There’s been one obvious sign from the Yankees in 2021, that the starting pitching has been dominant. Gerrit Cole‘s success doesn’t need much explaining and Corey Kluber holds a 2.56 ERA. Domingo German is also proving to everyone why the Yankees have kept him around. Even Jordan Montgomery is having a nice season, fresh off an 11 strikeout performance against the lefty-bashing Chicago White Sox on Friday.
But Jameson Taillon‘s performance in 2021 has felt overlooked, which isn’t too surprising. After all, he holds a 5.06 ERA in 9 starts. But a look beyond the results tells a better story. His xERA (Expected Earned Run Average), according to StatCast, is at 3.58, and his xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) sits at 4.03.
The suggestion, then, is that he’s had poor results while at the same time pitching well. For instance, Corey Kluber holds a 2.56 ERA, yet his xERA is 3.56 and is xFIP is 4.20. Those by no means are bad numbers, but Corey Kluber is not a sub 3 ERA pitcher anymore. Jameson Taillon, then, is not a north of 5 ERA pitcher, whose ERA prior to Sunday was 5.70.
Taillon’s Old Ways
Since joining the Yankees, Taillon has altered his pitch usage. If we go back to the last time that Taillon pitched (2019) he threw a Slider (31.9%), a 4-seamer (27.2%), a sinker (19.8%), a Curveball (15.7%) and a Changeup (5.4%). If we look at the performance that hitters had against his pitches in 2019, we see that batters had a .363 xwOBA against his sinker along with a .303 expected Batting Average. On his four-seam fastball, though, hitters had just a .312 xwOBA as well as a .230 Expected Batting Average. His Slider also played well in 2019 (.299 xwOBA) as well as his curveball (.244 xwOBA).
So in Pittsburgh, Taillon was throwing one of his worst pitches, the Sinker, 20% of the time. Meanwhile, his four-seam fastball was dominant along with his Slider and Curveball. In other words, it at least appears that he was not optimizing his pitch usage.
An Optimized Pitcher
Fast-Forward to 2021, and Jameson Taillon is practically a different pitcher. He has quite literally scrapped his Sinker (we can also call it a two-seamer, and he has not thrown it once this season) and upped his Four-Seam fastball usage to a whopping 52.6%, up from 27.2% in 2019. The Slider, which was his most used pitch in 2019, has dipped 8% in usage. He has also increased his Curveball usage by 6%, and his changeup usage has remained practically unchanged.
Taillon used to be a sinker ball pitcher while leaving his best pitch (four-seamer) on the back burner. Even if we go back to 2016, 2017 and 2018 the same story holds. In 2016 his sinker was his most used pitch but also his worst, the same goes for 2017. In 2018 he started to throw his fastball more, but still kept his Sinker in his arsenal.
2018 was actually Jameson Taillon’s best year as a starting pitcher, as he posted a 3.20 ERA in 191 IP, it was also the first season where he threw his four-seamer more than his sinker. He threw 1,054 four-seamers in 2018 as opposed to 644 Sinkers.
So while Taillon had results that would suggest his four-seamer was his best pitch, he still kept on using the sinker. 2021, though, has finally been the year of Taillon fully embracing his fastball. Throwing your best pitch much more often appears as a simple thing to do in theory, yet there are still many pitchers in MLB that throw a bad pitch way too often.
Taillon’s adjustments are a good reason to be bullish on his future performance. He has found his best pitch and is using it religiously, while at the same time scrapping a pitch that he (or others around him) probably thought was his bread and butter but was actually holding him back as a pitcher.
There has been some made about his poor location at times, but that is not as important as him getting better with his pitch usage. The location will come with more starts under his belt, it’s more important now that he establishes confidence in becoming this new type of pitcher.
Now you might be thinking, didn’t hitters have a .356 wOBA against his four-seam fastball this season prior to his Sunday start? The short answer is yes, but batter xwOBA on the pitch is .291. In fact, we saw a regression to the mean in his Sunday start, as now batter wOBA against his fastball is down to .329. Additionally, Taillon’s four-seam fastball is generating a 32% whiff rate this season, by far the best it has been in his career.
Just to add on to the bad luck he has had, batters have a .349 wOBA on his Curveball, but at the same time a .299 xwOBA. Jameson Taillon has been unlucky in many instances this season, and we should expect some more luck to come his way in the months ahead.