Perhaps you were one of the considerable number of Braves people who never was truly comfortable with Julio Teheran in the role of “ace.” The packaging never quite matched the product, like the unblemished California fruit that is just never quite as tasty as advertised.
Great news for you: Even as Teheran is pitching like a top of the rotation guy now, there is an ever-lessening need to force this hexagonal peg into that particular square hole.
Mike Soroka has arrived to assume the job of No. 1 starter, and seems like a natural fit. When he pitches, the results — most often a poorly-struck ground ball — just seem to come naturally and easily, flowing like clear water over a smooth rock. Only 21, he acts like he owns that pimple in the middle of the infield. He transforms that into his mountaintop.
Then the Braves liberate some coin from the tight fist of Liberty Media and spend $13 million to rent a former Cy Young winner. Economics would suggest Dallas Keuchel belongs near the apex of the rotation, considering that he’ll be making $2 million more for a partial season than Teheran will for this entire one.
Say Keuchel makes 20 starts this season, a rough and fairly optimistic estimate. That’s $650,000 per start, which should help compensate for the wages he lost by not signing earlier. Such a breakdown tends to define expectations, and to make clear just how much value the Braves should expect in return. From his first start this season to his last.
So, there, see just how much easier it is to appreciate Teheran if you put him in the context of a No. 3 starter. He’s even a great value.
Suddenly, Teheran’s not the guy who was the team’s opening day starter by default, because, well, everyone else was busy that day icing something.
He’s not the guy who always has to go up against the other team’s best starter. He’s not the tone-setter for the rest of the rotation. He’s not the one you watch and paint with the passive-aggressive praise: Give him this, he always answers the bell, always makes his start.
And, at the other end of the performance spectrum, neither is he the pitcher who, like a year ago, was banished to the bullpen in the postseason, only to be released when all was lost.
Everything he does now for the Braves can be seen through the prism of a middle-of-the-rotation starter, and that’s a view that really favors Teheran.
And look at what Teheran has done lately. Always a fashionable fellow, he’s looking particularly sharp these days. With his six innings of shutout ball against the Marlins Saturday, he went his seventh straight game pitching at least five innings while allowing one or no earned runs. His first seven starts this season, his ERA was 5.35. These last seven, it has been 0.70 — that’s the second lowest in the Majors since May 5.
And you’re getting all that from a No. 3 starter? What a blessing that has been for the Braves.
It is Teheran’s fate that nobody is apt to peruse the Braves schedule and circle the day that he is scheduled to pitch. He just doesn’t make must-see starts, as aces do. He doesn’t dominate with velocity. He doesn’t overpower with his stuff. In fact, he’s can be as inefficient as a rusty water heater. He’ll nibble about, he’ll throw too many pitches and not go deep enough into the game. And, yes, on more than one occasion, he’ll madden, seeming to pitch out of quicksand rather than red clay.
But let’s take another look at him now and where he fits at this stage of his career and this stage of the Braves remodeling. You just might gain a whole new appreciation for a darn good pitcher, just not an ace.
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