Last week, this writer discussed how Gerrit Cole’s usage of his cutter has made him a better pitcher. Well, it is not just Cole who changed up his repertoire, it is Jameson Taillon, as well. The right-handed pitcher whom the New York Yankees traded for prior to the 2021 season came with many question marks. He made seven starts in 2019, underwent his second Tommy John Surgery, and missed the entire 2020 season. Taillon barely pitched in two years, and many were skeptical as to how he would perform in pinstripes. He had number one starter potential, but had only pitched one complete season in the bigs, which was 2018.
Taillon’s 2021 season was inconsistent, at best. He won the AL Pitcher of the Month award in July, but that came after posting a 5.43 ERA through the month of June. Ultimately, Taillon pitched 144 1/3 innings over 29 starts to the tune of a 4.30 ERA, 1.206 WHIP, and 8.7 K/9. His second-half ERA of 3.50 was almost a run and a half better than his 4.90 first-half ERA. All this goes to show that he got better as the season progressed, but still finished with somewhat disappointing numbers. Taillon not only incorporated a cutter into his pitch arsenal in 2022, but he looks like a completely different pitcher than the one who sported an ERA over 4.00 last year.
Fewer Strikeouts Than Ever
Besides the numbers of his stellar start to the 2022 season, one eye-popping figure is Taillon’s 6.8 K/9 and 19.2% strikeout rate. Both figures would be career-lows, with the exception of his 19% strikeout rate in 2019. In a world dominated by strikeouts, a career-low strikeout rate would not figure to be the key to success. What is interesting is how great his numbers are despite this. He’s got a 2.30 ERA, 2.88 FIP, and a 2.0 bWAR, looking like he might secure his first all-star nod. Jameson Taillon also has a career-best walk rate, strikeout-to-walk rate, home run rate, HR/FB rate, and line-drive rate, amongst others. While fewer strikeouts are not generally a good thing, Taillon has countered that with career-bests in numerous other categories, turning into an all-star pitcher right before our eyes.
Jameson Taillon’s 2021 Pitch Usage
When looking at Jameson Taillon’s 2021 pitch usage, he threw six pitches but was very fastball-oriented. At times, it seemed like he would throw his fastball too often. He threw it 49.6% of the time, averaging a spin rate of 2418 RPM; generating a 28% whiff rate and 21.6% put-away rate. His fastball posted a -6 run value, which shows it was a great pitch for him last year. He adopted the high-spin four-seamer up in the zone that teammate Gerrit Cole had been doing since 2018. However, it looked like he would struggle to put hitters away in two-strike counts because he was predictable with his fastball usage.
Along with the fastball, he threw his curveball and slider 19% and 16.3% of the time, respectively. Additionally, he threw a sinker, cutter, and changeup 6% of the time or fewer. Hitters slugged .563 against his changeup and 1.462 against his cutter. While those come in much smaller sample sizes than his primary three pitches, it shows that Taillon did not have much by way of secondary offerings he can trust. Batters also hit .260 against his slider and .286 against his slider, further proving this point. In 2021, batters hit .167/.243/.272 in two-strike counts, good for a .516 OPS. For Taillon, batters hit .193/.249/.339 in this scenario which is a .587 OPS. While that is still very good, it demonstrates some of the trouble Jameson Taillon had in putting batters away at times last season.
2022 Pitch Usage
Whereas Taillon threw three pitches more than 10% of the time in 2021, that is up to five pitches now. He increased or steadied the usage rate on all of his pitches except for his four-seam fastball, which went down from 49.5% to 33.3%. His changeup went from 6% to 8.4%, sinker from 5.5% to 12.9%, cutter from 3.7% to 14%. Additionally, his slider has gone up from 16.3% to 17.3%, and the curveball rate down from 19% to 14.1%. While the numbers against his fastball and slider are worse than in 2021, they are better on all of his other pitches. He has not even allowed a hit on any of his 22 plate appearances ending with a changeup this year.
Learning about pitcher’s usage rates is always fascinating because it gives an in-depth look at what pitchers are doing from year to year, and how they are attacking batters. Understanding pitch usage is also important in context because these are process-oriented stats that greatly impact results-based stats. So what is it about Taillon’s change in pitch usage that has led to him having an All-Star caliber season?
Better Quality of Contact
Anytime a pitcher becomes predictable, he becomes more hittable. Despite some good moments in 2021, Jameson Taillon was very predictable. This expanded pitch repertoire in 2022 has led to a much different quality of contact than in 2021. For starters, Taillon allowed 24 homers in 144 1/3 innings last year; so far he has allowed only four homers in 58 1/3 innings. Taillon’s 0.61 HR/9 is the 8th-best rate in the American League, right behind teammate Nestor Cortes. Additionally, Taillon is posting a 5.8% HR/FB rate and 23.7% fly ball rate.
What does pitch usage have to do with Taillon’s flyball rate and home runs allowed? The thing about the high four-seam fastball approach is that it is susceptible to the long ball if it is not thrown high enough. It can catch the barrel of the bat and hitters will do damage against the pitch. Taillon still throws his fastball up in the zone, but he throws it far less frequently, leading to fewer fly balls, and fewer home runs.
Besides fewer fly balls, Jameson Taillon’s ground ball rate of 45.2% is much higher than his 34.4% rate in 2021. On that note, his line drive rate decreased from 22.3% to 19.8%. This also makes a big difference as line drives are the batted ball outcome that is most likely to result in a hit. Throwing fewer fastballs along with more off-speed and breaking pitches have given opposing batters a different look that Taillon did not provide last season. With all that, Taillon’s barrel rate went down from 8.2% to 6.2%, sweet spot rate from 33.9% to 32.3%, average exit velocity from 88.9 mph to 88.4 mph, and most significantly, the hard-hit rate went from 40.4% to 34.1%.
Final Thoughts on Jameson Taillon
Jameson Taillon is pitching better than he has ever pitched before. He is a more complete and even more knowledgeable pitcher than he was in 2021. Along with the rest of the pitching staff, his development this season has been perhaps more impressive than anything else. Taillon has some of the best stuff in the rotation. He has shown that he can be the number two in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole. He has learned how to pitch deeper into games and attack hitters more efficiently, which has benefitted himself and his team in more ways than one. While a 2.30 ERA will likely not last all season, Jameson Taillon has pitched himself squarely into All-Star consideration, and has been one of the best pitchers in the league.
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