Julio Teherán: Our New Niekro? (by Ububba)

Did you know there are only 14 players from Colombia in Major-League history?

Certainly, World Series hero Edgar Renteria (32.1 WAR) would be the most accomplished. But outside of him, only fellow infielder Orlando Cabrera (21.4) merits much mention. Both played for seven different clubs, and they enjoyed long, relatively lucrative careers, not to mention a few precious rings.

But, with a little luck, there’s a countryman who’ll eventually be able to claim the title as Colombia’s greatest pitcher because, with the exception of one season-long blip, Julio Teherán’s professional career has been one of remarkably steady ascension. Truth be told, he’s already there after two full seasons (7 WAR), but let’s hope he can join those two in the durability department.

The Numbers: His official bio says that he debuted in rookie league as a 17-year-old. By the time he turned 20, he’d already delivered a pair of superb minor-league seasons (2.59 & 2.55 ERA), earning the rank of #5 MLB prospect by Baseball America. The right-hander faced his first bit of adversity in 2012 with his second stint at AAA Gwinnett (5.08 ERA). Then, with a promotion to The Show, the light went back on. His first season in Atlanta, 2013, looked like this:

30 GS, 14-8, 3.20 ERA, 185.2 IP, 173 H, 22 HR, 170 K, 45 BB, 13 HBP, 117 ERA+, 3.49 FIP, 3.2 WAR

He finished 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting and contributed mightily to Braves first division title in eight years. Could he get better than that? He could & he did. His ’14 season was simply terrific:

33 GS, 14-13, 2.89 ERA, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 221 IP, 188 H, 186 K, 51 BB, 126 ERA+, 3.49 FIP, 4.0 WAR

How did this happen? He began to get lefties out with much more regularity.

2013 Splits:
RHB: .204/.264/.317 (.581 OPS)
LHB: .289/.340/.483 (.823 OPS)

2014 Splits:
RHB: .223/.265/.322 (.587 OPS)
LHB: .239/.292/.395 (.687 OPS)

The Adjustment: So how did he shave 136 OPS points vs. left-handed hitters? He successfully altered his repertoire.

According to brooksbaseball.net, Teherán’s overall pitch repertoire (6,625 career pitches) has mainly been a 92-mph 4-seamer and 90-mph sinker with a 2-seam grip. He’s also mixed in an 82-mph slider, 74-mph curve and an 82-mph change.

But facing LHHs in 2014, he relied less on the 4-seamer (32% in ’14, compared to 44% in ‘13) and more on the sinker (29% from 21% in ’13). Additionally, he went slightly less with the curve (12% from 14% in ‘13), slightly more on the slider (14% from 12%). He also threw them more change-ups (13% from 9%).

In ’13, LHHs touched him up with power (slugging .483), but in ’14, they slugged a more manageable .395. “Hitting,” the franchise’s winningest hurler once said, “is timing; pitching is upsetting it.” Seems like Teherán got the memo.

As you can see from the splits, Teherán’s ability to dominate right-handed hitters (.214/.263/.321) hasn’t changed throughout his young career (.586 OPS). The slash lines were consistent in 2013 and 2014. And, not surprisingly, his approach has remained essentially the same the past two seasons: the 4-seamer (47%) and the sinker (26%) do most of the business — the former getting most of the whiffs — while he works in the slider (13%) and curve (9%). The change (3%) is barely there. So, if it ain’t broke…

What most Braves fans certainly notice about Teherán is his Pedro-like fearlessness. (Bryce Harper damn-sure noticed.) And it’s hard not to like a pitcher who’s as unafraid to throw strikes as he is to reclaim the inside of the plate. If you watch a game with Teherán on the mound, you’ll see a talented pitcher working a healthy repertoire and exhibiting genuine competitive fire. In my book, he’s a great guy to root for.

Extra Spice: It also doesn’t hurt that, as an NL hurler, he can handle the bat a bit. For his young career, he’s hitting .155, decent for a pitcher, with 14 sac bunts. (In 2013, he hit .224, but fell off to .105 last season.)

Next Up: Can he top or equal 2014? Tough to do, really. Not surprisingly, the projections from various outlets are calling for a regression. Whatever. Considering the rest of this generally uninspiring roster, I’m just glad he’s still pitching for my club. Let’s hope his arm stays intact.

