Julio Teheran: Don't sleep on the future ace

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Sporer from Paint the Black and Baseball Prospectus took some time out of his busy schedule to profile Braves starter Julio Teheran.

About a month ago, I asked Paul Sporer, from Paint the Black and Baseball Prospectus, if he had interest in writing a profile on a starting pitcher during Starting Pitcher Week here at Fake Teams. Paul was gracious enough to accept the offer, but his busy schedule prevented him from getting me the profile last week. He was kind enough to send it to me today.

Paul is very knowledgeable when it comes to fantasy baseball, as he has been writing for many years. He started out writing at his own site paulsporer.com, and now writes for Baseball Prospectus and Paint the Black. He also authored The 2014 Starting Pitcher Guide, which he used to write all by himself, but now partners with Doug Thorburn, for an even better SP Guide. If you want to learn more about the 2014 SP Guide or his new site, check out Paint the Black, where you can find some samples of what you will get in the guide.

Now onto his profile of Julio Teheran.

We all know that the quality and depth of starting pitching in baseball has grown somewhat rapidly the last handful of years. I was looking at a pitcher's Baseball-Reference page the other day and noticed that his 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 8.2 K/9 season was somewhat unheralded last year. In fact, I wondered how many guys had such a season in 2013 and found he was joined by only 12 others.

Pushing the ERA to 3.50, the WHIP to 1.20, and bumping the K/9 down to an even eight (all while requiring at least 162 innings to be thrown) only added another guy, keeping it an elite group. The number of guys completing each feat individually is on the rise to varying degrees, while the number of guys who have the hat trick has doubled since 2009.

The names among those 14 from last year are a veritable who's-who of pitching including both Cy Young winners (Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw in case you forgot), Yu Darvish, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, Madison Bumgarner, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg, Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Homer Bailey, and Anibal Sanchez. Apart from Harvey who is slated to miss the season while recovering from Tommy John Surgery, all of these names are among the top fantasy targets for 2014. The one name I didn't list isn't exactly a forgotten sleeper, but he's the third guy taken from his own team and not being heralded among the other young arms who are getting a bit inflated like Danny Salazar, Michael Wacha, and Sonny Gray.

It's Julio Teheran.

Atlanta's former uber-prospect suffered through an ugly 5.08 ERA in his second tour of Triple-A in 2012 which pushed him down - and in some cases off - the radar at this time last year. The 23-year old righty reminded everyone why he was once projected for stardom during a huge rookie effort in 2013. He was likely waiver wire gold for most fantasy teams lucky enough to have his services, though. First off, he was an afterthought during draft season save the deeper mixed league or NL-only formats, but then even if he was selected he might have been cut before he got going if was playing for someone with an itchy trigger finger.

Teheran had a 7.31 ERA through his first three starts thanks in large part to five home runs in his 16 innings. Anyone who cut bait after a modest mid-April outing against the Pirates missed out on 169.7 innings of 2.81 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He also had an 8.4 K/9 (including a 9.4 mark after the All-Star break). I generally prefer strikeout rate when looking at pitcher since it gets to the heart of their efficiency and his 22.7 percent during that run was well above the 18.9 percent league average. In short, he was great.

The best part is that there may be more on the way.

In those first three starts, it was trouble against lefties that sunk him. They posted a 1514 OPS with four of the five home runs he'd allowed. Nothing was working as each of his pitches allowed at least an 1167 OPS. They went 6-for-14 (.429) with four extra-base hits and four walks in 20 PA against the fastball, his most-thrown pitch. In his final 27 starts, lefties were down to a more reasonable 755 OPS with his breaking pitches taking the biggest steps forward.

The curveball yielded a paltry 472 OPS as his second-most used pitch behind the heater while the slider was his strikeout pitch with a 47.1 percent strikeout rate in 51 PA. In fact, it was either really good or really bad. Batters were only 7-for-46 against the pitch (.152), but six of those hits were home runs so the pitch had an awkward .152/.235/.565 line en route to an 801 OPS. If he can cut that mistakes with the slider and miss more bats with the curveball, his numbers against southpaws could really tick upward.

Looking at his full-season effort against lefties, he finished with the sixth-worst OPS at 823. But even slicing off those first three duds only improves his standing a bit as his still solidly below average (715) with the aforementioned 755 mark. He doesn't want for options against southpaws with five pitches (fastball and sinker along with the breakers and a change) so he should be able to devise a suitable plan to neutralize them consistently.

His approach against righties was one of baseball's best for right-handed pitchers. He had a 580 OPS against them which ranked 11th among the 57 qualified righty starters. The success was driven by the third-best fastball in righty-righty matchups with a 554 OPS and a strikeout rate of 30 percent that was bested by only Darvish (34.8%). He was essentially a fastball-slider pitcher against righties with the pair accounting for 81.1 percent of his pitches. The curveball and changeup were great when used, but neither saw enough volume to be that impactful.

Teheran could also legitimately improve against righties in 2014. In fact, he did in-season last year allowing a 458 OPS with a 30.4 percent strikeout rate against them in the second half. Both the fastball and slider jumped over 30 percent in strikeout rate, including a 34.7 percent mark for the heater. Use of the curveball remained scant, but it was very effective when used (311 OPS, albeit in just 10 PA during the second half).

A simple repeat from Teheran would constitute a great season. He was the 23rd starter on ESPN's Player Rater last year. The fact that he has a legitimate path to additional success makes him an intriguing option who isn't getting nearly the love of his youthful colleagues. His route to improvement includes the following:

  • Cutting his home runs on sliders to lefties
  • Improving his strikeout rate with the curveball against lefties
  • Carrying second half gains against righties for the entire season

Additionally, he could add to his workload and log his first 200-inning season. The Braves managed him with some extended rests sprinkled throughout the season to limit him a bit with 30 starts and 185.7 innings, but he should get his full allotment of turns this year which could push him up around 210-215 innings. That alone would put up over 190 strikeouts even without an improvement, while any hint of a jump forward would put him in that elite 200-K class.

The upside is substantial here and if everything breaks right, he could have a downballot Cy Young season with something like a 2.90 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 207 strikeouts in 215 innings of excellent work. Invest heavily here. 

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