The title of the article is an allusion to Schott’s Miscellany, which you should definitely check out if you never have and feel compelled to know that a group of larks is called an exaltation or that a member of the 32nd degree of Freemasonry is known as a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret.
–Julio Teheran May Have Found It Again–
Julio Teheran was not quite a star after the first two full seasons of his career in 2013 and 2014, but he was not far off. His 3.03 ERA was 15th best among qualified starters, just between Max Scherzer and Cole Hamels. His moderate 7.9 strikeouts per nine likely held him back from the top tier of pitchers, but his 2.1 walks per nine put him in the same category of effective yet underrated starters that Hisashi Iwakuma and Jose Quintana populate.
Meanwhile, Teheran was just 24 years old entering the 2015 season and coming off of consecutive 30-start seasons. While so many of the promising young Braves starters such as Tommy Hanson, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor had their ascents abruptly halted by injuries in recent seasons, Teheran seemed to have established himself as the staff anchor.
Health has not been a problem for Teheran this season—at least not publicly—but his performance has declined dramatically. His ERA jump from 2.89 in 2013 to 4.44 this season likely overstates the change—Teheran outperformed his FIP and xFIP in both 2013 and 2014 and has underperformed it this season—but even his more muted FIP increase represents a decline from above-average starter to below-average.
Teheran’s biggest problem this year has been his control. His 3.3 walks per nine is more than a batter more per nine than either of the last two seasons. That issue has been exacerbated by Teheran’s declining strand rate—which has fallen from 81 percent in 2013 to 76 percent in 2014 and now 69 percent this season—and increasing home run per flyball rate—which was 10.1 percent and 8.1 percent in 2013 and 2014 and is now 12.7 percent in 2015. Teheran’s strand rate and home run per flyball rate are both above league average in addition to being well above his own career standard, so one can generally expect his overall numbers to improve as he continues to pitch. However, Teheran seems to have made more specific improvements over his last three starts that could signal a turnaround.
Teheran walked three or more batters in each of his five starts in July despite twice failing to reach the fifth inning. Since the calendar turned to August, he has issued just three walks total in his three starts. Murphy Powell of Beyond the Box Score recognized Teheran’s abandonment of the top of the strike zone back in late June which mirrored his worsening walk rate. Check out Teheran’s pitch heat map from 2013-2014, when he used the entire zone.
Now compare that heat map to one of Teheran in 2015 through the end of July.
Teheran showed a decline in his percentage of pitches thrown almost everywhere in the strike zone, but he was especially down in the upper third of the zone. As he has shown improved results in his three starts so far in August, his pitch distribution has reverted back to closer to what it was prior to 2015 (note that the heat map here does not incorporate his start from last night).
Three starts do not show enough to conclude that Teheran’s difficulties are behind him, but his age and track record of success make him likely to break out of his funk sooner or later. Meanwhile, there may never be a better time to acquire Teheran in dynasty and keeper formats than now, when he is showing signs of reverting to his old form but his year-to-date statistics still suffer from the damage he did over the first two thirds of the season. If he can close out the year similar to how he’s pitched so far in August, I expect Teheran to enter the 2016 season as a top-30 starter and still likely a value because of his track record of health and underappreciated, command-driven approach.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt