draft Round Battles: Roy Halladay Vs. Kris Medlen

A legendary workhorse who finally broke down against a pitcher who returned from injury and produced spectacular results.  We know what Roy Halladay and Kris Medlen did in 2012, but now let's examine how these NL East rivals project for 2013 and who is the better fantasy bet.

The early returns don't favor the veteran.  Mock Draft Central's latest average draft position chart indicates that Medlen has a 68.41 ADP, which ranks him 16th amongst starting pitchers and 66th amongst all players.  Halladay, meanwhile, has an 81.17 ADP, ranking him 21st amongst SP and 81st overall.

Halladay's drop is quite precipitous considering his Cooperstown-worthy track record and the fact that he was the top pitcher taken* in many 2012 fantasy drafts.  It's not a surprise, however, given the optics of a 35-year-old pitcher posting the highest full-season ERA (4.49) of his career and spending six weeks on the DL with a shoulder injury.  After averaging 236 IP over the last six seasons, it's fair to wonder if this workload has caught up with Halladay and he can no longer be counted upon to produce ace-level numbers.

* = And, in one of my leagues last year, the FIRST OVERALL PICK.  I kid you not.  Now, our league tracks complete games as a stat and having Halladay on your roster usually clinches you first- or second-place in that category all by himself but still, my buddy Dave's bold choice of Halladay was a real bombshell.  Five points to Dave for creating a lot of draft day chaos, and minus 50 points to Dave for...well, Halladay's loss in form basically torpedoing his team.  

As Halladay fell, however, Medlen rose.  After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010 and missing virtually all of the 2011 season, Medlen was eased back into regular pitching duties in the Braves' bullpen in 2012 and then inserted into the starting rotation in July.  The results were astounding: Medlen posted an 0.97 ERA in 12 regular season starts, with 84 strikeouts (against 10 walks) in 83 2/3 IP and a perfect 12-0 record.  Had Medlen contributed a bit more at the plate, he basically would've been a real-life Steve Nebraska, which I think we can all agree is a decent upgrade over Jair Jurrjens.

A great half-season, however, is still just a half-season.  What Medlen did over the last two-plus months of 2012 is essentially what Halladay did for seven full seasons from 2005-11.  Mock Draft Central's numbers notwithstanding, is Medlen really a better fantasy option than Halladay?  Removing ERA from the equation, let's look at some of the two pitchers' secondary numbers from 2012...

Halladay: 156 1/3 IP, 7.6 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 3.67 K/BB, 3.62 SIERA, 3.69 FIP, 3.60 xFIP, .301 BABIP

Medlen: 138 IP, 7.8 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 5.22 K/BB, 2.85 SIERA, 2.42 FIP, 3.29 xFIP, .261 BABIP

While Halladay didn't pitch as badly as you might think last year, there were still some warning signs.  Looking at Fangraphs' numbers from last season, Halladay only had a 44.7% groundball rate (well below his career average of 54.4%) and he lost 1.8 mph on his cutter.  Halladay's ability to keep the ball on the ground and his cutter (which he threw 41.7% of the time in 2012) are his bread and butter, so if he's losing his edge in either category, that's a big red flag.

Of course, this is kind of the crux of the argument between these two pitchers.  With Halladay we have loads of data to see how 2012 compares to his past results; with Medlen, we have basically none, as he didn't even become a full-time starting pitcher until July 31 of last year.  Medlen only made 26 minor league starts out of 105 career appearances in the minors, so we extrapolate much from his farm numbers (2.55 ERA, 10.3 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 over 240 1/3 minor league IP) other than generally agreeing that he looks like a pretty good pitcher.  How that translates over a full season in the Braves' rotation or how it translates to Medlen's fantasy ranking, however, is anyone's guess.

It's a tough call on either pitcher and frankly, I'm not sure I'd go with either if you have other good options available in the sixth or seventh round.  Looking at the ADP list, the four pitchers in between Medlen and Halladay (Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, CC Sabathia and Chris Sale) all seem like stronger choices to me for 2013, Sabathia's injuries notwithstanding. 

Between just Halladay and Medlen, however, I can't help but think that Halladay is the safer choice.  Call it a bit of a homer pick from the guy who lives in Toronto, but provided that Halladay's shoulder problem was just a blip in a long history of durability, I think we'll see Halladay put up another very strong campaign.  Medlen may still be good in 2013 but unless he's turned a gigantic corner and is on the way to a Hall of Fame career, he's going to come back to earth.  Granted, "regressing" from a sub-1.00 ERA leaves a lot of comfortable wiggle room but I'd rather not draft a guy guaranteed for regression ahead of a guy who I feel will bounce back and pitch like his old self.

After all, nobody ever erred in believing in Halladay, right Dave?



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