Julio Teheran: Better Than You Think

Julio Teheran wasn’t great last year, especially from a fantasy standpoint. His 4.04 ERA and 1.31 WHIP were very different from the 3.03/1.12 he put together in 2013-14. He looked like an emerging star on the mound and was treated as such, going 20th among starting pitchers in 2015 drafts. He finished just 63rd on ESPN’s player rater and now has many running for the hills, but I’m not sure it’s all doom-and-gloom for the 25-year old righty.

First off, he stayed healthy and took his 33 turns in the rotation. Additionally, I think his struggles are overstated and primarily confined to a handful of hideous starts as opposed to sustained mediocrity (or worse). Bill James’ Game Score stat is hardly perfect, but it gives us a general idea of how a pitcher fared in a given start. You want at least a 50 score and anything below a 40 is awful.

Starts w/a Game Score of:
Season 50+ <=40
2013 20 3
2014 24 5
2015 21 8

He had as many 40 or worse Game Scores in 2015 as he did in 2013 and 2014 combined. Meanwhile, he was in line with his output of 50+ Game Scores. To put it another way, Teheran’s five starts of 6+ ER were tied for the third-most with a large group. It should come as no surprise then, that as he cut down the implosion outings, he looked more and more like himself. From July on, he posted a 3.23 ERA in 106 IP with just one of those 6+ ER outings on his ledger (an 8 ER demolition at the hands of the Yankees).

Teheran finished with a bang, notching six starts of 0-2 ER en route to a 1.62 ERA in 39 IP with 32 strikeouts. His 16 walks in those starts came in an on-off pattern of 4, 2, 4, 1, 4 and 1. He was able to avoid trouble with the free passes, but that is something to keep an eye on early in 2016.

His first-pitch strike rate dipped three percentage points to 57%, the 12th-biggest drop from 2014 among the 106 pitchers with 100+ IP in both seasons. Two of his three worst months were those final two when he was actually excelling otherwise: 50%, 59%, 60%, 62%, 56%, and 55%. On the positive side, he closed with his best fastball velocity, up at 92.9 MPH on average in September/October.

One particularly alarming split was his work against lefties. They popped a career-high .893 OPS against him. It was the second time in three seasons where lefties had a better than .800 OPS. In the two off seasons – 2013 and 2015 – nothing worked against lefties. OK, nothing is a little too much. The curve allowed just a .607 OPS in 73 PA, but the fastball and changeup allowed a combined .318/.388/.503 in 601 PA and even though the slider only allowed a .214 AVG in 124 PA, lefties also clubbed 11 home runs (9% HR rate) leading to a .349 ISO and .853 OPS.

The big difference during the successful season against lefties was that he kept the ball in the park, particularly with the secondary stuff. The slider, change, and curve allowed a .200/.212/.330 line in 189 PA with 27% K, 2% BB, and 3% HR rates. As you might expect, he got to use those pitches a lot more in 2014 than 2013 & 2015 with a 9% difference in four-seamer usage (44% to 53%). And wouldn’t you know it, that also ties back to the first-pitch strike issue mentioned earlier. The four-seamer drew a first-pitch strike 65% of the time in 2014 compared to just 57% in 2013 & 2015.

Watch Teheran against lefties early in the count. If he can get ahead with the fastball, he is going to be successful. If he falls behind, trouble usually ensues. I’m buying Teheran at the discounted rate this draft season, as his problem is very fixable and his 2013-14 upside remains in play. He may drop to a home-only streamer (especially against righty-heavy lineups) if the lefty problem isn’t improving a month, month & a half into the season, but it’s not like he was just unusably bad last year. He smashed righties (.583 OPS), was great home (2.89 ERA, 1.06 WHIP), and really righted the ship in the second half (3.42 ERA, 1.24 WHIP). It’s not a risk-free profile, but the risk is more than accounted for in his cost.

The fantasy community is usually tripping over itself to roster a 25-year old with a solid track record, though Teheran is just the 50th starter off the board right now. He’s going behind Steven Matz, Lance McCullers (though that’s heavily influenced by drafts before his injury), Carlos Rodon, Raisel Iglesias, and Luis Severino, all guys I like to a degree, but not ahead of a far more proven Teheran. I think it might be a case where too many are jumping off the bandwagon at the first sign of distress. Good, more for me!

For two dissenting opinions, you can listen to Eno’s thoughts on today’s podcast and check out the lengthy back-n-forth I had with Chris Liss on Twitter which he chronicled here. For two remarkably smart guys, it’s stunning just how wrong they are here. 🙂

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

newest oldest most voted

“He’s going behind Steven Matz, Lance McCullers (though that’s heavily influenced by drafts before his injury), Carlos Rodon, Raisel Iglesias, and Luis Severino, all guys I like to a degree, but not ahead of a far more proven Teheran.”

Seems like an understandable case of chasing upside later in the draft. Guys like Teheran with a high 3era and 20% k rate are simply more widely available that what those 5 are potentially capable of.