Reality Check: Jameson Taillon Slides Into Stardom
It’s impossible not to root for Jameson Taillon. Maybe not impossible like trying to run a combustion engine on pork gravy, but more like impossible if you have any sense of empathy. Following his second overall selection in the 2010 draft, Taillon missed years of development due to Tommy John and hernia surgeries. Then, in 2017, he was diagnosed with cancer.
He had surgery to remove a cancerous testicle that season, and yet still made 25 starts. Considering the amount of physical and mental strain he was under, it’s no surprise the results weren’t overwhelming. He finished with a 4.44 ERA over 133.2 innings, but he also suffered from a .352 BABIP. His FIP pointed towards a 3.48 mark as his deserved outcome though, putting him in sleeper territory for 2018.
If you slept on him in 2018, you missed out. Taillon posted a sterling 3.20 ERA over 191 2019 innings, with an 8.43 K/9 and 2.17 BB/9. Finally healthy enough to make 32 starts, Taillon’s total of 191 innings was the 22nd highest total in the league. Other than health, what defined his success in 2018?
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Jameson Taillon in 2018
Throughout his career, Jameson Taillon had relied on four pitches; a four-seam and two-seam fastball, curveball, and changeup. His 95 MPH four-seam logged an above-average 12.21% swinging strike rate in 2018, while his lesser used two-seam induced 60% ground balls.
While he throws the four-seam all over the zone, he wisely keeps his two-seam down. He has very good command and uses it to great effect here. Keeping his sinking fastball in the bottom of the zone keeps batters from getting on top of the ball and doing damage with it. These fastballs alone make for a terrific base for a starting pitcher.
His curveball had always been his best secondary offering heading into the year. It’s a pitch with a solid 14.16% whiff rate that induced 50% ground balls. It earned a .207 xwOBA in 2017 and a .205 xwOBA in 2018, befitting of a pitch with a 2649 RPM spin rate. His seldom-used changeup (7.7% career usage) is about as good as you’d expect a seldom-used changeup to be. It earned a -3.20 pVAL in 2018. That’s all you need to know about that. Even before he posted that result, coming into the year – he needed another pitch.
It took him a bit over a month before he started throwing it, but sure enough, he found that new pitch – and it was a good one. It was May 22 against the Reds when he first unleashed his new slider. By his next start against the Cardinals, it was his primary offspeed pitch. Clearly, he was confident in it, all but replacing his changeup with the slider as the season wore on.
On the year, the slider earned a 14.47% whiff rate with 48.46% ground balls and a .241 BAA. While those aren’t elite numbers, that’s a heck of a pitch to essentially pull out of thin air during the season. He was able to cut his changeup usage against left-handed bats in half with the emergence of the slider, helping lower his wOBA against lefties from .355 in 2017 to .320 in 2018.
From that May 27 start until the end of the season, he pitched like the No. 1 starter the Pirates expected when they drafted him second overall. Let’s look at his numbers with and without the slide piece.
While the strikeout rate didn’t change, his swinging strike rate shot up in a big way.
It rose from 8.2% in 2017 to 10.7% in 2018. His O-Swing% jump up 3.1% as well. He was also able to avoid contact on pitches in the zone an extra 4.5%, improving that mark better than league average at 85.6%.
What To Expect in 2019
A primary concern for most of us fantasy enthusiasts is Jameson Taillon’s health. Considering his issues in the past consisted of three surgeries rather than a litany of soft tissue injuries, I’m not concerned about health for him. He’s got a huge frame capable of chewing through innings, and his velocity didn’t dip at all over the course of 2018.
With good command, I’d expect another sub-3.40 ERA/1.20 WHIP. It’s sort of up in the air whether the Pirates are truly all-in for 2018, but another 14 wins is a reasonable outcome for Taillon. The one thing Taillon lacks to be a frontline fantasy option is a huge strikeout rate. Unless he further refines one of his pitches, it’s unlikely he makes a huge leap in K’s. He’s SP21 according to our Fantrax ADP right now, and deservedly so. I’d even prefer him over Zack Greinke and Stephen Strasburg, who are dealing with velocity decline. He’ll make for a great SP2, and you won’t have to break the bank to acquire his services.
Nathan Dokken is a member of the FSWA and has been featured on numerous radio shows, podcasts, and magazines. He is the host of the Nasty Cast and Fantrax Dynasty Baseball podcasts, and his written work can be found at Razzball and Fantrax HQ. He is on Twitter @NathanDokken. If you enjoyed this article please check out his full archive.
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