Contract Status: As most Braves fans know, Teherán is signed for the long-term — a very good pitcher signed to a very, very good deal. Year-by-year, it breaks down thusly:

$1 M for ’15; $3.3 M for ’16; $6.3 M for ’17; $8 M for ’18; $11 M for ’19; $13 M for ’20 ($12M club option, $1M buyout)

Immediate Future: So as we enter our potential wilderness years — y’know, the two seasons we’ll probably be bad & see fewer fans at The Ted — it’s not hard to look at Julio Teherán and be reminded of Phil Niekro a little bit. Back in the Disco Era, when the Braves didn’t match up well against too many teams not named the Padres or the Mets, Knucksie was the one guy you didn’t mind sending to the mound against anybody. Carlton? Sutton? Fine, bring it. You had a chance, and you tuned in.

Now, don’t call me a glass-half-empty guy. I’m not saying that the Braves expect to be hopeless for eight seasons, like 1972-79 when Atlanta fielded exactly one winning club. No, rather, it seems that the plan is that we’ll not suck any longer than it takes to scurry off to the suburbs. Luckily, Julio Teherán should be one of the players worth watching.

80 thoughts on “Julio Teherán: Our New Niekro? (by Ububba)”

  1. Teheran seems like one of those guys that you hate when he’s not on your team, and love to death when he is.

  2. The biggest difference between Phil and Julio is that Phil WAS the pitching staff. At least Teheran has Woods and hopefully Miller, Minor and Folty. Dude, I really enjoy reading your stuff.

  3. Thanks.

    Phil Niekro actually had a few second bananas during the ’70s, guys like Carl Morton, Buzz Capra & Dick Ruthven. But (for a variety of reasons) their contributions in Atlanta were brief.

  4. Watching that Bryce Harper video made me a little sad as you see so many good players that have since left the Braves (McCann, Heyward, etc.). So then, of course, I watched the Carlos Gomez video, and I realize that our catcher was Brian McCann and our catcher is now Christian Bethancourt. Then I watched Jose Fernandez’s homer, and Gattis was the left fielder. But then I see Chris Johnson and realize that Chris Johnson is the player we’ve retained from that group.

    Sigh.

  5. Ububba, superb job. This was a piece worthy of Teheran’s excellence. Hard to believe he’s only making 1 million dollars this year. Seems crazy to believe there was ever a debate over which pitcher was more worth holding on to–Teheran or Randall Delgado.

  6. Alex, I didn’t know you were reporting for MLB.com. Congratulations!

    One day, Alex is going to be the Brian Williams of baseball reporting. I’m going to tell people I taught you everything you know. I would know; I was there.

  7. *Mumbles something about Teheran outpitching his peripherals…a flyball pitcher who no longer has Heyward out there to help him…plenty of room on the Alex Wood bandwagon…*

  8. We should have better left field defense, and if Melly Belly struggles again in center, we may be forced to use Eury Perez in center, which should make another improvement.

  9. Will we be last in the league in home runs? It appears inevitable at this point.

    However, one interesting question: Heyward had 11 HR last year. Who will have more home runs this year, Markakis or Heyward?

  10. #14
    Excited about Alex Wood as anybody, but would like to see him throw 200+ effective innings before putting him on Teheran’s level.

  11. Agreed — Alex Wood is a hell of a pitcher, but it’ll be interesting to see what he can do under a 35-start workload. Of course, the same’s true of Minor and Miller, after their injury-plagued 2014 seasons.

    Losing Heyward is going to hurt every pitcher on the staff, but fly balls turn into outs more than just about any other batted ball type. (Unless you break out IFFB, of course.) Being a fly ball pitcher is a pretty good way to be, so long as you keep them from turning into taters.

  12. @16 Heyward is going to have more home runs than Markakis in 2015. At least 10 more home runs*. I’ll bet you a fantasy baseball draft pick on it.

    *Bet is null in void if either player plays in fewer than 135 games.

  13. @10 You may just be the guy on the internet, but your analysis was certainly the more sophisticated and insightful of the two.

  14. I haven’t read any stories about Markakis crying about not being able to hit home runs out of the leadoff spot.

    What will JHey’s excuse be this year when he only hits 12? That guy needs to put up or shut up.

