Tonight is one of the more exciting early season games of the young season as Jameson Taillon will make his Yankees debut. I have been looking forward to this since the Yankees traded for him back in January, and I’m sure you have been too.
While there will not be any long-term takeaways from just one early April start against the lowly Orioles, there are quite a few things to watch as Taillon takes the mound. Let’s get into those after the jump.
His New Delivery
Taillon did an interview with the New York Times’ James Wagner after the trade in which he said he hates “seeing videos of the way I used to throw”, adding that it “disgusts” him. That’s because he has a new delivery now. It all started after his second Tommy John surgery and it’s intended to keep him healthy. It was very obvious in his first Spring Training start, as this side-by-side illustrates:
It’s a much, much shorter delivery now up top. It came as a result of new workouts and an emphasis, ironically enough, on his lower-half. Taillon is predictably excited about the change. He says that the new arm action is increasing his spin rates. There may be some evidence of that, based on Spring Training. Here is a table that shows the average RPM on all of his pitches:
A few notes on the above: for his career, I excluded 2021, since we just have Spring Training stats, and I excluded 2021 from the league averages, as well. That’s just for consistency. Anyway, I think this is pretty exciting overall. There is some, albeit limited, evidence that Taillon is indeed spinning the ball more. It’s true for every pitch in his arsenal. (Whether that’s good for his changeup, which is typically designed to have less spin, remains to be seen.) That could increase his effectiveness and ability to get strikeouts.
We don’t have much to go off here, so there is no point in making bold declarations yet. But there are two things worth watching here, tonight and beyond. First, whether or not his new delivery is consistent and noticeable, and second, whether or not it is actually increasing his spin rates. Taillon seems to think so, and the evidence suggests it might. That would be cool.
Taillon, as I noted at the time of the trade, has a bit of Pittsburgh Pirates disease. That is to say that he throws his fastball down in the zone. Check out a heat map of all his fastballs throughout his career:
This goes against the grain of modern pitching. It especially goes against the grain for a guy like Taillon, who averages 95 miles-per-hour on his four-seamer. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is: it is very similar to the Gerrit Cole experience in Pittsburgh. They asked him to use a sinker/two-seamer down in the zone, and once he left Pittsburgh, Houston had him use his four-seamer up. It would be unfair to expect Taillon to turn into Cole, of course, but it stands to reason that Taillon can generate more whiffs and strikeouts with this simple change.
Early in the spring, Taillon noted that he wanted to change that habit and throw his four-seam fastball more. That was music to my ears. Here is a summary, courtesy of The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler:
That all tracks with everything we’ve seen so far. And, sure enough, there is evidence already from Spring Training that he is indeed trying to to use the four-seam more and abandon that sinker. Check this out:
And there’s also evidence that Taillon is throwing the ball up in the zone as a result:
That is his 2021 Spring Training heat map of his fastball usage. Much higher in the zone, right? Pretty obvious. Now, old habits die hard, of course, but that’s great to see. Let’s see more of this, shall we?
Again, there won’t be huge conclusions to draw from this yet. In fact, Taillon’s velocity still isn’t even all the way back. That is another thing to watch today, coupled with his four-seam location. Still, I am looking forward to see if this new attack style is here to stay. It could pay huge dividends for Taillon and the Yankees both.
Finally, I think it’s worth watching Taillon’s changeup usage tonight. This is not exactly specific to him. As Randy noted last night, the Yankees are using more changeups as a staff overall so far in 2021. That could definitely be the work of new pitching coach Matt Blake. It’s definitely been notable, so it’s worth seeing if it applies to Taillon as well. And, as Adler noted above, he was “working” on the pitch this spring.
He has not historically used the pitch much, as his overall usage chart demonstrates:
But, as noted above, he’s made some significant usage changes so far. It’s worth seeing if the change figures into that more heavily tonight, even if it didn’t in Spring Training. (He only used it 4.5% of the time in the Grapefruit League.)
The moral of the story is that I am very, very excited to watch Taillon take the bump tonight. He is a very good pitcher when he’s healthy, and there’s a very good chance that he brings out a new look tonight. All together, this is what we saw this spring: a new delivery that is supposedly increasing his spin rates, coupled with new usage that plays up to his strengths. That is a good formula.
This could unlock a lot of productivity from Taillon – and develop him into the top-of-the-rotation star the Yankees believe they acquired in January.