Three Cuts: Injury scare underscores integral role Acuña already fills for Atlanta


Julio Teheran is in the middle of his sixth full season in the majors, the lone rotation staple who has observed Atlanta’s revolving door of starting pitchers from division titles to 90-loss seasons and back. He’s 27 years old with more than 1,000 innings under his belt. He owns a career 3.63 ERA and 11 wins above replacement — bargain production for the $32.4 million extension he signed in 2014.

And yet if there was one pitcher the Braves had to replace in their rotation, based purely on production, the right-hander would be a prime candidate.

For three of the past four seasons, Teheran has, at best, put up back-of-the-rotation numbers. Since the start of the 2017 season, no pitcher in baseball has thrown more innings with a worse fielding-independent pitching (4.95). Teheran is on pace for his worst campaign with one-third of his starts in the books; his walk and home run rates and adjusted ERA and FIP marks have never been worse.

Even as he’s holding opponents to a career-best .216 batting average, the contact is often hard contact — per Statcast, Teheran’s .319 opponent weighted on-base average should be 11 points worse judging by quality of contact, walks and strikeouts — and his diminished arsenal proves costly when he misses locations.

“When I make a mistake I feel like every time it’s a homer,” Teheran said after Friday’s loss in Boston. “It’s not like a base hit or a double.”

At this stage in his career, Teheran’s best quality might be his reliability. The former top pitching prospect is an innings-eater with (trap tightness aside) a stellar bill of health. Only nine pitchers have logged more innings since his first full season in 2013; he’s an apparent lock to throw every fifth day and walk away with 180-plus innings every season.

But what happens if that workload translates to 30 starts at replacement-level production? How long will the new front office be patient with an underperforming starter if the Braves are contending in late July and the franchise’s surplus of young starters — Kolby Allard and Luiz Gohara, in particular — push for playing time and rotation spots? If the franchise were to make a splash on the trade market with a starting pitcher, who would be the odd man out?

Since Sean Newcomb, Mike Foltynewicz and Mike Soroka appear to be rotation locks given their age and productivity, this hypothetical question could come down to Teheran or Brandon McCarthy, the 34-year-old pending free agent who has been better than the former through double-digit starts to date.

On the financial front, Teheran is owed the prorated portion of his $8 million this season, $11 million in 2019 and the Braves hold a $12 million club option for 2020. His contract has not reached albatross status and, when he’s hitting his spots, he can still provide value, as seen in his three of his past seven starts when he gave Atlanta a 70-plus percent chance of victory per FanGraphs’ game score.

(It’s worth noting, particularly as the Braves shuffle the deck to fill out their rotation for the next series: Controlling too many starters is a good problem to have.)

Still, difficult decisions are on the horizon. 

If it’s not a midseason move, the Braves will face a decision with Teheran this offseason as Gohara, Allard, Kyle Wright and even Touki Toussaint enter the 2019 rotation discussion. And those are simply in-house options.

Teheran’s performance will need to show noticeable, sustained improvement if he plans to keep his spot on a pitching-rich contender.

Copyright The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Source: Fox Sports

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