  15. To be fair, doctors have told Markakis that he needs to be careful not to cry, for fear of reinjuring his neck/back.

    But yeah, Heyward didn’t have any issues hitting for power on the lead off spot before Niese rearranged his face. And I expect them to be comparable hitters this year.

  16. Sounds like we’ve got a bet going! We shall revisit this in October when the numbers are in.

    Am I the only one on my side of the fence?

  17. @23 – The truth.

    @10 – Just another guy on the internet that runs the best baseball blog on the internet.

  18. @25 Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if JHey hit anywhere between 12 – 25 HRs in 2015, with the most likely outcome (IMO) in the high teens. Whatever voodoo the Cardinals will do to fix Heyward’s power stroke will also be offset by the fact that Busch Stadium is a more difficult place for lefties to hit HRs than Turner Field.

    Markakis, on the other hand, has been consistently in the 10 – 15 HR range per season for a while now, even while accumulating 700+ ABs a season in a home park which boosts left-handed HRs substantially (only NYY and COL are better places for lefty HRs). That points to Markakis (or “Cake”, I think I’ll call him Cake) more likely landing closer to 10 HRs than 15. Frankly, Cake is more of a doubles hitter than a HR hitter anyway; if he can rebound to a .140+ ISO I’ll be happy.

    Having said that here’s my wild guess, Edward: I’ll say JHey bests Cake by 6 HRs.

    Extra Credit: Hit Tracker Online stats for both JHey and Cake.

  19. @23, for sure Smitty. I don’t remember Ricky Henderson complaining that all those leadoff ABs prevented him from hitting HRs. Or any other player. Even Craig Biggio, with a fraction of the natural power as Heyward, hit for plenty of HRs from the leadoff spot. Countless examples should prove that it’s not about your spot in the batting order. It’s a matter of your talent/ability to hit for power and your approach or both. He demonstrated the ability to hit for power before and he certainly has the natural size/strength to still do it so either injuries (or some other non injury related mechanical issue) have sapped Heyward’s power or his plate approach is poor. Or some combo of these. He’s a wonderful player overall but not worth what he seemed to be wanting from us. If he regains that power this year he will get the huge payday he’s seeking but hadn’t shown he was worth as a Brave.

  20. I love Julio. But fielding-independent metrics see him as about a league-average pitcher on a rate basis, maybe just a touch better. So I hope they’re wrong, but for now, he seems like the ace of staff by dint of durability and by default.

  21. @32 – ‘He’s a wonderful player overall but not worth what he seemed to be wanting from us.’
    UH OH. Now you’ve done it. Trigger furious responses from Adam R. Edward etc. (sigh) again.

    @27 – ‘Cake’ I like it. Yeah, I forgot that Cameron likes lefties. Still not going where Edward is.

  22. Smitty, what’s up with the smear campaign on Heyward’s character? Do you know something that I don’t or are you just trying to get a rise out of someone?

  23. BTW, from Vegas, the over/unders on MLB win totals for 2015:

    Arizona 72
    Atlanta 73.5
    Baltimore 81.5
    Boston 86
    Cubs 82.5
    White Sox 81.5
    Cincinnati 78
    Cleveland 84.5
    Colorado 71.5
    Detroit 84.5
    Houston 75.5
    Kansas City 79.5
    Angels 89.5
    Dodgers 92.5
    Miami 81.5
    Milwaukee 78.5
    Minnesota 71.5
    New York Mets 81.5
    New York Yankees 81.5
    Oakland 80.5
    Philadelphia 68.5
    Pittsburgh 83.5
    San Diego 85.5
    San Francisco 84.5
    Seattle 87.5
    St. Louis 88.5
    Tampa Bay 79.5
    Texas 78.5
    Toronto 82.5
    Washington 93

  24. I like Cake also. Good call.

    I wish Jason were still a Brave, and I wish him well; but given years of control and salary, I’d much rather have what we got in return for him.

  25. @36: Yeah. Of course, most guys who “pull a Glavine” for a season or two end up allowing a higher ERA afterward. So we’ll see which way Julio goes.

