First Pitch: Looking Beyond the Numbers to Find Jameson Taillon’s Upside

There was a lot to take away from today’s article on Jameson Taillon. The information in that article was some of the most insightful stuff we’ve had on this site, and I feel comfortable saying that without feeling like I’m taking credit, because the bulk of the article was basically Taillon and Jim Benedict quotes. Seriously, there were 1,800 words before I even typed a sentence.

While everything they said helps to further understand the delivery and the process a pitcher goes through to have command of his pitches, there was one thing that really stood out: the talk of how Taillon’s drop and drive approach got so bad in the first place.

Taillon felt he needed to make a big move in order to gain velocity. His focus on gaining velocity stemmed from the fact that velocity gets you paid in the draft. Here are the explanations from Taillon and Benedict.

Taillon: “Specifically talking about the drop in the delivery, at that time, 19 years old, first outing in pro ball, I think the drop is attributed to the draft process. Trying to throw hard. Trying to get paid. [Laughs]. That’s how you’re trained growing up, unfortunately.”

Benedict: “This tape, all of the things he had done from a delivery standpoint, from an arm action standpoint, were created in high school. We were trying to get him taller, but at the same time, his training was to light up the gun and not to get people out with angles and spins.”

There are a lot of problems here that often get overlooked when evaluating a player. Throughout Taillon’s entire career, there have been questions about whether he can reach his upside as a top of the rotation starter. Pretty much all of these questions stemmed from the numbers he was putting up, while ignoring what might be happening behind the scenes. In his case, it was multiple things — learning a changeup (the Pirates forced him to throw it 20 times per game in High-A), altering his delivery, and as Benedict mentioned, learning how to get people out with angles and spins.

Fortunately, Taillon has been open to all of the changes since day one. There have been some hiccups and a lack of trust in his stuff at times, but he has done a good job with the adjustments and has really improved since being drafted. That said, it’s kind of concerning that draft picks can get so far off track with poor mechanics, all for something that really doesn’t matter, like velocity.

I was talking with Vance Worley after his start in the B game on Monday when a few minor leaguers walked by with the radar gun chart. Worley asked them what he was sitting that day, and they responded 87-90. His response? “That’s good.”

When you talk about the draft, and you mention a right-hander who throws 87-90, you start thinking things like “late round pick” and “organizational depth” and “I hope he’s got the potential to increase his velocity.” But Worley started explaining how you don’t need an upper 90s fastball. All you need are angles and command. It has worked for him in the past, prior to his injury, and it seems to be working for him since getting his mechanics back on track.

That’s not to say it isn’t nice to have velocity. But I’d take a guy like Worley — with an 87-90 MPH fastball, great command of his pitches, and the ability to fool batters — over a guy with an upper 90s fastball, horrible control, and no ability to fool a hitter with his stuff.

The ideal situation is to have both, and that’s why you draft a guy like Taillon, even with his mechanical flaws at the time. The hope is that you can take that hard throwing pitcher, iron out the mechanics, and have a hard thrower who can command his pitches and throw on a downhill plane. Those guys usually end up as top of the rotation starters.

It’s too early to say whether Taillon will end up with that result. I think he’s still on track, even with the Tommy John setback. He has made a lot of good changes over the years, and is a much better pitcher now than his career minor league stats give him credit for.

**

Brandon Cumpton underwent Tommy John surgery today, which will put him out for the entire 2015 season, and possibly the start of the 2016 season. This impacts the early season depth a bit, although if Clayton Richard can step up as a reclamation project, the Pirates won’t feel the loss of Cumpton as much. I wrote about Richard yesterday, noting the changes he is making with Ray Searage to get his mechanics back to where they were before all of his injuries the last few years.

**

The Bradenton Marauders roster is starting to shape up, and it’s looking like a team loaded with prospects. Today I reported that Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez will both be going to High-A, which follows last week’s news that Reese McGuire and Luis Heredia will be heading to the level. In the Meadows/Ramirez link, I broke down the expected lineups and rotations as things sit right now. It’s possible there could be some changes as camp goes on, but I don’t see too many differences from the roster I laid out.

