Julio Teheran’s 2019 season started in a very familiar fashion, just as the previous five seasons had for him and the Braves. For the sixth straight season, Teheran took the ball on opening day. It was the beginning of a critical season for Teheran, as he entered the final guaranteed season of the six-year extension he signed with the Braves in 2014.
Overall, Teheran would have his best season as a starter since 2016. However, his limitations continued to frequently appear and limit his effectiveness against better competition. The end result was not simply a question of whether or not Teheran would be Atlanta’s opening day starter for a seventh consecutive season. The bigger question became rather or not Teheran would even be on Atlanta’s roster once the 2020 season began.
What went right for Julio Teheran in 2019?
Julio Teheran struggled to both begin and end his 2019 season. However, from early May until early September, he actually was quite successful for the Braves. Between those four months, Teheran produced the ninth lowest ERA among starters who pitched at least 100 innings between May and August. In a stretch of eight straight starts from the beginning of May through the middle of June, Teheran completed at least five innings while allowing one earned run or less in each start. Teheran and teammate Mike Soroka both completed that feat this season, becoming only the third and fourth pitchers, along with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester. to equal or surpass that streak since 2010
Between May 5th and September 7th, the Braves went 16-7 over Teheran’s 23 starts. Teheran allowed two earned runs or less in 19 of the 23 starts. While he did have a few blunders along the way, Teheran was a significant reason the Braves rotation as a whole was able to right the ship after the All-Star Break and become one of the league’s best rotations during the majority of the second half.
Teheran established career highs in a few areas that greatly supported his success. Teheran set a career high with 8.35 k/9 in 2019. He also arguably featured the most valuable fastball in his career. Furthermore, Teheran’s increased usage of an effective sinker allowed for him to limit the production of hitters in 2019. The end result was one of the best stretches of Teheran’s career, which provided a huge boost in Atlanta’s ability to seize control of the NL East early and maintain it for the rest of the season.
What went wrong for Teheran in 2019?
Simply put, despite his consistency and overall success, Teheran’s profile always suggested his overall production was very unlikely to last. In the same group of pitchers between May and August in which Teheran had the ninth lowest ERA he also had the third highest xFIP. A closer look at his opponents during this time frame also reveals a source of Teheran’s success, as 13 of the 23 opponents were teams under .500, including five starts against the Marlins. Overall, in 16 total starts against opponents above .500 in 2019, Teheran allowed a .846 OPS against and produced a 5.28 ERA.
Teheran’s average fastball velocity dipped below 90 mph for the first time in his career in 2019, a full 2 mph slower than it was in 2017. He also posted a BB% higher than 11% for the second straight season. In fact, Teheran allowed the third highest amount of walks in the majors for the second straight season, and has allowed the most walks in the majors since 2017.
Unfortunately, regression could not have come at a worse time for Teheran in 2019. As Atlanta entered September, Teheran was viewed as a potential postseason starter. However, a 6.56 ERA in September along with three straight losses to end the season resulted in Teheran being left of the original postseason roster for the Braves. While Teheran was eventually added to the roster to replace Chris Martin, he allowed the winning run in Game Four versus the Cardinals. Though Teheran completed a scoreless inning in Game 5, his postseason experience was a disappointing end to a frustrating final month of the season.
What to Expect in 2020?
Without a doubt, Julio Teheran was an asset for the Braves in 2019 who got the job done more times than not when he took the mound. However, the Braves were also provided with more than enough proof that Teheran continues to operate more as a back of the rotation talent with declining and concerning trends in his pitching profile. The end result was the Braves declining Teheran’s $12M ($1M buyout) team option for 2020. While there could be logical scenarios where the Braves would bring Teheran back into the fold next year, it seems there are other preferred avenues to explore first.
Though it may not be in Atlanta, Teheran has proven to be a reliable innings eater for several years, and will turn just 29 years old in January. As a result, it seems very likely that Teheran will find another opportunity as a starter for 2020. While it may not be an extremely lucrative or long-term commitment, there is a good chance Teheran can continue to provide value for a staff needing a consistent cog in its rotation. Though it may be his last season in Atlanta, 2019 will hopefully be the continuation of a solid career for Teheran that will last for years to come.