Jameson Taillon, Looking Beyond Statistics
You can’t scout a box score. If you watch a single minor league game that should be apparent. The defense is terrible, umpires are suspect and the quality of competition wanes from park to park. The statistics derived from these games have their uses but only go so far. In the minor leagues, routine outs become doubles and strikeouts aren’t created equally. What’s my point? We shouldn’t evaluate players based on what happened, but rather how it happened.
On Tuesday night, Jameson Taillon made his Double-A debut after an enigmatic stay in the Florida State League where he compiled statistics that don’t necessarily support his exalted prospect status. In Trenton I got a chance to watch the Pirates’ farm hand decimate a weak Trenton lineup. Hopefully this thorough report diminishes your desire to fawn over his statistics and instead focus on Jameson Taillon’s raw ability.
Prototype. That’s the only description for Jameson Taillon’s 6’6″ 225 pound frame. His upper legs – glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps – are well developed. As are his most notable assets, his broad and powerful back and shoulders. This combination allows the drop-and-drive pitcher to create the torque which is the engine the drives him. If you could build a pitcher from scratch, you would come up with someone who looks awfully like the 20-year-old Canadian.
Insight from our pitching guru Kevin Scobee reinforces that point:
“Boy there is a lot to like here. Aside from all the other pitchers I’ve done in this series (Michael Ynoa, Gerritt Cole, Anthony Meo), Taillon most closely resembles the basics of sequencing, body dynamics, and trunk explosion I spend most of my words writing about. From the hip loading into kick, the slight shoulder turn that creates separation from the hips and shoulders at foot strike, to the inside load on the back leg, Taillon’s been my favorite so far.”
The sequencing and explosive movement Kevin discusses allows Taillon to create immense velocity. Throughout the start Taillon primarily threw his four-seam fastball which did not dip below 95 MPH and was just as frequently recorded at 97 MPH. Due to his height and three quarter arm slot Taillon is able to work the fastball on a good downward plane when it’s thrown to the bottom half of the strike zone. When the pitch was up in the zone it had a tendency to flatten out which is contrary to the pitch’s action when he was in high school. Back then it had more life up in the zone which was often referred to as “rise.”
Complimenting the four-seam fastball was a 93 MPH two-seamer. He didn’t throw many but when he did the pitch featured strong arm-side run and mimicked the four-seamer’s sink and plane. It was perplexing that he didn’t throw this pitch more often given it’s movement and his ability to control it.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss his curveball at length. Taillon’s curveball is a wicked 12-6 breaking ball that falls off the table. Evaluating it on potential movement alone, it was the best I’ve seen this year. Thunder hitters would likely agree as they made some atrocious swings at the offering. Sitting next to me during the start charting the game for the Pirates was a man named Tim. Given his stature and affiliation I deducted that his last name was likely Alderson. Anyway, after a Yankee flailed at the pitch, Tim turned to another pitcher and said something to the effect of, “that curveball has no hump, it breaks late and falls off the table.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I won’t.
With that said, the offering has shortcomings. Taillon had noticeable trouble gaining consistency with the pitch during his pre-game bullpen session and through the first two innings. After that point it was practically unhittable but he did sporadically helicopter a few. While the movement of the pitch is the best I’ve seen this year when Taillon threw the curveball at it’s full potential, it’s shape wasn’t consistent and that lead to him not being able to control it like the two curveball artists I wrote up this year, Shelby Miller and Taylor Guerrieri.
Heaping praise on his fastball and curveball isn’t difficult. His change-up is another story entirely. It was a far below average offering coming in between 82 MPH and 86 MPH. He threw just four or five during the start but he never threw it with conviction, often he missed up with the pitch which never showed the requisite tumbling action. In other words, he has little feel for the pitch at this time.
Now that we’ve discussed Taillon’s arsenal, here’s Kevin with more on his mechanics.
“One of the hardest things to teach and drill into at athlete once they started pitching (at least from what I found) is the hip loading that should be done at the start of leg kick. What it does is not only allow for the full body to start its slide to the plate sooner (creating better extension and getting weight off the back leg, where it shouldn’t be), but engages the full use of the trunk to explode through rotation to release. Taillon – much moreso than either Cole or Meo who use the “tall and fall” mechanics that hurt overall athleticism and explosiveness – sets into his hip loading early creating a good amount of torque at foot strike.
“The stiff glove work is also a good sight to see. Upper body control is often hurt in younger pitchers because of an over-active glove side that “pulls” too violently back to the back as the pitching motion comes through to release. Keeping the glove firm, allows the body to have more of a falling action forward, instead of a twisting action around.
“I’m not the biggest fan of the arm action out of break as it’s pretty long. At least, that’s from what you can tell with the video provided. With the benefit of a high-speed, frame-by-frame, we’d be better able to tell one way or the other. I paused at the 3:30 mark at what I could mostly get to the moment of impact with the ground, and I don’t see anything too bad, though I’d like to see the throwing side get tightened up just a bit. Surprisingly, I wouldn’t change much with Taillon. If I had to nitpick, I’d focus on tightening up the arm length out of break and into scap-load.”
After giving my observations to the rest of the guys at Bullpen Banter, Stephen Kuperman asked me why I thought Jameson Taillon’s has struggled at times despite having great stuff. In all likelihood I saw Taillon’s best start of his career. It was at Double-A and he was filthy. Still, it wasn’t to difficult to look back at his performance and address Steve’s question. First, Taillon is a two pitch pitcher. Why would his arsenal cause him to struggle? Generally, the curveball is a difficult pitch to control and throw for called strikes. If Taillon isn’t throwing it consistently for strikes – and I opine that’s typically the case for him – hitters can lay off the pitch and sit on his fastball. The lack of a quality change up allows them to sit dead-read. Moreover, his fastball isn’t as explosive when it’s belt high and hitters are having less trouble squaring it up.
The 20-year-old Taillon has the potential to be top of the rotation arm if he can learn to command a league average or better change-up. At this point he can’t control a 30 grade change-up so he has a long way to go before he reaches his potential. Furthermore, he’ll need to hone his fastball command. Right now he’s able to control the pitch into four quadrants most of the time. Inside, Outside. Up, Down. Additional precision will go a long way. Of course, a consistent shape with his curveball will also be important.
Tuesday night Taillon was as impressive as I’d expect any 20-year-old to be. He’s far from a finished product and has considerable work to do to reach his potential. Still, you can’t teach that kind of fastball curveball combination. It’s got the potential to be devastating at the major league level should it be complimented with a third offering. It’s easy to look at Taillon’s ERA (3.82, league average of 3.88), strike out percentage (18.9%, league average of 17.6%) and walk percentage (8.3% against 9.4%) and be unimpressed. By the numbers, he’s just slightly better than league average. But, once we delve deeper to answer the questions of “how?” and “why?” the truth is apparent. Jameson Taillon has an arsenal of weapons, and with refinement – a lot of refinement – he could be a special pitcher.