**

ESPN ranked the Pirates sixth overall when looking at the talent teams have in the present, the talent in their farm systems, and the amount of money they can spend. It’s good that they are ranked so high. The unfortunate news is that a lot of other NL teams, including a few NL Central teams, are also ranked up there with them.

**We have less than 100 paperback books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

**Every day I upload content on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the video features on YouTube. Be sure that you’re subscribed to all of those sites to follow everything we upload throughout Spring Training (there is different content for each social media site).

  • Nice article. Certainly sheds some light on what these kids face as high schoolers.

    The problem with Worley’s all-you-need-are-angles-and-command argument is that it is ridiculously, incredibly difficult to teach those things. Plus command and plus movement from a delivery with plus-plus deception. Sure, why doesn’t everyone do it!

    If you’re a scout, and want to keep your job, how many dozens of 86-90 mph high school arms are you willing to recommend in the hopes that *one* of them is able to put it all together?

    As we’ve seen first hand, even the smallest change in mechanics turned Worley from a successful starting pitcher to fighting for a roster spot, any roster spot, period.

    • NMR, the great thing about those 86-90 MPH high school arms, is that everyone else will be ignoring them as well, so you can scoop them up in rounds 10-20 and develop them with no spotlight on them.

      • True, but how many of those guys can a system really carry? And for how long? Think about the numbers of guys Tim and John have pointed out will be without rotation spots in their affiliate previews this winter.

        I’m also presuming you’re drafting higher upside pitchers at the same time, since you must certainly would want to.

      • I think most of those high 80s to 90 mph high school arms will end up going to college.

        There are some serious perverse consequences with the focus on velocity, but it is easy to measure, easy to compare, and of all the skills looked at the easiest to project.

        The angles command guys have a skill set that is almost impossible to project and one that you don’t know if it is going to work until it does. Think Mike Fiers, a RHP throwing 88 mph. And as mentioned the margin for error with these type of pitchers in very small.

  • I wouldn’t say Velocity doesn’t matter. I would say that using those those angles and command with some gas behind it is a whole lot more effective. If I am right I think Taillon throws his 2 seam fastball around 93. Which is plenty for that pitch when it’s doing what it is supposed to. Where his velocity comes into play is when he throws he 4 seam at 95-97 mph. Thankfully, Worley is not as his top velocity yet. By his first start I believe he will be 90-92 which is fine. He is not a power pitcher. He doesn’t need to be to be successful

  • Interesting read…I have always thought that velocity was overrated, due to the advent of radar guns and what seems like an obsession with velocity over other aspects of pitching. When you read a scouting on a pitcher, almost all the time one of the first things that is listed is their velocity….so, I am sure that this does impact kids to try to do all that they can to get that velocity up and get noticed.
    I always thought that if Greg Maddux was in HS today, would he even get drafted?? That may be an exaggerated way of making a point, but it is still a valid question in general.
    I guess my question is…I wonder if what Taillon experienced in HS, contributed to his need for TJS last year?? If yes, could that partly explain what seems to be a TJS epidemic? I read an article on the top 20 LA Dodgers prospects yesterday on another site, of those 20, 10-12 were probably pitchers. Of those, three has recent TJS.

  • Ryan Johnson
    March 11, 2015 8:31 am

    While I’m very happy to see Taillon comin along, part of me still can’t help but wonder where the Pirates would be right now had they drafted Manny Machado instead of Taillon. I wanted Machado so badly going into that draft, and I’m sure had the Pirates known that they’d be getting Cole the next year, Machado would have been the guy I think.

    They talked about Machado as the best HS player since A-Rod and he’s been incredible so far in his young career, especially on defense. What a lineup we’d have with him sitting with Cutch, Marte and Polanco for the next few years.

    • If we had machado we’d just be wondering when he was getting called up this year and and what we’re gonna do with mercer.. plus we probably wouldn’t have a need for kang.. I think if jt reaches close to his ceiling i’d be happy with jt & kang instead of machado

      • If we had Machado, he would have been called up back in 2012 as our starting SS. While his defense was still probably good enough to stick at SS, his long term future would have been at 3B, which would have allowed us to make the Pedro transition a little earlier. This is a team that was one win away from the NLCS in 2013 and he would have been a huge upgrade at SS, so you never know how history may have played out with him as a Pirate.

