The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Julio Teheran


Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.

When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.

This time, I’m taking a look at Braves starter Julio Teheran.

With the exception of Matt Moore, nobody I’ve looked at in this series thus far has the prospect pedigree of Julio Teheran. At just age 20, he had an excellent year in Triple-A in 2011, with a 2.55 ERA and 3.06 FIP. Often cited as having three plus pitches, the righthander pitched sporadically for the Braves during the season, ultimately making three starts and two relief appearances, spanning 19 2/3 innings. It was a rocky transition, as he walked eight, struck out ten, and allowed four home runs, but for someone this young, the bigger question was about what sort of stuff he would show up with; after all, nobody should expect a 20-year-old to succeed right out of the gate in the big leagues.

A complete three-pitch hurler, Teheran throws a fastball, curveball, and changeup. His reputation was always built more on his complete arsenal than his velocity, and there was never really a “hype train” on Teheran where everybody suddenly started saying he threw “mid-to-upper-90′s” or “touched 100″ or any of that information that usually proves false. As a result, his velocity in the majors was exactly where it was expected to be–in the low 90′s, averaging 93 mph and occasionally touching 95-96.

His fastball tends to straighten out in that upper range, and Teheran doesn’t get much plane to the plate, as he collapses his back leg in his delivery somewhat. He compounds the problem by often throwing the heater up in the zone, making him an extreme flyball pitcher. He does fill up the strike zone to righties with the pitch:

As a result, a whopping 75.6% of his fastballs to righties went for strikes–a big reason why just two of his eight walks were to right-handed batters. It’s a different story to lefties:

As you might expect, the wildness of Teheran’s fastballs to lefties resulted in a slightly higher whiff rate (5.8% to 3.7%), but a dramatically lowered number of total strikes (61.7%). Since his fastball doesn’t have much armside run, these heaters off the outside corner offer little deception–they start outside and stay outside.

The young Colombian’s changeup drew a lot of praise in the minors, and it’s easy to see why–it’s got over 10 mph of velocity separation, at 80-85 mph, with plus fade and sink. However, Teheran rarely put the pitch in the strike zone in his MLB debut:

As a result, under half were strikes. The pitch has enough movement to work, even with this sort of location, but since Teheran was falling behind in the count with all those fastballs up and away to lefties, the changeup was often an easy take pitch.

Teheran rounds out his arsenal with a huge 73-78 mph curveball. He throws it in the dirt a lot as well, but he ventured into the strike zone more often than he did with the changeup:

Neither the curve nor the changeup got huge whiff numbers, either–the changeup was at just 9.0% with the curve at 10.7%.

So what’s the deal here? Is Teheran not the prospect he was cracked up to be? I wouldn’t rush to any such condemnation, myself.

We have to keep things in context–for one thing, this is a 20-year-old pitcher. For another, his approach worked beautifully all through the minor leagues, and it’s not hard to imagine inferior hitters chasing a lot of those pitches in the dirt or swinging through 92-93 mph fastballs at the letters.

Teheran has years to adapt his pitch locations, since he’s so young. Against righties, he basically has it down already–he throws a ton of strikes with his fastball, which makes his curveball and changeup tough to lay off of out of the zone. All three pitches showed a platoon split in terms of strike rate, and both offspeed pitches had higher whiff rates against righthanders.

What needs to happen is that Teheran’s got to throw more strikes to lefties, either with the fastball or the offspeed pitches. If he throws more fastball strikes, he’ll be ahead in the count more and make it tougher to lay off the offspeed stuff, and if he simply brings the curve and change in the zone more often, they have the movement to still cause trouble.

That’s a relatively minor thing to fix (and a quite fixable one) for a pitcher this young to attain success in an MLB rotation. His stuff is exactly what it was purported to be, so that’s excellent news. The one thing that may prove problematic in the long term is Teheran’s delivery, since he isn’t throwing downhill and lefties get a good look at his release. He’ll have to learn to drive the fastball lower in the zone to avoid homers with the fastball to lefties, since he doesn’t have quite enough velocity or movement on his fastball to reliably throw it by them.

While there’s still some roughness here, Teheran should develop into a bigtime arm once he settles into the big leagues.

For more on the Braves, check out Tomahawk Take.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Julio Teheran