Now is the Time to Sell Julio Teheran
Julio Teheran has been a fantasy stud the last two seasons, fulfilling the hopes of dynasty leaguers who have watched him grow from an uber-elite prospect into a legitimate ace hurler. Still only 23 years old with his health intact, it seems he is poised to dominate the league for years to come. So why am I advising you to trade him? Because there are some red flags in his underlying peripheral stats that warn of darker days ahead. In my opinion his value is higher right now than it ever will be again, so this winter is the ideal time to cash him in and invest in a safer commodity.
The Good Stuff
Teheran’s 2014 season was a fantasy owner’s dream: 14-13 record, 2.89 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 186 strikeouts spread over 221 innings. That excellent production drove a high proportion of his owners to league championships. It is no surprise that he finished the season ranked as the 14th best starting pitcher in 5×5 leagues and a top 50 overall player regardless of position. Given his youth and name recognition, Teheran would be one of the first pitchers taken in new dynasty leagues having their inaugural drafts. His trade value is sky high.
The not so Good Stuff
His luck stats all show that he was a little bit fortunate though. His .267 BABIP, 75.9% Strand Rate and .90 HR/9 were all better than one expects for a pitcher with a very low 34.8% ground ball rate. These are all indications that Teheran will experience some regression in those stats next year and beyond, which will of course harm his ERA and WHIP. The Braves’ ballpark has a reputation as a pitchers’ park but that is undeserved. Turner Field has had a 99 Park Factor the last three years, meaning it is a very neutral field that actually does not favor pitchers. Teheran is a strong flyball pitcher, so the loss of the league’s best defensive outfielder in Jason Heyward could have a negative effect on Teheran’s stats as well.
Teheran’s 2.89 ERA looks much sexier than his 3.49 FIP, 3.72 xFIP and 3.68 SIERA. Unfortunately, those advanced pitching metrics do a much better job of predicting the future. That means you should expect Teheran’s 2015 ERA to rise into the 3.50 – 3.70 range next year. His WHIP will rise in similar fashion. That is still good but pretty ordinary in today’s low run scoring environment. A pitcher with an ERA over 3.50 is not likely to be a top 40 fantasy starting pitcher. Very few pitchers are able to outperform their peripherals year after year. Johnny Cueto and Jered Weaver are the only two in recent memory. The chances are not good that Teheran will match that duo. The vast majority of pitchers who outperform their peripherals for awhile end up crashing back to Earth eventually, and that is what will likely happen to Teheran if history is any guide.
Teheran relies on his low ERA and WHIP to provide the bulk of his fantasy value, and we have seen those stats are likely to rise. He has earned 14 Wins each of the last two seasons. That is good but not elite. If the Braves are truly in rebuild mode and continue trading away offensive players then we should expect Teheran’s wins to dwindle accordingly. His 7.57 K/9 strikeout rate is essentially league average for starting pitchers. Again, that is OK but it is not a sign of an elite pitcher. What we have here is a pitcher who currently has elite value in dynasty leagues (due to his stellar 2014 stats and young age), yet is not likely to provide elite production next year. A player with more trade value than production value is a prime sell high candidate.
Teheran has also been losing velocity. Now at 92 mph, his 4-seam fastball has fallen 2 mph over the last three years. That is not a killer but it is worrisome. Most pitchers gradually lose velocity as they age, but Teheran is only 23 years old. His velocity is still a little bit above average, but if it continues to drop at the current rate it won’t be long before his fastball is merely average and then below average at a young age. The velocity is nothing to freak out about but it is something to monitor closely if you are planning to keep him on your roster or trade for him. Velocity loss is a strong sign of arm damage. It could be a sign of impending injury, or it could just be wear and tear that will not prevent him from pitching. Either way it is not a good thing, but might not be catastrophic. Some pitchers can still be very effective even with average velocity but it reduces the margin for error and makes things much more difficult. By itself the velocity loss is not a reason to jettison Teheran. It is just one more cautionary factor to consider when weighing the pros and cons of relying on him.
One other warning sign is that Teheran threw far more innings in 2014 than he ever has before. His 221 innings surpass the 185 innings he tossed in 2013 by a wide margin. Large innings increases have been shown to contribute to an increased chance of injury the following season. Teheran is not little (6’2″, 200lbs) but he isn’t one of the bigger pitchers either. High innings totals are especially risky for smaller pitchers. Workload is just one more minor factor that tips the scale toward caution when it comes to Teheran’s future value.
Projections for 2015 and beyond
Fangraph’s 2015 Steamer projections for Teheran do not predict another top 15 caliber season for him: 10-11 record, 3.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 158 strikeouts. Those numbers are remarkably similar to the 2014 seasons of Tom Koehler and Shelby Miller, and they were barely top 100 starting pitchers in 5×5 leagues. I think Steamer is a little bit harsh on Teheran. My prediction is a 12-10 record, 3.50 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 168 Ks in 200 innings. Those numbers are similar to Chris Archer or Jason Hammel in 2014, or what would be a top 60 starting pitcher. That is still a useful fantasy pitcher, but not the stellar results you are expecting from Teheran.
Even if he beats those projections he is still very unlikely to match his 2014 season again soon. As it stands right now his mastery of his repertoire is not good enough to produce elite peripherals, and therefore is unlikely to produce another elite fantasy season. Teheran may end up producing more excellent seasons in the future if he continues to perfect his craft and improve his peripherals. He is still plenty young enough to show genuine growth in his underlying skillset as he gains experience. That could result in better advanced metrics that translate into great ERA, WHIP and K numbers, but that is a big if. Why take that risk if you don’t have to? If you are going to take a risk you should only do so if there is a potential gain. By keeping Teheran you are taking the risk that Teheran improves his skills enough to keep his current value. There is no upside, only downside if he doesn’t improve his skillset. If you want Teheran for the long haul I suggest you trade him for a high price now, wait a year for his value to fall, then buy him back at a lower price next winter.
Julio Teheran has built up a lot of name recognition and trade value amongst fantasy baseball team owners. If you were to trade him you could snare a very nice haul in return. If you put him on the trade market be sure to tout his stellar 2013-2014 stats, elite prospect pedigree and youthful age. All of those things have extreme value in dynasty leagues. You can almost name your price for this guy. This is exactly what I advise you to do. There are plenty of warning signs that indicate Teheran’s value is at its peak. Cash in that value to obtain a superstar player who will carry your team much further than tomorrow’s diminished version of Julio Teheran would.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. If you trade him be sure to share your haul with us!
I have been spending this offseason focusing on starting pitchers. To crush your competition, improve your pitching staff by reading these recent columns as well: