Julio Teheran’s wheels are falling off

Throughout his career, Julio Teheran has been one of the more enigmatic players in his peer groups. He went from uber-prospect pitching phenom, to dropping his stock heavily, and then brought it back up again before his major league debut. He had a fantastic couple of seasons to start his career before a tough 2015, as his ERA rose above 4.00 and his excellent control vanished. Last year he was stellar, once again giving us hope, but this year he’s been one of the worst pitchers in the majors.

It’s a lot to keep up with. Teheran has completely lacked consistency in his career. His plus fastball slider combo was supposed to be lethal, and it has been at times. So what on earth is going on with him?

There are more than a few articles worth of information about Teheran’s ups and downs until this year, but we’re going to focus mainly on what he looks like going forward, using this year’s numbers (for the most part). His 4.90 ERA is miserable, coming in at 50 among the 64 qualified starters, and his 5.27 FIP and 4.88 SIERA don’t suggest he’s even got room to improve at his current rate.

Teheran has a very strong correlation between control and ERA in his career. The only times he has had poor ERA marks has been with a walk rate above 6.0%. But every year we’ve seen that, his walk rates are over 8%, closer to 9%. There’s no middle ground when he’s struggling to find the zone, and that screams mental issue – the hardest one to solve. Perhaps even more amazingly is just how great he commands the zone when he’s on, keeping walk rates at a minuscule 5%, but inability to do this often is troubling him.

His 2015 season was worrisome because of his walks and ERA, but there was still hope thanks to youth and unchanged strikeout rates. While he’s still very young at 26, the strikeout rate has fallen below league average to 18.0%. In an era where guys are striking out at record highs, Teheran is trending in the opposite direction.

He has seen his fastball velocity decrease every year, down to 91.8 MPH this year, and with it has gone its effectiveness. His weighted run values on the pitch the past three years are 11.6, 1.7, 6.2, and -1.8. Even in his last slump year, Teheran was still able to go to the heater for some outs. This year he can’t rely on the pitch, which has resulted in a usage drop of four percentage points.

To replace a diminished fastball, Teheran has brought back his sinker that he pretty much threw away after his 2015 season. The pitch had never really been that effective for him by weighted values (career high before this year of 0.3) and this year it’s tanked to -5.7. With no fastball to work off of, his elite slider has disappeared as well, worth -4.0 runs despite always being a highly positive pitch in his career.

It’s a little game theory that even a “bad” pitch can help set up other plus pitches, but without a good fastball you just can’t work with the off-speed properly. It won’t surprise you his changeup and curve have also been negative pitches this season.

To adjust to declining velocity, pitchers need to work on their off-speed (he has yet to do so) and their approach towards hitters. Teheran has made an attempt on the latter, increasing first strike rates while cutting down on overall strikes, but the results are miserable. His walks are up as a results, and as we’ve noted above, hitter contact rates are up two percentage points on him – a large jump. Swing rates are unchanged, as he’s unable to get hitters to chase, and when they finally get pitches in the zone they are mashing them.

Homers are up throughout the league so it isn’t a shock that so are Teheran’s, but his HR/9 has skyrocketed from a career 1.17 to 1.73. Part of this is luck (HR/FB rate of 15%), but perhaps not as much as we would have believed in past years. This year’s league average is 13.8%, and Teheran is only a stone’s throw away. Some regression will help, but we can’t expect it to go back to 10% like in past years (we can thank juiced balls for this one!).

There’s a lot going on for Teheran, and he’s young enough to figure something out to get back to being effective again. He needs to get his control back in line (although declining velocity and control can signal shoulder and elbow problems, something we should be very weary of) and find a way to punish hitters still with a different skill set. But it’s not an easy adjustment, and the youth card can only be played so many times.

Teheran is at a crossroads without much direction, and you should steer clear of any hope of a bounce-back for now. There are better buy low options and late round draft flyers with much less risk, so try to avoid any shares of him heading forward.


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James Krueger

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James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.