It was only a month ago today that most people were wondering when Jameson Taillon would be promoted to Double-A. The 2010 first round pick had a 1.47 ERA in 36.2 innings over his first seven starts in high-A. Along with that impressive ERA was a 36:7 K/BB ratio, and just 25 hits allowed. That was on May 15th.
Taillon was scheduled to make his next start on May 16th. He ended up getting shelled for six runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings. At the time it was nothing to worry about. He had given up six runs in 36.2 innings in his previous seven starts. One bad start isn’t anything to worry about. But that was just the beginning of a string of bad starts, usually highlighted by one big inning. Here is a breakdown of those starts.
May 16: Taillon gives up a solo homer in the second inning for his only run in the first three innings. He walks the first two batters in the fourth, and both score on a two out ground rule double. In the sixth inning he gives up a two out single, triple, and home run for three more runs.
May 22: Taillon gives up a walk and two hits in two shutout innings. In the third he gives up two walks, a single, a triple, and a wild pitch to bring in three runs. He went on to pitch three more shutout innings.
May 27: Taillon allows just one walk through three innings. He allowed a walk, a stolen base, a double, a wild pitch, a single, and a two run homer before getting his first out in the fourth. A double given up by Jason Townsend later in the inning brought in his final run, giving him five earned runs in the inning.
June 2: Taillon gives up a run on a walk and three hits in the first three innings. In the fourth inning he allowed three straight one out doubles, followed by a single, for three runs. He followed that up with two more shutout innings.
June 8: Taillon allowed one run on four hits in four innings. The batter that scored reached on a wild pitch, swinging at strike three. In the fifth inning, Taillon gave up four straight one out hits to bring in two more runs.
June 13: Taillon allowed one run on two hits through the first three innings. In the fourth inning he gave up two singles, four doubles, and a home run, leading to six runs.
Taillon has been hit hard lately, giving up all four of his home runs this year in those last six starts, as well as 41 hits, 28 earned runs, and a 26:10 K/BB ratio in 31 innings. That’s brought up a lot of concern and a lot of theories. Questions range from injury speculation, to the amount of fastballs Taillon is throwing, to just wondering if he’s not as good as we thought he was.
Taillon is healthy, so there’s no concern there. He’s been hitting in the upper 90s, and has touched triple digits this year.
The focus that the Pirates place on fastball command is highly documented in the lower levels. But Taillon isn’t throwing all fastballs. In his last six starts he threw 28% off-speed stuff. That’s still a lot of fastballs, but more in the normal range for a power pitcher who works off his fastball.
The “one big inning” factor also raises some questions. It’s not like Taillon is going out there and getting hammered from the start, struggling every inning. He does well the first time through the lineup, then has a bad inning. Sometimes he recovers and pitches a few more strong innings. Sometimes the bad inning is enough to bounce him from the game.
The answer to what is wrong with Taillon is simple. When he allows a few runners to reach base, he starts trying to blow hitters away. That leads to him “throwing” more than “pitching”, which leads to him elevating his pitches. And that leads to more hits, which leads to the big innings.
“The issue is that he doesn’t know yet how to minimize damage,” Pirates’ farm director Larry Broadway said. “Every pitcher is going to give up runs and baserunners. (Jameson’s) issue is that he doesn’t yet know how to minimize the damage and stick with his plan. It is something that comes with experience and maturity which is what he is going through right now.”
Usually the only questions people like to hear about prospects are “when will he be promoted”. No one wants to hear that a prospect has something to work on, unless it’s followed by “he’s coming along well with this”. At the start of the year we heard that Jameson Taillon was working on reducing the drop in his delivery. That was what led to a lot of his struggles last year. His progression looked great this year, driving his fastball down in the zone, and showing good command of his pitches.
In the short-term, this is a concern for Taillon, but only in the sense that it’s something he needs to address. The key with all prospects is realizing that they have something to work on. For Taillon, it seems that he needs to trust that his upper 90s fastball, his plus curveball, and his improving changeup are enough. He’s a 20-year-old pitcher just going through the development process that is normal for young pitching prospects. Look around the league and you’ll see similar stories. Dylan Bundy off to a rocky start in high-A. Shelby Miller getting hammered in his last five starts in Triple-A.
Every young player goes through stretches like this. The guys who go on to eventually make the majors are the guys who can adjust and fix whatever issue is leading to the poor performances. For fans — and especially Pirates fans who are used to seeing everything go wrong — it can feel like the player will never fix his current issues while the issues are going on. But to add some perspective, it was only a month ago that people thought Taillon had nothing to work on, and the only thing between him and the majors was X amount of innings/months at each level.
Looking back, it seems kind of silly to think that based on seven starts, although it was easy to feel that way in the middle of his dominant run. By the same measure, it’s ridiculous to have any long-term concerns based on six horrible starts. And once again, it’s easy to worry when you’re in the middle of the bad stretch.
Taillon is 20 years old, and needs to work on being a mature pitcher, limiting the damage of one big inning and preventing the wheels from falling off the wagon. The simple truth is that if he didn’t have to work on things like this, there would be no reason for him to be in the minor leagues.