Jameson Taillon had a really odd season last year. He started out the season with a 5.43 ERA, but he posted a 3.25 ERA after. The development of Taillon as a pitcher was great not only for the Yankees, but for himself. He struggled in late August, and after a solid start against Toronto was put on the IL. It’s possible that he was hurt during that stretch, but it didn’t ruin what was a strong finish for Taillon.
There are certainly a lot of things Taillon needs to work on to improve for 2022, but the talent is there for him to do such a thing.
The Development of Taillon’s Fastball
Taillon’s pitch mix is not only aided by his natural gifts of velocity and spin but by his diversity. Two different breaking balls (curveball and slider), two different fastballs (4-seam and sinker) and a changeup. Each pitch provides a different look and when he began diversifying more as the season went on, Taillon became far deadlier to opposing offenses. The 4-seamer was great down the stretch, but could it be even better?
If you look at the heatmap of Taillon’s fastballs, he locates up in the zone a lot. This was a huge change Taillon was making between 2019 and 2021, as he wanted to generate more whiffs. He did so successfully, generating a 28.9% Whiff Rate on the pitch. Common sense would tell you that such a fastball would dominate right handed hitters but have trouble versus left-handed hitters, but the opposite was true.
Against right-handed hitters, Taillon had a ton of success up and in or up and away, but struggled if he went in lower quadrants. It seems that the more he elevates versus righties, the better success he has. For lefties, pitching to them inside was devastating, with all inside sectors posting a below .187 wOBA in the zone, though if Taillon goes too low while pitching inside, they performed a lot better (.377 wOBA). I think he’s already well equipped for lefties, but the return of his sinker could allow greater success versus righties.
Bringing Pittsburgh Taillon to the Yankees
This is how Taillon used his sinker, and he used it almost exclusively versus righties. As you can see, he rarely threw it in the zone, and he elevated it quite a bit. This resulted a .317 wOBA and 21 Launch Angle against, meaning he rarely got groundballs. A change to how he used it against righties in Pittsburgh could serve to benefit him greatly.
Now that’s a heatmap. Perfectly dotted down and in. This is his sinker versus righties from 2017-2019, which hitters could only muster a .297 wOBA against. Sure, sinkers weren’t envisioned for Taillon when he was acquired, but pitching is complex for a reason. The key thing here for Taillon is the 0° LA is what’s most important. Taillon can generate a bunch of groundballs versus right handed hitters to reduce the home run damage they did to him on his fastball. If he can limit righties to a ~.300 wOBA while maintaining similar splits versus lefties, he suddenly has one of the best fastball mixes in the sport.
A good fastball mix sets the tone for your secondary pitches, and Taillon’s bag of tricks don’t stop with his fastballs.
The Next Step For Taillon’s Breaking Pitches
aillon’s curveball and slider are both pitches that showed signs of being great, but also need work.
Both of these pitches were ones that Taillon seemed to take the most time re-establishing. It wasn’t until July that Taillon finally got his curveball working, and when he returned from the IL it was put on the backburner for a more fastball-heavy approach. His curveball finished with a .309 wOBA against and his slider a .352 wOBA against, but quality of contact metrics show greater success. The curveball had a .286 xwOBA against and the slider a .314 xwOBA against, which I think are good signs for the future. Overall his breaking pitches had one big flaw, which was putting batters away.
Taillon’s curveball was 112th in Put Away% among 202 pitchers with 25 or more PAs that resulted in a curveball being used. His slider was 380th out of 392 pitchers under those same requirements. Taillion knows how to get swings and misses, he just struggles to strike those batters out on two strike counts. That’s a part of sequencing and location, things that I can only scratch the surface of.
What Should the Yankees Expect From Jameson Taillon In 2022?
Taillon is currently rehabbing from the ankle injury he suffered late in 2021. He isn’t expected to be ready for Opening Day, but he should be in the rotation by May. Taillon’s 2021 was rather pedestrian, but there were flashes of brilliance sprinkled in there and things to work on going forward.
Naturally, pitchers with injuries are more volatile, but Taillon has overcame all of his previous obstacles in life. Taillon should be expected for about 25 starts this year, and I think a sub-4 ERA ins certainly in the cards. I’d like to see more groundballs on certain pitches and better two strike success.
Taillon was once a prospect on the cusp of greatness, and 2022 could be his year to capture it.