Taillon Experiences First Struggles on the Mound

At the end of last season, Jameson Taillon made a great impression during his short time with the Pirates. While in the majors last season, he posted a 3.38 ERA and an xFIP of 3.43. After battling injuries throughout his time in the minors, it looked as if he was developing into the type of player that warranted a 2nd overall pick.

As the 2017 season got underway, Taillon was again showing signs of ace potential while carrying an ERA under 3.50 and truly looking like a great young pitcher. However, Taillon ran into health problems again when he was diagnosed with cancer after a month and a half of the season was underway. It was a scary time for sports fans around Pittsburgh, but he bounced back after only a short time away from the game and looked as if nothing had fazed him. However, since mid-July, he has suddenly looked nothing like the player we have previously seen and I want to dive into some of his problems.

Prior to his start this past Sunday; Taillon had given up 17 runs and 20 hits while only striking out four batters in what was the worst back-to-back starts of his career. This was nothing like the Jamo we’ve seen and you could not help but wonder if there was an injury. Pirates trainers did not indicate that there were any injuries and Taillon was not put on the DL, so it is doubtful that it was anything severe. He quite possibly may have had two really bad outings that just so happened to be back-to-back. After all, he is young and does not have that much major league experience. Being so young, we should expect some growing pains from the young pitcher.

One of the most significant indications of an injury concern is a velocity dip, but Taillon’s velocity did not change during his two poor outings. This points to the next area of concern, which is control. Taillon has showed above average control during his time in the majors, so control problems would not be a huge concern. Below I have included two heatmaps of Taillon’s two-seam fastball usage (sinker according to Pitch f/x). You will notice that through the first part of the season (first heatmap), he was keeping this pitch low. He knows exactly how to use his two-seam fastball effectively and this was a main reason for his success. However, in his two poor starts prior to Sunday, he let a few two-seam fastballs get away and he left them high in the zone. Take a look:

As you can see, Taillon was not keeping his two-seam fastball low in the zone and it was getting crushed. Below I have included the contact percentages from his two poor outings that give evidence to this. This shows that when he keeps the ball low in the zone, he sees more success. I would argue that these two starts were simply growing pains from a young kid who is still getting acclimated to the major leagues. Overall, Taillon has excellent control and it was great to see him bounce back on Sunday against the Padres. The sky is still the limit for the young pitcher and before long, his control problems will be minimized.

I also want to include the heatmap of his two- seam fastball from his start on Sunday. You will notice that it directly correlates to the way that he normally uses it (not including his back-to-back poor outings). This is just more evidence of the fact that when he keeps the ball low in the zone, he sees more success. I would not get caught up in the bad starts he made towards the end of July and early August. He has so much potential and it is not uncommon to see growing pains in a young pitcher like Jamo.

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