Last night, Julio Teheran’s streak of greatness ended as the Mets racked up six runs and eight hits in four innings. It was the first time in nine months he allowed more than one earned run. Over that stretch, he only gave up four runs in 44.2 innings, but it doesn’t take much for the masses in Braves Country to switch on perhaps the most polarizing player on the team. So let’s ask it; how good has Teheran actually been this year?
There are two ways for us to evaluate this. The first is with advanced analytics, diving into fielder independent pitching (FIP) and batting average on balls in play (BABIP). The second is the much simpler eye test. What does your gut tell you? Is the pitcher allowing his team to win the game? As expected, the two experience some differences in their conclusions.
Julio Teheran has an ERA of 3.40, which is above-average and all the Braves could have asked for coming into this season. His FIP, however, tells a different story. FIP takes out all the factors the pitcher can’t control. This formula is about what they can control (walks, hit by pitches, home runs, and strikeouts). According to FanGraphs, Teheran’s FIP is 4.35, which is considered below average.
What FIP does is take batting average on balls in play (BABIP) out of the equation altogether. That gives each pitcher an equal playing field when it comes to luck, defense, etc. The league average BABIP is usually somewhere around .300. Julio Teheran’s BABIP against him is .247 this year. Couple that with the fact that the Braves defense is much better than average, and you have a recipe for his FIP to look much worse than his ERA.
While I think FIP can be a useful stat; it also can be extremely misleading. Not every pitcher should be held to the same standard of BABIP. In Teheran’s entire career, his BABIP is .267, and his highest mark is .288. Let’s compare that to Kevin Gausman who has a career BABIP of .312 and is at .339 this year. Because of that, his FIP is 4.13 – way lower than his ERA of 6.21. FIP wants to tell me Kevin Gausman has been more effective than Julio Teheran in 2019, but my eyes tell me that is a bunch of hot garbage.
Teheran is not the All-Star pitcher the Braves hoped they found when they extended him early in his career. He’s been consistently inconsistent – looking dominant in one start and giving up four home runs in another. The only thing you know you are getting when Teheran toes the rubber is a competitor. He loves the stage, and he’s going to give it everything in the tank.
The way I like to look at Teheran’s, or any pitcher’s, value is by how often he gives the Braves a chance to win. The answer to that is a lot. Teheran has gone at least five innings and allowed three earned runs or less in 12 of his 16 outings this season. 75-percent of the time he does his job, but usually, he is exceeding expectations. In 10 of Teheran’s 16 starts, he has allowed one earned run or less, including four where he has given up 0. It’s not eye-popping when he’s on the mound, and he often doesn’t go very deep into games, but he gives the team a chance to win.
I don’t need advanced analytics for that. The mere fact that a stat like FIP could attempt to paint the picture that Kevin Gausman has been more effective than Julio Teheran shows just how flawed specific advanced analytics can be at times. Over the long run FIP is supposed to correlate with a pitcher’s career ERA, but not for Julio Teheran. His ERA is a whole half a run better than his FIP over his seven-year career. This stat has always hated him. Analytics have their place in the game, but they should not be trusted blindly. Teheran isn’t going to lead a rotation, but he’s been damn competent for a player everyone has been trying to trade for the last two years.