News broke Friday evening that the Detroit Tigers signed veteran right-handed pitcher Julio Teheran to a minor-league deal.
The Tigers adding another pitcher was not surprising, as the team has been vocal about needing to get more arms. There was growing speculation they might turn to former first-round pick Rick Porcello, but apparently the price for Teheran was more favorable. Heyman offered the details:
Back in December our own Rogelio Castillo picked Julio Teheran as a potential bounce back candidate for the Tigers, noting Teheran had been a workhorse until his COVID-shortened 2020 season:
From 2014 to 2019, Teheran threw more than 150 innings, including back-to-back 200 inning seasons in 2014 and 2015. He signed with the Angels for a one-year deal and he posted the worst season in his career.
This is a low-risk move for the Detroit Tigers with moderate upside. So let’s learn a bit more about the player.
Who is Julio Teheran?
A native of Colombia, Julio Teheran signed with the Atlanta Braves for $850K in July 2007. The Braves felt he was advanced enough to skip the Dominican Summer League, and instead sent him to the short-season Appalachian League, where he posted a 6.60 ERA over 15 innings.
Teheran returned to the level in 2009 and was excellent, recording a 2.68 ERA over 43.2 innings. That earned him a promotion to Low-A Rome, where he held his own over seven starts as an 18-year-old.
Baseball America named Julio Teheran the number 55 overall prospect prior to the 2010 season, while MLB.com ran him all the way up to number 34. He rewarded that faith by having a monster season, pitching across three levels and compiling a 9-8 record with a 2.59 ERA in 142.2 innings, with 159 strikeouts to just 40 walks.
That was enough for Baseball America to name him the 5th best prospect in all of baseball prior to 2011, while MLB Pipeline ranked him 4th, behind only Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and former Tiger Matt Moore. He had another spectacular season, earning the International League Most Valuable Pitcher Award after going 15-3 with a 2.55 ERA.
He did that despite being called up to the Braves several times during the season. He made his MLB debut on May 7, 2011 against the Philadelphia Phillies, taking the loss after giving up 3 runs in 4.2 innings. He recorded his first career MLB strikeout against Raúl Ibañez, who was drafted when Julio Teheran was 5 months old.
Teheran picked up his first MLB win on September 8, 2011, when he held the New York Mets to one run over 5.1 innings. He was once again considered a top-ten prospect heading into the 2012 season, but everything went sideways, and he finished the year with a 5.08 ERA over 26 Triple-A starts.
He managed to shake off that rough year and establish himself as a mainstay in the Braves’ rotation in 2013, going 14-8 with a 3.20 ERA in 185.2 innings to finish 5th in the Rookie of the Year voting. That season also kicked off a long-running feud with Harper:
Harper has claimed a decisive victory in this battle, going 17-for-49 with 9 home runs and 12 walks in his career against Teheran.
The Braves signed Teheran to a six-year, $32 million extension prior to 2014, and he was Atlanta’s Opening Day starter in every one of those seasons.
He never quite reached the heights implied by his lofty prospect rankings, but he did earn All-Star bids in 2014 and 2016, and he was very reliable. From 2014-2019 he made more starts (192) than anyone else in baseball, and his 1148.1 innings pitched were the 8th most.
Teheran signed a one-year, $9 million deal with the Angels for 2020, but as Rogelio mentioned, he had a disastrous season. His average fastball dipped to 89.0 mph, the lowest of his career, and his hideous 10.05 ERA over 31.1 innings was easily the worst of his career.
So what exactly can the Detroit Tigers expect from Teheran in 2021?
Julio Teheran Scouting Report
Teheran hasn’t changed much over the course of his career. His velocity has dropped a few ticks since 2013, but his pitch mix has been remarkably consistent. He throws a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup, and 2020 was the first time he threw his sinker more than his four-seamer.
Despite its below-average velocity, Teheran’s fastball has always been his best offering. Until last season it showed above-average spin, and despite seemingly lackluster movement, hitters always had a hard time squaring it.
It’s possible seam-shifted wake is behind his typically effective fastball. Even in 2020, when he struggled so badly, Teheran showed some of the largest shifts in baseball on both his four-seamer and his sinker. In simpler terms, Julio Teheran’s fastballs don’t behave the way hitters expect.
Again, that didn’t stop hitters from crushing him last year. After a career of solid home-run avoidance, he gave up 12 long balls in just 31.1 innings in 2020. His 3.45 HR/9 was the 2nd highest in baseball.
Our Take on Julio Teheran
This is a great deal for the Detroit Tigers. That’s not to imply Teheran will be an All-Star, or even remotely good, for that matter. But it seems extremely unlikely Teheran, who just turned 30, is suddenly done being effective as a pitcher.
We suspect Teheran was more affected than most by the bizarre circumstances of the 2020 season, and with a healthy off season and a chance to ramp up in spring training, he should return to his previous form. That means an ERA in the 3.50 to 4.50 range over 30 starts, with a middling strikeout rate, and a few too many walks.
We probably won’t see anything special, but there’s minimal risk here. If Teheran looks awful in spring training the Tigers don’t have to add him to their 40-man roster. And should he struggle in the regular season, his low salary makes it easy to part ways.
Ideally the Tigers will get a solid year out of Teheran, and Teheran will use this opportunity to rebuild his reputation and earn at least one more solid contract in his career.