Leading up to the trade deadline, there was quite a bit of discussion at this website about Atlanta RHP Julio Teheran regarding his value and whether or not it was prudent for the Braves to move him at this juncture. I was often asked in chats about what I thought about the situation, Teheran’s value, etc. I responded that, going forward, I thought Teheran was a league-average starter, a No. 4 worth around two wins annually. There was some adverse reaction to that, which is understandable given that Teheran has made two All-Star teams before turning 26 and had already contributed about 2 WAR this season when I opined. Conversely, he’s also got a career FIP approaching 4.00 and has seen a drop in his average fastball velocity this year.
The Braves came through Arizona for a four-game set with the Diamondbacks last week and I was in attendance for Teheran’s start on Wednesday to get an in-person look at an arm that has undergone a substantial metamorphosis since his days as a prospect and one that will likely be on the market this winter. I try to hit a major-league game every now and then, just to remind myself for what I’m supposed to be looking in the prospects I see. I thought evaluating Teheran would make for an interesting piece, so I did it.
Teheran’s fastball sat 88-91. It touched 92 a few times; even late in his start he’d reach back for 92 in a big spot or in a pitcher’s count against a heavy hitter. It dipped as low as 87 but only for the first pitch or two of an inning after a long road half. Because of the drop and drive in Teheran’s delivery, his fastball comes in flat and has no plane. This is especially so when Teheran works in the upper half of the strike zone. Despite that, his arm is quick and deceptive, such that hitters have issues timing a ball that looks harder than 90-91 for the first few innings before they adjust to it.
Watching those two aspects of Teheran’s fastball push and pull against one another was fascinating. The meat of Arizona’s order, including Paul Goldschmidt, clearly had issues catching up to 50 fastball velocity early on. After a few times through the order, they began to tee off.
Teheran’s best secondary weapon as a prospect was his changeup. He added a slider in 2013 and it has become his most used offspeed pitch comprising a career-high 25% of Teheran’s pitch count this season. As you may have deduced based on its frequency of use, Teheran throws his slider for strikes. A lot of them. Not swinging strikes at balls sliding out of the zone but for looking, first-pitch, get-ahead strikes and in instances when he has fallen behind hitters past whom he’d rather not try to sneak a 90-mph fastball. Of the 28 batters Teheran faced, 13 of them were shown an offspeed pitch to start their at-bat, most of those sliders. There were several times when he’s thrown four or five of them in a row, all aimed for the outside corner against right-handed hitters.
While I think Teheran’s command of his slider is exceptional, on pure stuff it’s just average. It will flash plus but generally isn’t nasty enough to miss bats in the strike zone. In fact, some of the more punishable pitches Teheran threw during this start were sliders, including one that Jean Segura hit out to dead center and one that Zack Greinke yanked to the warning track in left field.
We’ve seen pitchers, like Sergio Romo, make a living by possessing absolute control of their slider — and I do consider Teheran’s command (in general) to be plus. The changeup, once plus, is now fringe average, devoid of movement and instead living entirely off of arm speed. Arizona’s lineup was heavily right-handed on Wednesday and it’s possible that Teheran’s feel for the changeup in that start never developed because he didn’t have the opportunity to use it very often, but then he hasn’t used it very often this season, in general, which I think is a signal. The curveball is about average, possessing good depth, but is too slow at 70-73 mph to be relied on as a consistent weapon in the big leagues. Again, Teheran can throw it for strikes to start at-bats or use as a cute little trick when he’s behind in the count, but I don’t see much beyond that.
Okay, let’s recap. Julio Teheran has 50 fastball velocity with two opposing forces impacting its effectiveness in a way that I think creates a wash. His slider has become his best secondary weapon but more because of his command of it than pure stuff. It, along with the rest of his repertoire, comprises a harem of useful but vanilla pitches that rely on location and sequencing to be effective and, because Teheran has plus command, it all works.
Now, I’m willing to concede that Teheran could possess some subtle ability, something that the naked eye (at least mine) can’t detect that has allowed him to outperform his FIP by about half a run over the course of his career. But based on what I saw Wednesday, I’m comfortable holding firm on my initial assertion that, going forward, I expect Julio Teheran to be a league-average starting pitcher.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.