Regardless of what one does for a living, one’s career will be filled–almost always–with peaks and valleys. Before 2021, Jameson Taillon experienced a barrage of valleys: two Tommy John Surgeries and testicular cancer. That his baseball career is still intact after those is, at the very least, admirable. That the 2021 season was full and reasonably successful for him is impressive.
Taillon came to the Yankees by way of a January trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, exchanged for minor leaguers Maikol Escotto, Canaan Smith-Njigba, Rosany Contreras, and Miguel Yajure. The Yankees saw something of value in Taillon, which isn’t surprising given his former high draft status and pitching successes. They thought–as they often do–that they could unlock something in him that the Pirates could not. And, thus, Jameson Taillon, a 6’5”, 230 pound right handed pitcher from The Woodlands, Texas, changed not only organizations, but philosophies as well.
With the Yankees, Taillon switched from his 2-seamer to his 4-seamer and moved from working down in the zone to working up in the zone, all in addition to changing his mechanics.
This approach changed his 4-seamer into a true weapon. Pre-2021, Taillon surrendered a .263 average and a .329 wOBA against his 4-seamer with 108 strikeouts (20.8%). In 2021, those numbers fell to .201 and .286 and rose to 88 (in just one season; 28.9%). As he gets more used to this approach, these numbers–especially the home run numbers (13 this year) could get even better.
With his new approach, Taillon notched career highs in both K/9 and K%, but he also suffered career worst marks in HR/9 and FIP. These competing data sets, if frustrating, are logical. More 4-seamers up in the zone will produce way more strikeouts than 2-seamers down in the zone. The tradeoff, of course, is the home run ball. Given this new approach, some growing pains were to be expected. At times, he had it figured out–like when he won AL Pitcher of the Month in July. At other times, he didn’t.
But we’d be remiss, negligent even, if we did not acknowledge the great success Taillon had–mostly–in terms of health this year. Coming off his second TJS, he still managed to log 144.1 innings in 29 games. He will unfortunately miss Spring Training–and time in the 2022 season–with a surgically repaired ankle.
This changes the calculus for 2022 a bit.
When I originally outlined this piece, my closing was going to be about how, with the health question answered, 2022 would have to be results-focused, or Taillon would fall into the pile of previous pitching projects that didn’t prosper in pinstripes: Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Sonny Gray, James Paxton, Lance Lynn. Now, though, that changes partially. Whenever he starts his 2022 in the Majors, there will be a necessary grace period for Taillon. How long that does or should last is a question to be answered.
Considering the litany of changes and challenges faction Taillon, it’s safe to call 2021 a success for him. Resoundingly so? No. But something to build on, something to work from? Absolutely.