Did you know there are only 14 players from Colombia in Major-League history?
Certainly, World Series hero Edgar Renteria (32.1 WAR) would be the most accomplished. But outside of him, only fellow infielder Orlando Cabrera (21.4) merits much mention. Both played for seven different clubs, and they enjoyed long, relatively lucrative careers, not to mention a few precious rings.
But, with a little luck, there’s a countryman who’ll eventually be able to claim the title as Colombia’s greatest pitcher because, with the exception of one season-long blip, Julio Teherán’s professional career has been one of remarkably steady ascension. Truth be told, he’s already there after two full seasons (7 WAR), but let’s hope he can join those two in the durability department.
The Numbers: His official bio says that he debuted in rookie league as a 17-year-old. By the time he turned 20, he’d already delivered a pair of superb minor-league seasons (2.59 & 2.55 ERA), earning the rank of #5 MLB prospect by Baseball America. The right-hander faced his first bit of adversity in 2012 with his second stint at AAA Gwinnett (5.08 ERA). Then, with a promotion to The Show, the light went back on. His first season in Atlanta, 2013, looked like this:
30 GS, 14-8, 3.20 ERA, 185.2 IP, 173 H, 22 HR, 170 K, 45 BB, 13 HBP, 117 ERA+, 3.49 FIP, 3.2 WAR
He finished 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting and contributed mightily to Braves first division title in eight years. Could he get better than that? He could & he did. His ’14 season was simply terrific:
33 GS, 14-13, 2.89 ERA, 4 CG, 2 SHO, 221 IP, 188 H, 186 K, 51 BB, 126 ERA+, 3.49 FIP, 4.0 WAR
How did this happen? He began to get lefties out with much more regularity.
RHB: .204/.264/.317 (.581 OPS)
LHB: .289/.340/.483 (.823 OPS)
RHB: .223/.265/.322 (.587 OPS)
LHB: .239/.292/.395 (.687 OPS)
The Adjustment: So how did he shave 136 OPS points vs. left-handed hitters? He successfully altered his repertoire.
According to brooksbaseball.net, Teherán’s overall pitch repertoire (6,625 career pitches) has mainly been a 92-mph 4-seamer and 90-mph sinker with a 2-seam grip. He’s also mixed in an 82-mph slider, 74-mph curve and an 82-mph change.
But facing LHHs in 2014, he relied less on the 4-seamer (32% in ’14, compared to 44% in ‘13) and more on the sinker (29% from 21% in ’13). Additionally, he went slightly less with the curve (12% from 14% in ‘13), slightly more on the slider (14% from 12%). He also threw them more change-ups (13% from 9%).
In ’13, LHHs touched him up with power (slugging .483), but in ’14, they slugged a more manageable .395. “Hitting,” the franchise’s winningest hurler once said, “is timing; pitching is upsetting it.” Seems like Teherán got the memo.
As you can see from the splits, Teherán’s ability to dominate right-handed hitters (.214/.263/.321) hasn’t changed throughout his young career (.586 OPS). The slash lines were consistent in 2013 and 2014. And, not surprisingly, his approach has remained essentially the same the past two seasons: the 4-seamer (47%) and the sinker (26%) do most of the business — the former getting most of the whiffs — while he works in the slider (13%) and curve (9%). The change (3%) is barely there. So, if it ain’t broke…
What most Braves fans certainly notice about Teherán is his Pedro-like fearlessness. (Bryce Harper damn-sure noticed.) And it’s hard not to like a pitcher who’s as unafraid to throw strikes as he is to reclaim the inside of the plate. If you watch a game with Teherán on the mound, you’ll see a talented pitcher working a healthy repertoire and exhibiting genuine competitive fire. In my book, he’s a great guy to root for.
Extra Spice: It also doesn’t hurt that, as an NL hurler, he can handle the bat a bit. For his young career, he’s hitting .155, decent for a pitcher, with 14 sac bunts. (In 2013, he hit .224, but fell off to .105 last season.)
Next Up: Can he top or equal 2014? Tough to do, really. Not surprisingly, the projections from various outlets are calling for a regression. Whatever. Considering the rest of this generally uninspiring roster, I’m just glad he’s still pitching for my club. Let’s hope his arm stays intact.
Contract Status: As most Braves fans know, Teherán is signed for the long-term — a very good pitcher signed to a very, very good deal. Year-by-year, it breaks down thusly:
$1 M for ’15; $3.3 M for ’16; $6.3 M for ’17; $8 M for ’18; $11 M for ’19; $13 M for ’20 ($12M club option, $1M buyout)
Immediate Future: So as we enter our potential wilderness years — y’know, the two seasons we’ll probably be bad & see fewer fans at The Ted — it’s not hard to look at Julio Teherán and be reminded of Phil Niekro a little bit. Back in the Disco Era, when the Braves didn’t match up well against too many teams not named the Padres or the Mets, Knucksie was the one guy you didn’t mind sending to the mound against anybody. Carlton? Sutton? Fine, bring it. You had a chance, and you tuned in.
Now, don’t call me a glass-half-empty guy. I’m not saying that the Braves expect to be hopeless for eight seasons, like 1972-79 when Atlanta fielded exactly one winning club. No, rather, it seems that the plan is that we’ll not suck any longer than it takes to scurry off to the suburbs. Luckily, Julio Teherán should be one of the players worth watching.