      • Yeah, nobody in their right mind is wondering what you do with Jordy Mercer when Manny Machado is replacing him…

        • You still have to do something with mercer.. whether it’s move him to 2b or utility if or trade… I don’t think anyone in their right mind would believe the buccos would be as aggressive calling him up as the orioles. . but apparently some do

    • LOL Seriously? Machado really hasn’t been incredible at all. He’s had two knee surgeries ,missed a lot of time and really hasn’t put up great numbers. I’m glad we took Taillon, especially if he gets anywhere near his upside. Not sure if there is another Manny Machado you have been watching than the one I’ve been watching

      • Are you serious?

        Yeah, that 2012 season when he led the AL with 51 doubles and won the 3B Gold Glove…all while 20 years old…what a bum. And that was a Gold Glove that was actually deserved for his defense, not just because he was one of the best hitting 3B’s. The guy is mentioned in the same vein as Brooks Robinson defensively at 3B…I think it’s you who is apparently watching a different Manny Machado than the rest of us.

        He’s consistently ranked as one of the Top 10 players in baseball under 25 (and he’s STILL only 22 years old).

        • Somehow folks are managing to argue against a guy who has put up 10 wins before his 23rd birthday.

        • Machado’s stats are bizarre though and I’m not too familiar with the whole story but I’m really surprised the Orioles called Machado up so fast. It must have been purely for his defense and he was making solid contact. He hit .266 in double A as a 19 year old, who would have thought (looking at his minor league stats), that he would do better against Major League talent then he would against minor league talent.
          .
          Still, he’s been average with the bat. His defense is pretty special though. Considering his age though, he very well could get better at the plate. I doubt the Pirates would have rushed him however. The O’s will need to extend Machado just to get his prime late 20’s years as he will be a free agent during his age 27 season.

          • The O’s sort of fell into being a contender in 2012, I think had Wilson Betemit or something like that playing 3B, and refused to trade for anyone at the deadline.

            Instead, they brought up Machado, who absolutely still had plenty of development left at the plate, but was also absolutely better than what they had at the big league level. They essentially traded his prime years for lesser production while he learned on the fly.

            I also disagree he’s been a better hitter in the Majors than minors, and it’s not particularly close.

            • Yeah, I guess it makes sense on why the O’s brought up Machado. Hmm, I’m surprised you think Machado was better in the minors than he has been in the majors. He hit .256 with a .756 OPS in 2011 single A. 2012 in double A before his call-up he was hitting .266 with .789 OPS. I suppose those numbers are pretty good for his age, but they’re not exactly .325 with .900 OPS either. So far in the majors, he’s hit .278 with a .747 OPS. Really what has hurt his OPS is his walk rate is pretty low, other than that he hits and hits for extra bases seemingly better in the majors than he did in the minors.

          • I’m still stubbornly Team Taillon, for what it’s worth. But pretty damn hard to argue against Team Machado at this point.

            • Ryan Johnson
              March 11, 2015 2:26 pm

              At least someone is talking sense here!

              For the record, I’ll be more than happy to jump over to Team Taillon if he can put up a couple 15-20 win seasons! I wanted Machado on draft day, just sticking to my guns until proven wrong…haha.

            • I don’t see any reason why there is a team for either player. Both players were rated high and were options for the Pirates to choose, so it’s not like the Pirates were wrong to choose Taillon. Also, Taillon hasn’t flamed out and proven to be a bust either and instead looks like he’ll at least be a quality starter in the rotation. Maybe he won’t be an ace, maybe he still will be, who knows but the Pirates IMO were better to take a chance to get an ace than to go for a position player. Good position players can be found more easily than top of the rotation starters IMO.
              .
              I suppose I’ve inadvertently joined team Taillon, but really I can’t fault those that wanted the Pirates to draft Machado, he is pretty good. I consider myself more indifferent than anything though.

              • Haha, I’m reading through your thoughts and thinking to myself “dude just pretty much admitted to being Team Taillon”.

                But yeah, that’s literally exactly where I stand on the two players. I’ve just accepted at this point that it’s going to be awfully tough for Taillon to come out the more valuable player.

                If I knew then what I know now about pitcher risk, and how great the Pirates are at acquiring undervalued pitchers in general, I’d probably be much closer to Team Machado, fwiw.

