Atlanta Braves pitcher Julio Teheran finally lived up to his promise last season. The 22-year-old had been knocking at the door for two years, but couldn’t seem to fall into a full-time role. When he finally got his chance, Teheran didn’t disappoint. In his first season as a starter, Teheran tossed 185.2 innings with a 3.20 ERA, and a 3.69 FIP. There were some big questions about Teheran’s ability to pitch in the majors, particularly after 2012 saw him post a +5.00 ERA in Triple-A. One of those issues was still present last season, and is really the only reason to be concerned about Teheran moving forward.
Teheran’s fly ball-heavy approach tends to lead to a fair share of home runs. This has become more of a recent issue. Teheran gave up four home runs in under 20 innings in the majors in 2011, and those issues continued in Triple-A in 2012. In 131 innings, he posted a 1.24 HR/9 rate. A fair chunk of that can be based on a mechanical change which caused Teheran to lose velocity. He fixed the issue in 2013, but at 1.07 HR/9 the home run rate was still higher than normal.
That high home run rate, and the 37.8% ground ball rate, isn’t something that should sink Teheran’s value. First, his 3.76 xFIP adjusts for some of those issues. If Teheran put up a 3.76 ERA next season, that would still be considered a successful year. Still, it is something to be concerned about moving forward. Some of the pitchers who put up a similar ground ball rate at the same age had to adjust their styles to remain successful at the major-league level. Oliver Perez was done in by both poor command and home runs following his breakout 2004. Both Jake Peavy and Johnny Cueto needed to improve their rates slightly in order to take a step forward. Clayton Kershaw and CC Sabathia were good even with poor groundball rates, but still managed to cut down on their fly balls. The only pitcher who has been able to succeed despite a consistently high fly ball rate has been Matt Cain. After seven seasons of lower than expected home run rates, those issues came back to bite him last season.
It should be pointed out that, aside from Perez, none of these pitchers experienced major decline due to having a high fly ball rate. Many experienced a slight increase in their ground ball rate, and were either about the same the next season, or took a big step forward. In that sense, Teheran’s big issue doesn’t seem like a big deal.
It would help if Teheran developed another pitch to stave off lefties. Lefties posted a .355 wOBA against Teheran, mainly due to the fact that his slider was less effective against them. Opposing lefties only hit .163 against his slider, but the pitch also had a .571 slugging percentage. When he missed against left-handers, the pitch was crushed. Further development of either his curveball or change-up would likely allow him to take a step forward.
Overall, though, there’s a lot to like here. Teheran has some concerns, but so does nearly every other 22-year-old pitcher. His major issues aren’t all that serious, and can be corrected as he gains more experience. He seems like a safe bet to repeat his numbers in 2014.