Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Teheran Answers Ace Question

This offseason, one of the common questions asked by Braves fans was something like this: “The Braves have a lot of young, talented depth in their rotation, but don’t they need to find a veteran ace to match up in the playoffs?”  While as a fan of other teams that have not exactly been successful lately, I can appreciate putting the cart before the horse, many Braves fans simply saw the rotation as not being able to match up with a Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, or Adam Wainwright in the playoffs.  Now, we’re nearly a month into the season…how is that question being answered?


The Waters Part

No Braves fan enjoyed what has become known as “Tommy John Disney Week” online this spring when both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy were lost for 2014.  Then we saw Mike Minor lost to shoulder issues.  However, it may have allowed Julio Teheran to step forward in a way he may not have otherwise.  Coming into the spring, most pundits would have put the rotation in some order of Medlen and Minor at 1-2 with Teheran 3rd and guys like Gavin Floyd, Alex Wood, David Hale, and Brandon Beachy competing for the 4-5 spots in the rotation.  One of the arguments at the time made by many writers and fans was that while the Braves may not have an ace, they have possibly the best 4-5 in any rotation, which can be very valuable in the playoffs.  When Medlen, Beachy, and Minor were ruled out for the first month (or more), the Braves jumped forward to grab Ervin Santana if for no other reason than to eat up innings lost by the loss of those three veteran arms.  Julio Teheran instead has become that ace that everyone thought would need to be traded for, but perhaps we missed this already being there.

Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports


Everyone Finally Noticed

Teheran may have the best Braves pitching pedigree in recent memory.  He was signed by the Braves from Columbia in 2007 for $850,000, so he was highly regarded from day one.  He quickly ascended up the prospect ranks, climbing a consensus top 5 prospect in both 2011 and 2012.  After a tough 2012 season, he dropped some, but he was still a very highly regarded prospect.  Those struggles in 2012 led a lot of people to question whether he was even worth keeping as the trade deadline came and passed in 2012 with the Braves in the hunt for a playoff spot and in need of a starter, eventually trading prospect Arodys Vizcaino for Paul Maholm with Teheran’s name in the rumor mill for a lot of the summer.   Teheran was scheduled to compete for the 2013 rotation, and when the trade for Justin Upton sent away Randall Delgado, who was seen as Julio’s primary competition, Teheran was handed the 5th starter job coming into spring.  He then proceeded to allow home runs at an alarming rate in spring of 2013, so many wrote off Teheran as a guy who was hyped but would never really turn into the guy he was hyped to be.

Then he did. And no one noticed!  Julio started with a tough April in 2013, hurling a 5.08 ERA, 1.66 WHIP, and a subpar 6.4 K/9.  However, in the last calendar year, he has posted a 2.58 ERA, bested only by Kershaw and Jose Fernandez in that time.  Yet, we heard often in the offseason about how Julio was a #2, not an ace.  When you’re third in all of baseball in ERA in a calendar year, you’ve made the move from top of the rotation to ace status.  Less than a week ago, articles were attempting to punch holes in Teheran’s early season success by citing his velocity and strand rate and other metrics to say that he was going to collapse.  That was the sign that Julio had made that ascent to the ace level.  Outside of Kershaw and maybe one or two other guys, there are knocks people try to put on anyone who has hit that ace status until they prove all those doubters wrong.

Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports


What’s Next?

Well, to be frank, Teheran simply needs to keep on keepin’ on.  He’s being considered an ace around baseball, but until he pitches like an ace in a playoff game and in head to head matchups versus the top pitchers in the game, he will have doubters that will say he’s not there.  That won’t change what he has become for the Braves, which is the ace to lead all of these young arms into the postseason, and hopefully bringing home another World Championship for the Braves!

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Tomahawk Take

  • Lee Trocinski

    And I’m still one of the doubters… His batted ball profile against (low LD, high FB) does suggest a low BABIP against, so I’d say .270-.275 is sustainable for him, but not .225. His HR rate will climb a bit, but probably not as high as last year. It’s also nice to see that formerly-plus changeup on its way back.

    The velocity is a bit alarming, down a full MPH so far. I thought his K rate was higher than his stuff indicated last year, but it shouldn’t have regressed this much. His xFIP right now is 4.09. Let’s say his K rate goes up a bit, his HR/FB% stays a bit below league average, and he keeps his walk rate fairly steady. His FIP should be in the 3.60-3.75 range, and with the suppressed BABIP, I’ll guess his ERA will be around 3.30 the rest of the season. That’s good, but not ace level for an NL pitcher in a neutral or slight pitcher’s park.

