There was a time when Julio Teheran becoming the first true No. 1 starter developed by the Atlanta Braves since Tom Glavine/John Smoltz seemed all but a fait accompli. (Greg Maddux arrived as a free agent, you’ll recall.) Today Teheran, who turned 25 in January, seems headed for what-went-wrong status, same as Mike Minor and the late Tommy Hanson.
Difference is, those two hurt their arms. So far as we know, Teheran’s arm is fine. He has just stopped being really good. There was a time when every Teheran turn held the promise of something special. In 2014, three of every four outings yielded a quality start. (At least six innings pitched with fewer than three earned runs.) In this season — and we stipulate that it’s still April — his one quality start in four came Opening Day.
Through four games, his ERA is 5.64. His FIP — stands for “fielding independent pitching,” which essentially measures how well a pitcher produces strikeouts and avoids home runs — is 4.91. His WHIP — walks/hits per inning — is 1.388. His strikeouts-to-walk ratio is 2.13. His average game score — that’s a Bill James concoction that measures dominance, or the lack thereof — is 44.
These were his numbers from 2014, his All-Star season: ERA of 2.89; FIP of 3.49; WHIP of 1.081; SO/W of 3.65 His average game score was 59.
We could write it off as just a bad April, except for this: All of Teheran’s numbers listed above were worse in 2015 than in 2014; all are worse today than last season.
And this above all: His velocity keeps dipping. When he broke into the majors in 2010, Teheran was throwing his four-seam fastball — he didn’t yet have the two-seamer he uses as a sinker — at 96.51 mph. Today his four-seamer, according to the incredibly useful Brooks Baseball, is being delivered at 90.45 mph.
Brooks Baseball’s sobering assessment of Teheran in 2016: “His four-seam fastball has slight arm-side run and has slightly below-average velo. His slider has below-average velo and has less than expected depth. His sinker is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, has slight arm-side run and has slightly below-average velo. His change generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ changeups and results in somewhat more fly balls compared to other pitchers’ changeups.”
Here we note: This isn’t some fill-out-the-rotation journeyman. This is a 2014 All-Star, the Braves’ Opening Day starter in each of the past three seasons. This is someone who should be settling into his prime.
As mentioned in this space last season, Teheran’s failure to develop into a year-over-year ace is most troubling for an organization that has banked everything on the development of young pitching. Here’s a guy who seemed to have every pitch you’d want, and he has become just another guy. According to FanGraphs’ WAR, he was the 70th-best starting pitcher in baseball last year. That’s not progress. That’s regression.
Further reading (much of it about Fredi G.):