ATLANTA - If you’re keeping score – and this being baseball, somebody’s always keeping score – that makes two strong starts in succession for Julio Teheran, whose first two turns of 2018 were rather less strong. He has cut his ERA nearly in half, from 10.13 to 5.40. He struck out five in his first eight innings this season; he has struck out 16 in the 12 innings since.
It would be nice to say that he again resembles the Old Julio, except he doesn’t. He still isn’t throwing very hard: If his four-seamer hit 91 mph on the radar gun at SunTrust Park on Monday, I missed it. (Saw lots of 89s.) Still, one of the things that made Teheran an All-Star was his capacity to manage different pitches. He was getting swing-and-misses on his slider and even his changeup. Poor Maikel Franco faced him three times and didn’t put the ball in play – three ABs, three swinging Ks.
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Teheran yielded his usual first-inning homer, this on a 3-2 slider to Odubel Herrera, who’d come close to striking out on a 2-2 pitch, which would have completed a strike-out-the-side frame. (When in trouble, which he often is, Teheran trusts the slider above his other three pitches.) In 20 innings, he has yielded five home runs. This can happen when you’re around the plate – although he has walked 12 this season, which is unlike him – and don’t overpower anybody.
Still: Shading the Phillies 2-1 beat the heck out of his Opening Day start against the same Phillies, when he yielded four earned runs in 5 2/3 innings and left his team in a hole before Philly manager Gabe Kapler took to managing. He pulled Aaron Nola after 68 pitches, saw his bullpen blow a five-run and would soon be booed when introduced at his own home opener. (An aside: Nola started again at STP on Monday. How long has it been since any pitcher started two games in the same opposing ballpark by April 16? Has any pitcher ever done that?)
In yesterday’s missive regarding Braves hitters who, going by BABIP (batting average on balls in play) aren’t apt to continue hitting at this rate, FIP was mentioned as a similar indicator for pitchers. It stands for “fielding independent pitching.” If your FIP is significantly higher than your ERA, that’s a red flag. If it’s the other way around – as it was for Mike Minor at the start of 2012; his ERA on June 1 was 6.98 – that’s a sign you might be pitching better than your raw numbers. (Minor wound with an ERA of 4.12. The next year he nearly made the All-Star team and beat Clayton Kershaw in the NLDS.)
As noted, Teheran’s ERA is 5.40; his FIP is 6.33. His xFIP – a function of his home-runs-per-fly-ball rate, which is a lofty 18.5 percent – is a likewise unimpressive 5.13. His WHIP (walks/hits per inning) is 1.65, which would be a career worst by some distance. His game score – a measure of starting pitching concocted by Bill James – for Monday night was 64. That’s his best of 2018, but we note that he bettered that nine times before July in 2016, his last good season.
In sum, Teheran has been better the past eight days without approaching Peak Julio. The velocity remains a major concern, as does the control. If you’re walking people, you’re walking (so to speak) a fine line. His strand rate – the percentage of baserunners who don’t score – is 81.5, which probably isn’t sustainable. (His career strand rate is 76.0.)
The Teheran we’ve seen the past two starts is good enough to hold a place in this developing rotation, but I’m not sure Alex Anthopoulos will view what his Opening Day pitcher is doing and think, “There’s my No. 1 for the next five years” – and maybe not for the next five months. With Mike Soroka and Kolby Allard and Kyle Wright approaching graduation, competition for starting spots will only become more heated.
We know from experience that to write off Teheran is a mistake -- and he did, for only the fourth time in 20 starts, win at SunTrust -- but I’d say the new general manager is about to face the same issue his predecessor faced on an annual basis: When’s the right time to trade Julio? Thing is, the right time might have come and gone.
Oh, and one thing more: Yesterday’s post identified Ozzie Albies as one Brave who might just continue to hit the way he’s hitting. He went 2-for-3 Monday on a night when the rest of the team went 2-for-22. He’s second among National Leaguers in runs, third in homers and slugging percentage, sixth in OPS. He’s pretty good.
This story was written by Mark Bradley, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.