                • Yeah, I think it comes down to the hindsight thing though, even for people who favored Machado during the draft. No one actually knows how a draft pick is going to turn out no matter how many positive things are said pre-draft. In hindsight maybe I would prefer the Pirates drafted Machado. in the 2010 draft I didn’t really favor one over the other. I do recall liking Anthony Rendon in the 2011 draft (although his injury at the time did worry me) but I don’t think it would be fair for me to be mad at the Pirates for taking Cole over Rendon for a number of reasons (primary of which, Cole was still a highly rated player). I can think of only two drafts maybe that fans have every right to be mad at the Pirates, 2007 Moskos over Wieters and 2002 Bullington over Upton.
                  .
                  On the flip side of the coin, we are lucky the Pirates drafted Taillon. Littlefield probably would have drafted Barret Loux or Karsten Whitson with the 2nd overall pick. I’m going to wait to see what Taillon can do once he reaches the majors before I say maybe they should have drafted Machado.

                  • Certainly could be hindsight for you, but personally, I consider it a bit more of a learning experience. You won’t find a bigger “pitching and defense” guy than me, but I’m just not sure anymore how much I’m comfortable chasing that in the draft.

                    Position players seem like such safer bets anymore that I’m inclined to target them with my top picks while stockpiling high upside arms in the mid rounds, a la Kingham, Glasnow, and even as early as the prep guys last year.

                    Definitely don’t fault Huntington, per se, but do think lessons can be learned.

      • You clearly either arent watching him or are watching him and using just your gut to evaluate him. At his age, what he is doing both offensively and defensively is impressive by anyone being logical. Gold glover already who has shown the ability to be a .270-.280 hitter. Kid put up 6 WAR one year, and can barely drink. Nearly every projection of a healthy Machado is a 4-5 WAR player not even 25 years old. Fair enough to like a big time SP prospect at the time over Machado, but lordy you cant say Machado hasnt been incredibly at all yet.

    • I would more than likely be wondering if Machado was ever going to stay on the field through his arb years.

      • I know he’s had a couple knee surgeries, but we are comparing him to a guy who missed a year with Tommy John surgery. Technically Taillon spent more time injuried than Machado.

        Like I said, I still like Taillon and hope he’ll be a beast for us, it’s just fun to revisit draft history and wonder what might have been…

    • You can do this kind of thing ad infinitum, it can be fun but I’d wait for at least 3 years of service time for both players.

      Here is Baseball America’s report on their number 8 overall pre-draft prospect.

      The only pitcher in this draft with comparable pure stuff is Jameson Taillon. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound —– has cleaned up his delivery and command, and he maintains his overpowering stuff into the late innings. The —- recruit had expressed a desire to hit, and he does have some of the best raw power in the draft. He famously hit a broken-bat homer at the East Coast Professional Showcase last summer, though his swing has gotten long this spring. With his size, power and arm strength, he could be an early-round pick as a third baseman, but he now accepts that his future is on the mound.

    • The “especially on defense” is the key there Ryan, as his offense has only been slightly better than Jordy’s so far (104 wRC+ vs. Jordy’a 98). And now Machado has had knee surgery at 22 years old. He wouldn’t be the first player to see his fielding adversely affected by knee/leg issues. I say it’s still a toss up if Taillon works out better than him or not. Especially since we have Jordy and/or Kang to handle SS.

  • Jamie Moyer made a career of soft stuff with command and making batters miss. He wasn’t top of the rotation but a solid guy for 30 some years. Not saying Worley will be pitching at age 50 but guys like that have a good track record.

  • The last article over Taillon and this are, imo, some of the best work i have read on this site. Credit to all involved and wonderful job putting it all together. Rare to get this type of insight and look into the less “sexy” parts of player development.

    I can only imagine how some would react/will react to Worley coming with a “thats good” after hearing he is popping the mitt at around 90.

    • Well stated and I agree wholeheartedly. We are all guilty of making snap judgements on Pitchers just by hearing their velocity numbers. As the article wound its way to Vance Worley, I could not help but think of Brandon Cumpton who is also a low 90’s RH who has been a solid contributor for the Pirates the past few years. I wish him luck in his rehab, and look forward to his return with the Pirates in 2016.

Menu