Hot on the heels of Freddie Freeman's extension, the Braves have struck again by locking up another young, promising commodity in the form of Julio Teheran. According to reports, Teheran's base contract is six years, $32.4 million, with a $12 million option for 2020 and a $1 million buyout. At minimum, the Braves owe Teheran $33.4 million over sevenyears; at maximum, the Braves will pay $44.4 million over seven years, which gives an AAV of $4.8M at the low end and $6.3M at the high end.
Teheran, as a 22-year-old, produced 2.4 fWAR over 30 starts and 185.2 innings. This puts him in pretty fantastic company; a slightly recent list of 22 year olds who threw at least 50 innings as starters in their age-22 season contains names such as Mark Prior, Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez, and Madison Bumgarner. Interestingly, Bumgarner got a similar contract during his age-22 season, so clearly the Braves were using his contract as a baseline. Bumgarner had a bit more service time and more fWAR, which is why Teheran's guarantee is a bit lower.
Bumgarner and Teheran are similar in more ways than their age and contract status, however. Observe the following table:
|Madison Bumgarner||208 1/3||22.5%||5.8%||0.99||11.7%||47.9%||3.0|
|Julio Teheran||185 2/3||22.0%||5.8%||1.07||10.1%||37.8%||2.4|
During their age-22 seasons, Teheran and Bumgarner produced almost identical strikeout rates, actually identical walk rates, and similar home-run rates, though Bumgarner's home run rate in 2012 may have been an outlier. Where they differ is in their batted-ball profiles; Teheran leans fly ball while Bumgarner leans ground ball.
In the future, Bumgarner's batted ball profile and home park should continue to suppress his home run rate, which will help keep him among the elite group of starting pitchers despite a non-elite strikeout rate. What about Teheran?
Teheran hasn't shown an elite strikeout rate since 2010, when he struck out 29.2% of batters in High-A ball. In 2013, his swinging-strike rate was almost 2% higher than league average for starters, so his strikeout rate appears to be for real, but Teheran is unlikely to get much better here. Teheran consistently showed good control in the minors, so his low walk rate is not outlandish either.
Where he may falter in his career path relative to Bumgarner is in home runs. As a fly-ball pitcher in only a slight home-run suppressing environment, Teheran has the potential to give up a few more homers than elite pitchers normally do.
In order to become an elite pitcher, Teheran either needs to increase his K% to make up for his average home-run rate or figure out a way to limit home runs. His average FIP- and xFIP- leave much to be desired, but given his age, and his good performance at such an age, there is the potential for him to improve. Bumgarner's K% increased in 2013, so surely Teheran's could too, as it did throughout the season.
Teheran did not get a Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez-like extension. He doesn't have to be elite for this contract to be good value; if Teheran merely holds steady for six years, he will still provide surplus value, especially since his cost during his arbitration years will be fixed.
If Teheran does elevate his game, though, the Braves will be in quite the happy situation. Teheran is a risk, like all pitchers are risks, but he is a pretty good bet for the Braves, and this contract should not prevent the Braves from making other moves in the future.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Kevin Ruprecht is contributor to Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royal Stats for Everyone. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.