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Julio Teheran leaves behind complicated legacy with Braves

He never met the ace expectations, but the maligned right-hander was defined by reliability and durability

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Kansas City Royals
Julio Teheran is one of just five players with at least 220 starts and 1,300 innings since 2013.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Multiple All-Star selections, the fourth-most innings pitched since 2013 -- putting him ahead of the likes of Justin Verlander, Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg -- and an Atlanta Braves record six consecutive opening day starts.

This is the legacy that Julio Teheran leaves behind as he reportedly joins the Angels on a one-year, $9 million contract. It’s one with twinges of an ace’s resume, but Teheran’s time with the Braves can be summed up succinctly.

It’s complicated.

The 27-year-old spent seven full seasons with the Braves, the most durable and dependable arm amid a National League East title in his first full season of 2013 through another in ‘19. Teheran made at least 30 starts every year and threw no fewer than 174 2/3 innings each season, including two -- 2014 and ‘15 -- with 200-plus innings.

But when you run through the company that Teheran keeps as one of just five players with at least 220 starts and 1,300 innings since 2013, the right-hander’s name doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue with Jon Lester, Max Scherzer and Verlander or even Jose Quintana.

That may not be Teheran’s fault as much as it was the hype that surrounded him.

The Colombian was’s fourth-ranked prospect in 2011, behind only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Matt Moore -- and one spot ahead of future Braves rotation mate Shelby Miller -- and trailed by names like Manny Machado and Anthony Rizzo. Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein detailed a conversation in May 2011 with a scout with decades of experience who said of Teheran “I’ve never put a higher grade on a 20-year-old pitcher in my career. ... He’s going to be a No. 1 starter on a championship-level team.”

A rookie season in which he had a 3.20 ERA, 3.69 FIP and 2.6 fWAR was a strong start. Teheran flirted with a no-hitter on June 5, keeping the Pirates at bay on June 5, until Brandon Inge broke it up with a single with two outs in the eighth, and won a memorable duel with Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez on Aug. 30, giving up one run on fourth hits over 6 1/3 innings.

Teheran finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year balloting that year to Fernandez, and followed that season with an All-Star nod in ‘14 in arguably his finest campaign when he had a 2.89 ERA over 33 starts and a 123 ERA+.

Years later, when Teheran didn’t start against the Dodgers in the NLDS in 2018 and was initially left off the ‘19 roster before Chris Martin’s injury, those highs seemed a world away and the writing was on the wall. It was no surprise when the Braves declined his $12 million club option, making him a free agent.

In hindsight, that 2013-14 run was the height of Teheran in Atlanta. Granted, he was an All-Star again in 2016 amid a 2.72 ERA in the first half with 105 strikeouts, but Teheran would chase good starts, good months and good seasons with bad, sandwiching ERA+s of 95 and 97 in 2015 and ‘17 with a 129 in 2016. In ‘17, Teheran gave up a career-high 31 homer runs, then this past season led all of baseball with 14 hit batters.

Teheran relayed a story in ‘15 when he was preparing for a start and Freeman, then out with a wrist injury, entered the clubhouse and told him “‘Hey, you pitch today. Try to throw nine scoreless and hit a homer so you can win your game.’”

Amid the frustrations of the Braves’ teardown and rebuild to NL power when they rattled off 90-loss seasons from 2015-17, it’s undeniable that he was one of the few bright spots on the mound, leading the team in fWAR amid those 90-loss seasons of 2015-17. Knock his six straight Opening Day starts as circumstantial -- he only made his first in ‘14 after Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen were injured in spring training and his latest was because Mike Foltynewicz suffered his own spring setback -- but it’s now the standard in Atlanta, a streak that has left Hall of Famers Phil Niekro and Greg Maddux in its wake.

As Teheran heads West, his time in Atlanta will largely be remembered for what it wasn’t: never an ace, only flirting with it at times, and he was maligned for it. But Teheran should be viewed as a reliable bridge, an innings-eater as Tim Hudson faded away and young arms like Mike Soroka and Max Fried found their footing.

That’s Julio Teheran, dependable during bad years and expendable once the team had returned to perennial contender status.

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