  26. @38 Hmmm… I think I’d take the over on Boston (86), Oakland (80.5), San Fran (84.5) and Tampa (79.5), and the under on ChiSox (81.5) and San Diego (85.5). Honestly, I might take the over on the Nats (93) too, considering how good they look relative to the rest of the NL East.

  27. a pre-season over/under of 93 wins is insanely high. There are just too many things that can go wrong, but it’s not hard to envision them winning 100 games if things go right.

  28. @45 Wow, it realllllly feels like you are trying to put racist words into somebody else’s mouth because you don’t like their (perfectly justifiable) opinion.

  29. He’s a Cardinal, so regardless of my feelings about the ownership and the front office, I’ll be rooting against him.

  30. @36 So get ready for a bunch of articles about how he doesn’t deserve to go into the Hall?

    Because Glavine got lucky for 20 consecutive years, I guess.

  31. I get FIP get be a great help in year-to-year predictions. Just saw an in to get back to my gripe with the “Glavine wasn’t great” talk.

  32. @46

    I was trying to play the totally-disconnected-from-the-facts-at-hand angle more than the racist one–it was a reference to that absurd article some Washington writer cooked up a few years ago. As soon as someone justifies calling him a whiner I’ll agree that it’s justifiable.

    Doubting his power potential is justifiable; discounting his defense is justifiable; wondering whether he’s afraid of the inside pitch is justifiable–but when exactly has he whined?

  33. The recent stuff about how batting lead off seems like whining. As in ‘I would have hit more home runs but my team made me bat lead off.’

  34. Right, but as I said in the last thread–I’m not sure where he said that. The reporter wrote a lot of obnoxious stuff around his quote, but he just said he felt like he was holding something back. It sounded to me like he was talking about his own mental approach and how he’d like to change it, not what the Braves were doing with him.

    I suppose the he-said-she-said extension talk a couple months ago comes a little close to whining? That’s not how I see it, but I can see that perspective

  35. I don’t know if “anti-Heyward” commenters are trying to pick a fight with “pro-Heyward” commenters or just trying to make us all beyond tired of talking about him…at this point, if what we’re going to do is infer things about his attitude from media coverage, I am firmly in the latter category. Please, baseball, give us something else to discuss.

  36. Ben Badler (who always has a reliable finger on the international pulse) says the Braves have been one of the most aggressive teams on Hector Olivera, and it wouldn’t surprise him if Olivera ends up in Atlanta. That could be fun.

  37. Apparently Andrelton Simmons has a strained oblique and won’t throw for the next few days because of it. It’s the first day of full squad workouts…how he is already hurt?

  38. Can we not automatically assume that criticizing an athlete’s character/behavior is racist? It’s just so, so insipidly boring, and it smacks of Jason Whitlock’s shallow and emotional commentary on “social issues” in sports.

  39. @62

    It’s established that we have money to spend, and the only remaining acquisition options are international players. You would think they’re going to bring someone in from the international market.

    Is he waiting to get cleared to sign with a team, or is he deciding?

  40. Would Olivera go straight to MLB or would he need time in the minors? Isnt he like 28 or 29? I guess we would want him at 3B and Peraza at 2B?

  41. Without seeing the specifics of the other offers, it is very clear that the Braves’ offer is the best offer because that’s the team that I cheer for. Duh.

    Very sad about Hamilton. His suspension is because of cocaine. Guy can’t get right; really feel for him. It’s almost ironic that he could have been Mickey Mantle, who could have been better himself if not for substance issues.

  42. Does he need to get cleared? I don’t know what the rules are anymore.

    Edit: Little late on that question. Must remember to refresh.

  43. Staying sober is a constant struggle. Hamilton’s had a lot of successes in staying clean, and I sincerely hope that he can get healthy again.

    I really hope that we sign Olivera, too. He would literally be our first major international free agent since Kawakami, and it’d be a really good sign for the future.

  44. Jason Heyward is a great young player and my favorite Cardinal. If he reaches his potential, good for him. Until then, I am ready to heed Ring Lardner.

  45. Coop you are not allowed to refer to a quote by the great Ring Lardner without telling me what it is!

    (I love everything I’ve read by him.)

  46. Jason Heyward is no longer with Atlanta. If we resign him next offseason, I’ll start rooting for him again.

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