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.
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.
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!