Julio Teheran has basically been an enigma from day one. Once the number one pitching prospect in all of baseball, Julio’s career can best be described as up and down.
Since his first full season debut in 2013, here are his ERA/FIPs:
One year he’s an ace, the next he’s a back-of-the-rotation starter and everything in between. And we’ve all heard, read, and seen the reasons why.
For one, Julio isn’t really a strikeout pitcher. For his career, he’s posted a 20.6 K%, almost exactly league average. The idea being, when you allow that much contact, your seasons are always going to peak and valley depending on how generous the BABIP gods are feeling. Combine that with what appears to be a new, harder baseball and home runs flying out at record pace, and being a pitcher who thrives on getting weak contact is just a tough way to make a consistent living.
Speaking of HRs, another knock against Julio is the batted ball profile he produces. Teheran has always been a fly ball pitcher. And as we’ve learned during the current fly ball revolution, hitters want the ball in the air, not pitchers. As the analytics of baseball have become more prevalent, we know pitchers don’t have full control over what percentage of their fly balls end up as HRs. I won’t say it’s random, but there is a heavy amount of fluctuation that normally returns to the mean. What this means for Julio is, because he gives up so many air balls, his HR totals can see pretty significant variance, without much change in his actual talent. And of course, significant variance in HR totals means significant volatility in results.
But there’s another reason Julio has seen such a wide range of results in his career. One that isn’t talked about as much and is a lot simpler than trying to figure out his HR/FB tendencies. Simply put, Teheran has always had unreliable command. Here’s a chart to consider:
As you can see, Teheran’s success has always been directly related to how well he controls his walks, with 2013, 2014, and 2016 easily being his best years. (2012 he threw all of 6 major league innings) And unfortunately for Julio, his walk have been as inconsistent as they have been important, as he’s had walk rates as high as 9% and as low as 5%. Four percent might not seem significant, but when your facing 800-900 batters a year, four percent can equal 30 or 40 additional walks. The accumulative impact of throwing that many more pitches, high stress pitches, to get the same amount of outs can’t be ignored.
We have the data to back it up but it also just makes sense logically. Julio’s BABIP has always stayed right around the same level, fly ball pitchers have lower BABIPs, so the real variable in the volume of base-runners he allows has always been in his walk rates. And because his HR totals can be volatile, the number of base-runners he allows is critical to his results. Allowing a career high in walks in the same season as a career high in HRs is a really good way for things to go sideways quickly and that’s basically what we saw in 2017.
I know a lot was made of the new ballpark and it’s HR friendly reputation. And maybe that did get into Teheran’s head, but 2017 wasn’t the first time he’s struggled with his command. And hopefully by now someone has shown him SunTrust Park was basically neutral when it comes to park factors.
At this point, there’s not a lot Julio can do about his fly ball tendencies. It’s just the type of pitcher he is, and because of it, the HRs will be there. But he can command the strike zone better and give out less free passes. The name of the game for him is limiting base-runners and his low BABIP will help. He just has to throw more strikes. He’s proven it over his career, less walks equals less runs. It’s not easy, but it is simple.