The Atlanta Braves have gotten extension-crazy all of a sudden, but that doesn't mean they're handing out crazy extensions. The first one they handed out this month was a good one, and now they've handed out another good one.
This second extension is going to young right-hander Julio Teheran, as the Braves gladly announced on Twitter:
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com was the first to report the terms of the six-year guarantee:
As for the 2020 option, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com says it's for $12 million with a $1 million buyout. Teheran's new deal, therefore, guarantees him $33.4 million at least and $44.4 million at most.
Braves general manager Frank Wren clearly feels like he crossed an important item off his to-do list by locking up Teheran for the rest of the decade, saying in a press release, via MLB.com:
We are excited to sign Julio to a long-term contract. He is one of the best young pitchers in the National League and one of our core of players we expect to be together for a number of years.
This, obviously, is a much more subdued deal than the eight-year, $135 million whopper the Braves gave first baseman Freddie Freeman. But that was a good deal in my book because of how A) $135 million isn't as absurd as it used to be and B) the Braves were locking up a player who's still young and getting better through, amazingly, what would have been five free-agent years.
To that latter end, the Teheran deal isn't that much of a slam dunk. Since he was slated to hit free agency after 2018, the Braves are only getting a max of two free-agent years. Darn.
But there's not a whole lot to complain about elsewhere. While it must be acknowledged that any long-term contract for a pitcher is inherently risky due to the risk of catastrophic injuries, the list of things to like starts with...
- Considering the price for good pitching these days, a six- or seven-year deal that will fall somewhere between $33.4 million and $44.4 million is nothing. Nothing, I say!
- Teheran's only through his age-22 season. He's still really young, and any pitcher who's still really young has the potential to get better.
This is a deal that would have been a solid one even if it had gone to a "meh" pitcher. But it's not going to a "meh" pitcher. It's going to a rather good pitcher who indeed still has room to get better.
Now begins the phase where we look at how good Teheran is, which basically involves us taking a close look at what made his breakout season in 2013 possible.
We're going to start by looking at some numbers from FanGraphs:
|Julio Teheran's 2013 Performance|
Most of what's here is good, including how Teheran's ERA was notably lower than average. And while they were both a bit higher than his ERA, it's good that his FIP and xFIP were notably lower than the league average as well. That's an indication Teheran didn't succeed by virtue of a heaping helping of good luck in 2013.
A big reason why is pictured in those K percent and BB percent columns. Being an above-average strikeout artist is a good enough thing in itself. Being both that and an above-average command artist is a lovely double whammy.
And in Teheran's case, the numbers beneath those numbers could look worse:
|Julio Teheran's (Other) 2013 Performance|
Relative to most starters, Teheran got swinging strikes, threw pitches in the zone and got ahead in the count a lot in 2013. These are good things, as any pitcher who can pound the zone, get ahead and miss bats consistently has a recipe for success that will continue to serve him well.
Now, if there is one thing that worries me, it's that Teheran was so much better at getting whiffs inside the strike zone. It's hard to have faith in this trend continuing considering that his equals in the Z-Contact percent department were guys like Yu Darvish, Chris Sale and Justin Verlander.
Teheran has good stuff, but he doesn't pack what those three guys pack. As such, what worked for him in 2013 might not work as well heading into the future. Rather than trust that he can do exactly what he did and succeed exactly as he did, he'd be wise to make some adjustments.
Fortunately, some adjustments that should be on his mind are easy to spot.
If there is to be more contact against Teheran, he'd do well to control what kind of contact it is. Since the best kind of contact a pitcher can hope for is ground balls, he clearly has to do something that helps his GB percentage go up from where it was in 2013.
Teheran does have the tool for a job, as there is a sinker in his arsenal. Brooks Baseball says it was pretty good at picking up grounders with a GB/BIP of 57.1 in 2013, but Teheran only threw it about 17 percent of the time. That number can and should come up.
Another issue Teheran has is a platoon split against left-handed batters. They knocked him around to the tune of an .823 OPS in 2013. One issue is that Brooks Baseball says he only threw his changeup 8.4 percent of the time against lefty hitters, who hit .364 against it with a .227 ISO.
Teheran, of course, had a highly regarded changeup once upon a time—Baseball America had it as the best in Atlanta's system as recently as 2012. He's since phased it out, but his performance against lefties in 2013 should convince him not to give up on it just yet. If only just for them, it's a pitch he needs.
What exactly are we saying here? Simply that Teheran is an imperfect pitcher. He has good command and good stuff, both things that can take a pitcher far. But he probably overachieved on his stuff in 2013, and it would be better for him to make adjustments rather than trust the same old formula will keep working.
But if you're a Braves fan, don't sit there looking so glum. Just remember what team you root for. These are the Braves.
Indeed, this is an organization with a reputation that precedes it when it comes to molding young hurlers into top-notch pitchers. To this end, the Braves have already done some good work with Teheran. If the next steps are ironing out his more subtle weaknesses, they'll surely see to it.
If Teheran does make tweaks, he can become an even better pitcher and be a mega-steal throughout the life of his new contract. If by chance he remains the pitcher he was in 2013, well, he'll still be a steal. Even if he regresses, he'll be far from an albatross. The only way his new deal is turning into a disaster is via injury. That's obviously possible, but the reality that's the only real disaster avenue for Teheran's deal is a good look.
The Braves have themselves some good young players these days. Perhaps Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons and Craig Kimbrel will also sign extensions, in which case the good times they've enjoyed in the last couple of seasons won't be disappearing in a hurry.
Maybe. For now, it's good enough the Braves have locked up a young cornerstone to wrap an offense around and a young cornerstone to wrap a rotation around.
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