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2018 Atlanta Braves Player Review: Julio Teheran

If you want to get Braves fans all stirred up, one of the better ways to do it is to talk about the presence of Julio Teheran in the rotation, so I am sure that this will only bring the most rational of takes in the comments.

To say that Julio Teheran was coming off of a down year entering the 2018 season seems like a fair season. Teheran posted his highest ERA as a major leaguer (in a full season) as well as a career high walk rate and career low strikeout rate on his way to a 1.1 fWAR season in 2017. To put that number in perspective, only Matt Moore, Ricky Nolasco, John Lackey, and Jeremy Hellickson were worse among qualified starting pitchers that season. Oof.

The 2018 season was significantly different in a lot of ways for Teheran although the end result wasn’t exactly better. Julio posted a career best strikeout rate at 8.30 K/9 (yay) but also had by far his worst year as a pro in terms of walks (4.30 BB/9… eww; more than double what it is during “good Teheran” seasons, which is… double eww). His velocity has diminished significantly in recent seasons and his command has gotten worse as well. That combination is usually not ideal.

The end result was that, despite a fairly strong finish to the season (2.76 ERA in September with 28 strikeouts and 17 walks in 29 and a third innings), Julio Teheran was the second-worst qualified starter in all of baseball behind only Lucas Giolito in terms of fWAR at 0.7.

What one thinks about Teheran going forward depends on what you think is the more likely of two paths. Either you like the fact that Teheran had a legitimately good opposing batting average of .193 and also buy that Teheran can learn to command the zone more without getting lit up OR you see his diminished velocity and stuff as a trend downward and that he was exceedingly fortunate to get through the year with a job in the starting rotation. Teheran’s peripherals point to the latter (4.83 FIP, .217 BABIP against) and him not being in the postseason rotation could help us understand his current standing with the team.

Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? 3.94 ERA, 4.83 FIP, 0.7 fWAR in 31 starts (175.2 innings). In short, not good.

Will he be on the roster in 2018? This is the million dollar question at the moment. If Teheran was a league average starting pitcher right now, his contract ($11 million for next season with an option for 2020 for $12 million) would be perfectly reasonable and desirable to have. However, he has been one of the worst starters in baseball based on fWAR over the last couple of seasons which makes it less appealing to keep him and his money on the roster. It isn’t like other teams won’t notice that he hasn’t been good, but it’s possible the Braves could find a trade partner that would want to acquire him for minimal cost to take a chance on a guy that is just 27 and was better in the second half of 2018 (FIP 5.08 to 4.45, albeit with an xFIP in the 4.70s in both halves). With a slew of promising pitching prospects and the fact that the team could find some better use for those dollars, the Braves should thank him for his service and move him and it seems very possible that they will.

What will he do next year? The odds seem like they are slightly in favor of him starting for another team at this point. It is likely that wherever he is pitching, it will remain a tightrope act that scares fans of his team. While there’s a chance that Teheran goes back to the effective pitching he featured in 2016, that seems less likely at this point than continuing his relatively ineffective performance from the last two years. The average expectation could be for him to improve somewhat and at least pitch like a #4 starter, but even so, that’s a risky gamble for many teams to take with their innings.

Highlight of the 2018 season? Julio did throw seven scoreless innings with six strikeouts in a rout of the Mets on May 3rd and struck out 11 batters in six scoreless innings against the Padres on June 17th. The Padres start was his best outing by Game Score and xFIP of the year.

He also had a Julio Teheran-esque start early in the season against the Mets, where he threw seven scoreless innings with four hits and a walk against six strikeouts and seven fly outs. The Braves won that game 4-3 on a walkoff bunt by Ender Inciarte, but the cool thing in terms of Teheran was that he matched 2018’s best hurler, Jacob deGrom, pitch for pitch as they dueled to a 0-0 standstill after seven. The Mets would score three times as soon as Teheran left the game, but the Braves would stage a furious comeback over the next two innings to win.

Lowlight of the 2018 season? There are some options here including a pair of starts where he did not make it past the third inning. However, the biggest may be having a pair of starts against the lowly Marlins where he combined to throw 9.1 innings where he gave up 15 runs (13 earned). He also gave up seven earned runs in a start on June 23 against the Baltimore Orioles who won a grand total of 47 wins in 2018. He was absolutely blasted in his second start of the year by the Nationals, allowing more homers (three) than innings completed (two and a third).

Probably the most brutal Teheran start was on July 24 against the Marlins. It wasn’t just that Teheran allowed nine runs (two homers, two walks, three strikeouts, two of the runs were unearned) in the cavern of Marlins Park, but that the start was kind of a microcosm of his relationship to the team overall: the team kept giving him opportunities, and he kept doing bad things with them. He allowed a two-run homer in the first, and after the Braves battled back, on a homer of their own, allowed two more runs in the third. The Braves again came to within a run, and in the fifth, down by one, the Braves let him persist through:

  • Giving up a leadoff double to the opposing pitcher
  • Hitting a batter
  • Allowing him to face noted Teheran nemesis Justin Bour down by two runs with two more on base (he singled)
  • Allowing him to continue after the Braves had fallen down by three, which led to him giving up a three-run homer to Starlin Castro.

The Marlins did not score any runs in that game that didn’t come off Teheran.

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