Julio Teheran had one of the more disappointing seasons for a pitcher last year. After two years of solid performance, he came into 2015 as a top 20 starting pitcher for fantasy purposes. He didn’t live up to expectations, finishing outside the top 50 starting pitchers. Can we expect a bounceback for 2016? A deep dive into his 2015 stats gives us hope.
Last year Teheran pitched a solid 200.2 innings, with a middle-of-the-road 7.67 K/9 and a below average 3.27 BB/9. This gave Teheran an overall 4.04 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. The ERA, WHIP, and BB/9 were all by far the worst of his three full years in the majors. As you can see in the chart below most of his troubles seem to stem from his increased walk rate and WHIP.
His peripherals give us an idea of why that increase in baserunners last year caused so much damage. His LOB % of 73.8 was lower than 2014 and 2015 by 7% and 2% respectively, and his HR/FB rate of 13% was up by 3% and 5% respectively. It’s easy to see that when you let more runners on base, especially via the walk, and give up significantly more HRs, your overall numbers will suffer.
If we look at his pitch location heat maps for the last three years we can see a trend going into 2015.
In previous years, Teheran was hot on skimming the outer third of the plate and pitching off the outside corner to right handers. In 2015 he nibbled at the edges more and threw fewer pitches up in the zone. Perhaps this was an attempt at more strikeouts and fewer ground outs or fly balls, but for a pitcher who doesn’t have overpowering stuff it looks like batters are sitting back and waiting for a pitch to hit, and if they’re not getting one, they’re letting him walk them.
From August 2nd on, his last 12 starts, his results were much better. He pitched 10 quality starts in the 12 games, going for 5 wins and 2 losses. His ERA was significantly improved at 2.95, with a WHIP of 1.15. His strikeout rate stayed in line with the rest of the season at 7.66 K/9 but his walk rate dropped to 2.83 BB/9. This walk rate was worse than his previous seasons, but much improved for 2015. How did he do it? Falling back on his sweet spots in the zone.
Check out the two heat maps above. The left is Teheran’s 2015 pitches before August 2, the right is from that date to the end of the season. You can see that for his last 12 starts he was locating his pitches much more like 2014, and his results were very similar. For Teheran, a pitcher with non-elite strikeout numbers, it’s vital to put quality pitches on the outside third and up in the zone. When he’s throwing effectively in the zone he’s able to induce weak contact and limit base runners.
Finally, let’s look at his pitch values:
pitch values explained here courtesy of Fangraphs
Teheran’s offspeed pitches became significantly less effective in 2015 as a whole. However, after August 2nd when he began locating his pitches more effectively, his pitch values also improve. Once he stopped nibbling the edges and moved back to having better location in the zone, his pitches became more effective, leading to his improved results through those final 12 starts.
I expect Teheran to use the first ⅔ of the 2015 season as a learning experience. Seeing what he did in the last third of the season leads me to believe that he understands better how to get hitters out with his repertoire. He was able to overcome the adversity of the worst season of his career to finish 2015 on a high note. I think we’ve seen his ceiling, in 2014, and his floor, in 2015.
In 2016 Teheran will be much more in line with his previous self. I see a low 3’s ERA with 200+ innings. His K/9 seems to have settled in the 7.7 range, but an improvement in his BB/9 to the 2.3 range will bring his WHIP down to a more reasonable 1.15. Coming off of a rough year in which not much broke right for Teheran, most people will be writing him off as an outside the top 50, or even 60 pitcher. Targeting him in the 35-40 range of starters will provide you value if he’s able to carry over his improvements from the final third of the season, and will protect you from downside in case he’s not able to return to pre-2015 form.
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