Julio Teheran says he's 100% fine. I don't believe him. I don't think Fredi Gonzalez believes him either, since in a recent interview he said he was worried about Julio, too. I'm worried. I think everyone should be worried about the kid. He's not the stalwart veteran that will return to form in a few weeks, even if we think of him that way. He's a 24 year old guy with 2 full years of MLB experience.
Yet here we are. Julio has started 5 games now, and his ERA is 4.67 on the year. In the last three games, he's given up a total of 16 runs, 12 of which were earned. That's pretty awful. The reason fans are upset is because all of this happened right after the weird leg injury that everyone in the organization is denying as an injury against the Mets.
But the facts speak for themselves. Before that happened against the Mets, Julio had pitched 12 innings, giving up one run. After the incident? 15 innings and 19 runs allowed. I mean I'm no scientist, but I can recognize a trend. And the trend says that something happened, because the effect was immediate. Julio couldn't even finish the game in the 7th inning of the Mets game because he gave up 3 runs.
So what's going on? I'll use FanGraphs for something I like that they do, their PitchFx stats. It can give you a glimpse into what is happening with a pitcher if things start to go off the rails. So what does PitchFx show us about Julio? I think you'll find it interesting.
You can find the stats there. Let's start with the fact Julio throws 5 pitches that get tracked: A four-seam fastball (standard), a two-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a curveball. The two fastballs would be the high velocity pitches, and three other pitches are off-speed stuff. So now that we have that sorted out, here's what we know about Julio's pitches last year.
In 2014, Julio threw 60.60% fastballs. So far this season in 2015, he's throwing only 57.85% fastballs. That's 2.75% less of his total pitches, but the key is in the details. He's backed off of his four-seamer, and gone more to the 2-seamer. He's also throwing almost 6% more sliders. That's a huge jump in offspeed stuff, which means he's trending away from the high velocity pitches to more junk. Like he's not comfortable anymore with what was his bread-and-butter pitch, the four-seam fastball.
The data gets worse when you look at opposing hitter's slugging percentage by pitch. In 2014, hitters were slugging .405 off his fastball. In 2015? Hitters are slugging .584 off his fastballs. That's a GIGANTIC jump. The hitters are tattooing his fast pitches, but why? According to the Velocity trackings, it's not a speed thing, since they are averaging about the same speed from 89-91 on average. But the bad news is his change-up isn't working either, since hitters in 2014 were slugging .243 off it, and in 2015 they are slugging a whopping .556 on the same pitch.
So what is happening? Is it movement? At first I thought that was the culprit, but according to these stats, his movement numbers are about the same as last year on all his pitches, with the exception of the slider that's moving more. That would explain why the slider is more effective right now. But the truth of the matter is that when you look at his strike/ball rate on his pitches, he's simply missing with the fastball. About 36.4% of Julio's fastballs have been balls this year, while 32.6% were balls last year. While these percentages may seem small, remember that it's an increase of over 10% in the prior year. And 10% over a season of 1300+ pitches? That's an extra 130 balls. That's 32 more potential walks with just a 10% increase in bad pitches. To put it in perspective.
Simply put, Julio has an issue with fastball command. Something Julio is doing isn't letting him put the fastball where he wants it. Beyond just guessing that his knee is bugging him, it's definitive that Julio isn't throwing his fastball as much, and when he does throw it, it's not going where he wants, and it's getting raked. Missing over the middle is one of the worst things you can do to a major league hitter, and Julio is going that. Hopefully, it's a mechanics issue that Roger McDowell can correct. If it's an injury issue and Julio is being tentative, I'd expect more of a velocity falloff or change in movement. I think honestly it's a combination of things like his grip, his leg, and his mindset if you really want to guess.
The bottom line is the Braves need Julio to get healthy. They need him to find the zone and start putting his pitches where he wants. Because if he can't get right, the rotation gets thinner and thinner as the Braves look for pitching answers.