The MLB season is a little over a week old, and so far there haven’t been many bright spots for the Pirates. That obviously comes with the disclaimer that the season is only about a week old, which means you can’t weigh performances too heavily. You can use those performances as a guideline for future roles and expectations. For example, I don’t think I would be trusting Antonio Bastardo in any role other than cleanup duty right now, until he can show that he has better control of his pitches.
It has only been two starts for Jameson Taillon, but so far the second year starting pitcher has shown some positive signs, and reasons to be hopeful about future expectations. Taillon has given up just two runs in 13 innings over his two starts, with four walks and ten strikeouts. This follows a rookie season where he looked fantastic, putting up an xFIP that ranked 16th out of all pitchers with 100+ innings in 2016.
Taillon always had top of the rotation upside, and it’s looking like that upside will be arriving sooner than later in the majors. Still, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle says there are things for Taillon to work on.
“He’s got improvements all across the board,” Hurdle said. “There’s nothing he can’t improve in. He showed up well last year. Consistency, dependability being the two biggest factors. And then as the season went on, and the starts started to stack up, pitch efficiency, the command of the two-seamer becoming a weapon, and still throwing the curveball. Using the changeup, a pitch he really worked hard on in Spring Training. Secondary pitches for strikes behind in counts. The four seam fastball will still play at times. The propensity of staying away from the big inning last year was also a strength.”
Taillon has made a lot of developments in the last year. It’s been well documented that he worked for years to fix his mechanics and his ability to throw his fastball down in the zone. He got to that point last year, but then switched to a two-seam fastball right before his MLB call-up. The reason for the switch was that he was getting the same velocity with the pitch, but a lot more movement than the four-seamer, along with the added ability of moving it around in the zone.
The switch to a two-seamer was a big reason why Taillon had so much success last year. He was able to use the pitch to set up his curveball, while also seeing a large percentage of ground balls.
Committed to the two-seam fastball, Taillon came into camp this year focused on another switch — a two-seam changeup. The Pirates prefer their pitchers having the same grip on the fastball and changeup, and for good reason. If you throw a four seam fastball and a two-seam changeup, batters can see the difference in spin and know what is coming. If the spin is the same, opposing hitters won’t pick up on that, and the changeup becomes more effective out of the hand.
“I think it’s a step above where it was last year,” Taillon said of the two-seam changeup. “I don’t think it’s the best changeup in the game by any means, but I think it’s a weapon. I’ll break it out early, and I think guys are going to have to put it in the book and defend against it.”
Taillon is using his changeup slightly less so far than he did last year, but still using the pitch around 10% of the time. The pitch is seeing a lot more movement, breaking about four extra inches away from left-handed hitters compared to his changeup last year. Taillon got some good feedback during Spring Training about the late movement of the pitch. As for the results, the advanced metrics show that the new change is not seeing too much of a difference over last year’s pitch, although that comes with the disclaimer that it’s still early, and he’s only thrown 16 registered changeups this year.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how it plays out in the season,” Hurdle said of the pitch. “A lot of things play out one way in Spring Training. I like what he’s doing as far as his awareness. I like what he’s trying to learn. He’s paying attention. He looked for ways to improve with the skills he had. We didn’t talk about developing another pitch. … He was really smart in our exit interview about what his plans were and how he’s planning to improve. Things he wanted to focus on in the offseason, [the changeup] being one of them.”
That awareness from Taillon, and his approach to the game where he’s always looking for ways to improve is what is most encouraging. He made a big improvement last year by switching to the two-seam fastball. We’ll see how the move to the new changeup goes, and right now it looks like it would be neutral at worst. One area where it might help out is by strengthening the fastball, since hitters now have to consider the changeup when they see a two-seamer coming their way. Again, small sample size, but Taillon’s two-seam fastball has improved this year, going from an .820 OPS last year to a .726 this year.
Taillon’s approach to the game, and these improvements he is making are good signs that he will continue putting up strong numbers and living up to his top of the rotation upside early in his career. That’s a good thing for the 2017 Pirates, since right now it looks like they don’t have any margin for error, and don’t have time for early career growing pains from Taillon.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.