We are far enough into the baseball season to safely assume Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran must have expected a better one. He is not alone in that disappointment. Many Atlanta Braves fans were clamoring for a trade of the pitcher who once was considered a “future ace,” and the front office was even rumored to entertain the idea of selling low at the trade deadline (though I doubt they were actually willing to sell low).
Change for the Better?
But lately Teheran is proving many wrote him off prematurely. Really, it hasn’t been “lately” as much as it’s been a full two months of quality innings (8 Quality Starts in his 10 starts since July 3). But his performance improvements were somewhat suppressed in the minds of fans because of the overpowering nature of the first half stats. Through June, it wasn’t pretty, especially in light of fan expectations he was the “emerging ace,” ready to lead the Atlanta Braves staff into a new future. By mid-season, expectations had changed drastically, with some even wondering if he is the next Atlanta Braves pitcher to “fall from grace,” comparing him to Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens.
Admittedly, the stats were cause for concern:
But since his first start in July, he has looked much, much better:
Since the beginning of July, Teheran has only started four games on the road, but three of them have been quality starts (five earned runs over four innings in Baltimore is included in that much improved stat line).
Who is the Real Julio Teheran?
So my question: Who is the real Julio Teheran? Is he an ace waiting to break out? Is he the unreliable Jekyll and Hyde who put up subpar numbers through the first 95 innings, with most of the atrocity occurring on the road, and his recent success is part of his inconsistency? Or is he a good-not-great pitcher as his recent 63 innings indicate?
I don’t plan to go into endless detail, but I do want to consider three quick points in hopes it will help you gain at least a solid glimpse of who the “real” Julio Teheran might be:
Point 1: We need to lower expectations for Teheran from “future ace” to “really good pitcher.”
I am not banking on him being an ace. I am still keeping hope alive that it could happen, but there are a few too many flaws in the game. Ignoring the flukey season so far in 2015, and focusing on his first two full seasons in 2013-14, Teheran gives up a few too many home runs (.97 per 9 innings compared to 0.91 per 9 innings for MLB) as an extreme fly ball pitcher (40.7% FB rate compared to 34.4% for MLB), has a league-average strikeout rate (7.88 K/9 for Teheran compared to 7.65 K/9 for MLB), and has always struggled noticeably more on the road (3.55 ERA, 3.92 FIP) compared to his home park (2.55 ERA, 3.29 FIP). But while his numbers don’t scream “ace,” they are not bad numbers. His first two full seasons in the majors were actually very good. If we can adjust our expectations to get past the thought of, “He’s supposed to be our ace” and start thinking of him as a very good non-ace pitcher, we can better enjoy the quality of his performances.
Among qualified pitchers in 2013-14:
Point 2: For the price, Julio Teheran doesn’t have to be an ace.
When you consider the production the Atlanta Braves are getting for the cost, he doesn’t have to be an ace to earn his keep. Even pitching like a back-of-the-rotation starter for the first half of this season, he is earning his paycheck. Remember that Fangraphs currently estimates the value of 1 Win Above Replacement at $7.9 million.
Even if you don’t buy into Fangraphs cost valuations, the value of a mid-level pitcher can be highlighted in specific examples. For instance, compare him to Ervin Santana, a guy Atlanta Braves fans should be familiar with. Santana had a similar profile in 2013-14 (3.58 ERA, 3.67 FIP), and he signed a guaranteed 4 year contract for $13.5 million a year (with two option years). So even if Julio Teheran only winds up being a solid, middle-of-the-rotation “innings eater,” he still has really good value for the contract.
I personally think fWAR slightly undervalues him because it relies heavily on FIP, and FIP relies heavily on his Home Runs Allowed, which is one of his primary weaknesses (especially on the road). The recent game at home against Colorado is a good anecdote for Teheran when it comes to home runs. He gave up two solo home runs, which isn’t good, but they were the only runs of the game. In total, he only allowed four hits and a walk through 7.1 innings. However, his FIP for the game was 5.71. It was a really solid performance that Fielding Independent Pitching didn’t like at all because its limited scope really magnifies the two home runs beyond their actual importance in context of the game.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like the home runs, and he should be dinged for them, but in my opinion, FIP dings him a little too much. (And for full disclosure, I don’t love FIP as much as other statistically minded folks. I tend to think the truth lies somewhere between ERA and FIP.)
Point 3: At his age, Teheran still can grow into an ace.
Maybe this is wishful thinking, and I’ve cited a few chinks in the armor of Teheran that might make this unlikely, but there is time for him to develop into a top of the rotation pitcher, even if it isn’t a true “ace.”
I think a lot of people overlook how young Julio Teheran is. His first full season, he threw 185.2 high quality innings as a 22-year-old. He was the second youngest qualified pitcher in baseball that year (Jose Fernandez was the youngest). In 2014, he threw 221 innings and was not a totally undeserving all-star. He was again the second youngest qualified pitcher in baseball (Yordano Ventura was the youngest). This year, he is in his third full season, and is still the fourth youngest qualified starting pitcher in baseball.
Teheran still has time to pull it all together.
The Real Teheran
In the end, my personal position is that he is a really good pitcher who will likely never be an ace, but I can’t completely dismiss the possibility because he is a young pitcher who can still take a step forward.
If you do dismiss Teheran based on the first half stats this season, and see the second half as the smaller sample, I ask that you be careful about getting too zoomed in. Step back and look at the bigger body of work:
Which half of 2015 is more in line with his overall performance? It is pretty obvious the second half is more in line with his larger sample size and the first half looks like the outlier. Don’t take 43.2 road innings in which he gave up 40 runs and put too much stock in it. Should it raise a concern flag? Sure, maybe there was something mechanical, maybe there could be some indication of injury, but that doesn’t mean Teheran has lost it, especially when he is putting up stellar numbers at home while struggling on the road. There was something weird happening to Teheran on the road in the first half – I am not writing this to try to explain it, and it could have just been bad luck.
My point today is that we should have more faith that the last two months are a better representation of who the real Teheran is – a really good pitcher with room to grow, but who might still be experiencing some growing pains.