    Santana and Wood have been the truly dominant pitchers so far. Both are missing bats, giving no free passes, and keeping the ball on the ground a fair amount. Santana won’t continue his 30% K rate and Wood will walk more guys (and probably hit a wall in August), but they are still set up for success more than Teheran at the moment.

    • Benjamin Chase

      The velo thing doesn’t worry me at all. It has been an exceptionally cold spring, and on average, peak velocity is 1mph higher in season in July/August than it is in April. More than 1-2 mph would worry me some, but he’s within the normal range there.

  • Chris Headrick

    I’m still not sure I would call him an “ace”, although I don’t really like that term much. However, I know we’re mere peons at TT, but I noticed awhile ago, and said as much:

    • Benjamin Chase

      The big thing to me has been how he’s matched up thus far with most other teams’ best pitcher each time out – Gallardo, Strasburg, Cueto, Lee.

    • Sealift67

      I have used the ‘top of the rotation’ phrase. A big factor is consistency to match
      the talent and skill set. Ace or top of rotation one thinks of Maddux, Glavine,
      Smoltz, or Spahnny. Most young pitchers go through a learning process, yet
      you could see the glint in Glavine’s eyes even when he was getting knocked
      around early on. Teheran has that capacity in terms of athleticism, lithe effortless
      quality, poise and cajones. So far so good.

  • fireboss

    My buddy Lee doesn’t believe there is such a thing as an Ace and in the modern age he’s close to correct. From the time pitchers are recognized at the youth level they are – in general terms – over pitched, over coached and given a lower bar to reach to be successful – the 6 innings is a quality start = BS. Teheran didn;t experience much of that in Columbia though he likely threw more than he should have, So when the Braves signed him away from the Yankees they got a more complete pitcher with higher expectations. His down year is largely attributed to the Braves trying to unnecessarily adjust his motion. In winter ball after that he returned to what worked and regained success.
    It’s not strictly accurate to say no one noticed his 2013. He was noticed but spoken of in the “breakout season” discussions. He had hard acts to overcome in Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Shelby Miller who had eye popping seasons (Miller faded but was very good most of the year). His start and finish to last year I put down to winter ball. In the beginning he had to get back in synch with the majors and he’d had a layoff. It took him seven games to do that. In the end he was just tired and that showed with elevated pitches having less movement giving souvenirs to fans. In the 17 games in the middle however he was masterful, 107 2/3 innings. 28 earned runs, 106 Ks and 26 walks for a 2.34 ERA and a 1.068 WHIP.

    Lee is absolutely correct that missing bats is important but when you miss bats is more important. I’m happier when Teheran goes nine throwing 115 pitches and strikes out 4 than I am when he goes 5 striking out 11 and lasts only 5 innings. For me an Ace can gets strikeouts when he needs them – a bloop and an error puts runners in scoring position for example – and doesn’t try to strikeout every batter. Teheran does – or attempts – that more often now as he’s matured. His LOB rate is 81.6% while the league’s averaged of 72.8. (all numbers 2013+2014)

    Using Matt Meyers Ace Barometer and ignoring the three year history since Teheran doesn’t have that yet, Teheran and Medlen statistically qualify as Aces. Stuart Wallace over at SB Nation made a statistical attempt at defining Ace last August. Using his criteria Teheran falls short only because his average innings pitched since the beginning of 2013 is 6.35 instead of seven or more. In every other category he’s well above the statistical levels established.

    The only thing Julio lacks statistically is a three year record that sustains those numbers. Even then there are many who will not call him an Ace.

    • Lee Trocinski

      He has been very efficient so far this year, throwing 3.54 pitches per batter this year. Only Bronson Arroyo averaged less than that among qualified pitchers last year, and he’s not exactly an inspiring comparison. There is a slight inverse correlation between P/PA and ERA using last year’s pitchers. The extra couple batters are nice, but the guaranteed outs via the K are just as nice. As I said before, Teheran does seem to have some BABIP limiting ability, but the flyball rate will lead to homers. I hate to make this comparison, but there are some Jurrjens-esque similarities in Teheran.

      • fireboss

        Jurrjens and Hanson were short circuited by injury. If Teheran gets injured all bets are off. Strikeouts are gaudy but striking out 12 a game when you’re built like Teheran isn’t a likely long time event. He isn’t Pedro yet and probably won’t be but he’s been pretty dang good and I’ll take that.

  • fireboss

    Cover of Baseball America’s Digital Edition dated 9 May, 2014 that arrived this afternoon. Taking Sides : A pitcher’s position on the rubber can make a significant difference in his performance and no one illustrates it better than young BRAVES ACE Julio Teheran. (my emphasis) And the reason backs up what I believed, the Braves shouldn’t have tried to change anything