This season was rough for Julio Teheran after he scorched the minors in his first four seasons. Relying on a mid-90s fastball Teheran punished the lower leagues before making the jump to Triple-A in 2011 and earning the International League’s MVP award. But, after posting a 5.08 ERA in 2012 the question on fantasy owners’ minds is whether he’ll regain his past form. To try to answer this question I watched 5 games from the past year starting with his blow up start in Buffalo on May 17.
But, before discussing that disaster, let’s recap where Teheran was at the end of 2011. I re-watched his start on July 26 against the Durham Bulls to refresh my memory and compare his recent struggles to his past glory. The first thing that stood out about this start was Teheran’s velocity. On that day Teheran was sitting 93-95 MPH and touching higher against the Bulls. His curveball, while erratic, was an extremely sharp breaking ball. It’s almost 12-6 breaking ball with huge drop but it does break inward ever so slightly as it reaches the plate. His feel for his change-up was less developed than it had been it previous starts that season but he was able to keep the pitch down in the zone (and out of the zone) when he missed with the 81 – 86 MPH offering. It’s easy to dominate when one’s working with two plus pitches and a solid third offering.
On May 17, if sitting just above number 27 had not been the letters “T-E-H-E-R-A-N” I would have thought I was watching a different pitcher. The most notable difference between these two starts was the right hander’s tempo. Teheran has a demonstrative windup. He methodically turns, steps behind the rubber with left foot, gathers himself over his sturdy right leg and explodes towards the plate. Except on this day there was no explosion As Teheran’s tempo slowed his velocity followed. On the night Teheran sat been 88 and 90 MPH while touching as high as 93. Without the ability to throw his other pitches for strikes, hitters sat on the slower poorly located offering.
The most jarring change however was a mechanical tweak. I wish I could have created a .gif for you all but during his windup he suddenly thrusted his arm downward just before he was going to bring his arm through the end of his arm circle. Now, I understand that isn’t a great articulation, hence the desire for a gif, but look at Ubaldo Jiminez and Matt Latos if you’re having trouble following along. Furthermore, unlike the these two right handers, Tehran was pushing the ball outside of his right hip and showing the ball to hitters for the duration of wind-up. With decreased velocity, no deception and horrible control Teheran was crushed for 4 runs on 7 hits in 2.2 innings that day. Oh, and he walked 5.
His next start on August 14 was more promising. In the windup his tempo was back up and his velocity looked to be consistently a tick faster. Late into the game the announcer noted Teheran had touched 94 MPH something he had not done against the Buffalo. His command was sharp that night, especially with his fastball and curveball. The extenuated arm thrust was less pronounced. The ball was brought behind his right hip and below his belt allowing his arm circle to be more efficient than it was in the May outing. During that start I was startled when I thought I saw a slider. Teheran had almost exclusively thrown the his curveball which is a far more vertically breaking pitch in all the starts I’ve ever seen of him. I shook it off and assumed Teheran erred in his execution. Slider aside, Teheran looked like very much like the 2011 version of himself that night. He went 8 innings, striking out 9 and walking just 1.
In his next start of the season on the 19 Teheran’s tempo was once again slow and the arm thrust was almost entirely gone. His velocity wasn’t as bad as it was against Buffalo according to Durham’s stadium gun as the still 21-year-old right hander sat 92-93 MPH. At the start of the second inning the existence of his slider was confirmed. It was at the same speed as his curveball, 75 MPH, but moved primarily horizontal rather than vertical. I counted five sliders before I took to brooksbaseball.net to see if there was a difference between his 2012 curveballs from his two inning October 3 appearance and his prior major league starts. Brooksbaseball, a fantastic resource, agreed with my eyes. Teheran was throwing a breaking ball with less vertical drop.
I’ve rambled about four different starters over the last year and a brief two inning stint against the Pirates. But what does it all mean? Honestly, it’s hard to say. Are the Braves slowing Teheran down or is he doing it himself? Did they scrap the curveball, a plus pitch, for a slider or did he? Are they tweaking mechanics or are the changes a product of inconsistency?
As good as he was in 2011, Teheran still needed to make adjustments. He couldn’t succeed without controlling a second pitch and probably wouldn’t without a third. While the decreased velocity and scrapping of his curveball are worrisome, I believe he can regain his past glory by returning to a high tempo delivery and using his change-up more. Often he would scrap the pitch after throwing a few poor ones.
As for fantasy baseball advice, for keeper and dynasty league players I suggest holding onto him or trading for him if you league is deep enough that you can retain a top 30 to 40 pitching prospect. Remember, he is just 21 and in AAA. At the very least his proximity to the major leagues could provide more value to you in 2013 than pitchers below High-A. In 2013 drafts I would stay away from Teheran entirely. He is not worth a roster spot from April through early June.