One of the best stories from the first half of the 2014 Braves season has been Julio Teheran’s development into the staff “ace”. He frequented top 100 prospect lists during his time in the minors, and was hailed as the future of the Braves rotation. After repeating Triple-A in 2012, Teheran successfully made his full season debut last year, finishing with a 3.20 ERA, and he was worth 2.5 wins according to fWAR. The development of his breaking ball sent him over the edge from budding prospect to legitimate major league starting pitcher.
Teheran’s 2013 season ended on a sour note as he struggled in the playoffs against a potent Los Angeles Dodgers. In his only start of the postseason Teheran only lasted 2 and 2-3 innings allowing 8 hits, 6 earned runs, and 1 Carl Crawford homerun. The result was disappointing for Teheran, and Braves fans alike, but it was still clear that he had a bright future and had the potential to one day develop into Atlanta’s best starting pitcher.
The Braves clearly agreed with that assessment, and were willing to bet on it. This offseason the Braves decided to lock up a selection of their young core of players, which included signing Teheran to a six year contract extension worth $32.4 million guaranteed. Teheran’s importance was increased before the season even began, as Kris Medlen, and Brandon Beachy were forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. Then a setback for Mike Minor meant that Teheran would be the opening day starter for the first time in his brief career, and would need to become the “ace” of the staff.
The decision to extend Teheran and make him the number one starter has been rewarded so far in 2014 as Teheran has been outstanding this season, making a leap forward and asserting himself as clearly the best pitcher on staff. The rest of the league has taken notice as well; Teheran was named to his first All-Star game as a replacement for Jeff Samardijza. His name is also at or near the top of the leaderboard in several statistical categories. Teheran is 6th in the National League in ERA at 2.71, 5th in WHIP at 1.04, and he is also 9th in the league in strikeouts with 116. His strikeout rate has gone down from last year, but so has his walk rate and his opponents’ batting average against has decreased.
Teheran has just been a better all-around pitcher in 2014. He is pitching deeper into games, getting into less trouble, and pitching his way out of tough situations. These are the type of things that pitchers are expected to improve upon as they gain experience, but it is still encouraging to see a player step up and make those adjustments.
However, Teheran’s peripheral stats suggest that a regression may be coming. His FIP is at 3.50, nearly a full run higher than his ERA, meaning that Teheran has benefitted from a bit of good fortune so far this season. If he can avoid regression Teheran will have put together one of the most impressive seasons by a Braves pitcher in the last few years. The last Braves starting pitchers to finish with an ERA under 3.00, in over 150 innings of work were Jair Jurjjens in 2011 and Tim Hudson in 2010.
Accolades for pitchers in the National League may be hard to come by this season, with Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright pitching at superhuman levels, but Teheran’s season should not be ignored. For the time being that contract extension looks like money well spent. It is now obvious that Julio Teheran is the ace of the Atlanta Braves staff, and will be that for the foreseeable future. Teheran makes his post all-star break debut Monday night at Turner Field against the Marlins. Hopefully he picks up right where he left off.