Julio Teheran followed up his breakout 2013 season with a 2014 campaign that was in many ways superior, increasing his WAR from 2.5 to 3.2 and finishing 14th among starting pitchers, according to Zach Sanders’ end of the season rankings.
I could recite a list of statistics here to emphasize this point, or, for expediency’s sake, present a chart that neatly compares the two seasons head to head:
It’s hard to find fault with that kind of output, especially given that Teheran was listed 34th in Zach’s preseason rankings, and for the former can’t–miss prospect, 2014 seemed a perfect second step on his path toward fantasy excellence.
But the question in this piece isn’t whether Teheran is good. He is. The real question is whether he’s on the cusp of growing into a front-line fantasy hurler at the age of 24, which is much less certain.
To begin, we’ll start with the good things about Teheran’s 2014 season, of which there were many. His quality start percentage improved from 60% to 76%. He never posted an ERA above 4 in any month. His walk rate, already exceptional, stayed flat between the two seasons despite throwing 221 innings this year, a 19% increase from 2013.
And he learned to tame left-handed hitters, who had smacked him around with an .823 OPS in 2013 only to be limited to a much more reasonable .687 OPS this year, attacking them with more sinkers and changeups, and better locating his pitches:
But Teheran’s 2014 season — and, more specifically, its implications for 2015 — wasn’t perfect. The chasm that had already existed between his FIP, xFIP and SIERA was widened even further, and although Teheran once again danced with a high strand rate (nearly 76%), a regression would calibrate his ERA more in line with the mid-3 levels suggested by his peripherals. This is especially concerning for a home run-prone pitcher like Teheran, who surrendered 22 long balls for the second year in a row.
The strikeout rate also fell slightly, though it was accompanied by a more disturbing decline in velocity. Teheran lost a full mile off his four-seam and two-seam fastballs, and it wasn’t a matter of him running out of gas down the stretch, as the diminished velocity was noticeable almost immediately. I don’t know what caused the drop — pitcher’s heaters do slow down as they get older, but Teheran is still practically a pup — and maybe it was part of a plan to attack hitters more often or stretch him out more.
If so, however, the results, aside from the increased workload, weren’t evident; Teheran’s averages on pitches per plate appearance and pitches per game essentially were unchanged. Meanwhile, he threw strikes slightly less frequently than he did the year before, and the excellent 65.4 F-Strike% that helped fuel 2013’s low walk rate fell to 60.3% this year, suggesting that a rise in his free passes could be in order.
Then there’s the run support, which has nothing to do with Teheran’s influence but, of course, chains itself to the right-hander’s fantasy fortunes when it comes to grabbing wins. Teheran saw his run support per game drop from 4.2 to 3.2, and now that the Braves have replaced Jason Heyward with an aging Nick Markakis — and could very well field a 2015 lineup in which B.J. Upton, Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons receive everyday at-bats — it’s hard to see improvement for a team that finished next-to-last in runs scored this year.
Teheran’s supporting cast impacts him in other ways. Defensively, the loss of Heyward in right field essentially was offset by the signing of Markakis, who, like Heyward, snagged a Gold Glove in 2014. But as the Braves continue to tear up their team, trade rumors swirl around Justin Upton, and were he to be moved (or were B.J. to be benched), Evan Gattis conceivably could be shifted to left field to make way for Christian Bethancourt behind the plate. Considering that Teheran is a heavy fly ball pitcher — his 43.8 FB% this year was the highest among qualified National League starters — having the stone-footed Gattis anywhere near the outfield would not be helpful.
Just to be clear, none of this is to malign Teheran or to diminish what was a very good 2014 season, but rather to take a hard look at a guy whose successful major league career thus far, coupled with his once limitless expectations as a prospect, could very well make him one of the more attractive (read: expensive) starting pitchers on draft day. As a mid-rotation fantasy arm, Teheran has demonstrated an ability to contribute across the board, and his youth hints at the possibility that even better results are yet to come. But fantasy owners hoping that he replicates his ace-like production of 2014 likely will be disappointed.
Karl, a journalist living in Washington, D.C., learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he has contributed to the 2014 and 2015 editions of The Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.