With the exception of Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran is the most important player in the Braves organization. Thanks to a winter spending spree, the Braves have both locked up through 2020 (in Teheran’s case, it’s a club option).
After spending the better part of a decade on prospect lists, Julio Teheran was very, very good in 2013. But you probably don’t realize quite how good. Here is a complete list of all of the times that a pitcher age 22 or younger qualified for the ERA title with an ERA+ of 110 or higher plus a K/BB over 3.5:
That’s nine pitchers in the history of baseball, and three of them are Hall of Famers. Only one of them was an outright bust, Prior. Tanana, Saberhagen, and Gooden had long careers — between them, they won a combined 601 games — though they had most of their success before their 26th birthday. And Mat Latos is one of the better young pitchers in baseball. Julio Teheran’s K/BB is elite, and while that’s not the only thing a pitcher needs in order to excel — hi, Ricky Nolasco! — it sure helps.
Of course, he’s 23. There are still a few areas for improvement. Like a lot of fastball pitchers, he’s a flyball pitcher — his groundball rate last year was just 37.8 percent — which leaves him vulnerable to home runs. He gave up 1.07 homers per nine innings last year, and that HR/9 is likely to remain above 1.0. That said, home runs are less of a problem when you can keep people off the basepaths, and that’s why his exceptional K/BB is so important.
His shiny 3.20 ERA was also aided by a better-than-average strand rate (also known as LOB%) — 80.9% of runners who reached base on him failed to score, which is slightly higher than the Braves’ overall team rate of 77% and much higher than the league average last year of 73.5% last year. Part of that elevated strand rate comes from the Braves’ exceptional defense, anchored by Andrelton Simmons, turning potential RBIs into outs. And part of it is that Teheran’s a very good pitcher, and better pitchers tend to strand more baserunners.
But pitchers aren’t typically able to sustain 80% strand rates. Since 2010, the MLB strand rate leader has been Jered Weaver, who has stranded 79% of men to reach base against him. Second place is Clayton Kershaw at 78.2%, and third place is Cole Hamels at 77.8%. So even if the Braves defense holds strong and Teheran continues to pitch well, Teheran’s likely to allow a few more baserunners to score this year than he did last year.
Since they own his rights for the next seven years, the Braves are certain to take very good care of him and his right arm. As long as he stays healthy, he’s going to anchor Braves rotations for a very long time.