Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Balking Debuts

Last Thursday, Kris Medlen was the Atlanta Braves' starting pitcher in a game against the Colorado Rockies. It was his major league debut. He lasted three innings, giving up five runs on three hits and five walks. He also hit a batter and threw two wild pitches. The Rockies went on to win the game 9-0.

The point of this isn't that Medlen had a rough debut - no doubt a desire to impress in his first big league game led to overthrowing and wildness (he has a career BB/9 of 2.0 in the minors). I only bring up his debut because of something else he did: he balked. With two out in the first inning, Todd Helton singled to end a 10-pitch at bat. Medlen then balked, moving Helton to second and allowing Brad Hawpe to drive him in.

Now, Medlen isn't the first player to balk in his major league pitching debut. In fact, he's the 127th player to do so since 1954. Here are some other members of the club: Jim Colborn, Gary Nolan, Jerry Reuss, Milt Wilcox, Bob McClure, Bob Walk, Fernando Valenzuela, Ron Darling, Rudy Seanez, Shane Reynolds, Freddy Garcia, and position players Rocky Colavito and Cesar Tovar. Surprisingly, only three pitchers joined in 1988, the "Year of the Balk."

Nine pitchers balked in their first two games (Medlen's second start was balk-free):
Interestingly, all nine players debuted in the National League. Of the 127 pitchers with debut balks since 1954, 80 of them started in the NL. I guess the senior circuit doesn't cotton to new kids on the block with their fancy moves.

Medlen is the thirteen player to balk in his pitching debut since the turn of the millenium. The others:
The last season without a first-time pitcher balk was 2000. The other such years since 1954 were 1955, 1957, 1959, 1964, 1965, and 1994.

So far, Kris Medlen is the only one of sixty-one new pitchers in 2009 to balk. Who knows? Maybe tonight will feature the guy who makes it two of sixty-two.

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