What’s fueled Jameson Taillon’s turnaround?

July’s American League Pitcher of the Month takes the ball for the Yankees tonight in the rubber game against the Orioles. Who saw that award coming for Jameson Taillon? Especially after that awful June 12th start against the Phillies in which he recorded just one out. At that point, Taillon owned a 5.74 ERA in 12 starts, which was 11th-worst among starters with at least 50 innings pitched. Ever since, the righty has pitched to a 2.28 ERA in his last eight starts coming into tonight. What a turnaround.

The funny thing about Taillon’s ascent is that it’s a bit difficult to point to anything underlying that’s driving his improvement. There’s one obvious difference in terms of results: he’s keeping the ball in the yard much more often. Through that start in Philly, the righty had a 1.69 HR/9 and a 13.7 percent HR/FB. Since, he stands at 1.14 HR/9 and a 9.4 percent HR/FB. That’ll do wonders for the ol’ ERA. Determining how Taillon has cut back on home runs allowed isn’t too obvious, though.

Taillon used to rely heavily on a sinker with Pittsburgh, but eschewed it in the early going with the Yankees. That pitch is back now, and has been used in every start since that disaster against Philadelphia. However, it’s not exactly something he’s prominently utilized. Had he gone sinker-heavy and dropped the high fastball, I think we’d have a fairly clear reason why Taillon’s home run rate dipped. That’s just not the case, though. In fact, his sinker usage seems to be waning again.

He’s used it less than five percent of the time in his last two outings, so it’s really just a show-me offering. Taillon is still relying on the north-south approach that the Yankees molded him into.

The other thing that could result in fewer home runs allowed: more missed bats. More strikeouts and fewer balls in play could be another explanation for Taillon’s better results, and yet, it’s not. In fact, Taillon’s strikeouts are down quite a bit. He fanned 25 percent of hitters through June 12th and 20.7 percent thereafter.

I took a high level look at a few other things, including edge percentage (as a proxy of command), pitch velocity, and movement to see if anything popped. Once again, no. First of all, Taillon isn’t a command guy. He’s just looking to challenge hitters with his four-seamer and then pick up whiffs on his breaking balls downstairs. He’s not throwing any harder than he did earlier this year and his pitches aren’t moving differently. Everything under the hood looks pretty steady.

One thing I hate to resort to in baseball analytics is the luck factor. It’s definitely a thing, but it’s always nice to be able to point to something changing that’s driving an improvement. I just can’t seem to identify anything in particular that’s gotten better for Taillon during his recent hot stretch. At the same time, I’m also not a stats-guru, so there could be something more advanced than my understanding which helps explain things here. In any case, I’m not complaining. It’s great to see Taillon pitch better.

So, about the luck factor, which I’ll begrudgingly fall back on. Take a look at these two charts:

If we take Taillon’s FIP vs. ERA and xwOBA vs. wOBA at face value, it’s pretty clear that the starter is catching up to his estimated performance from earlier this year. His ERA finally caught up to his FIP and his wOBA is inching closer to his expected mark. It’s great to see.

Other good descriptors of luck include BABIP and strand rate. Taillon’s seen a significant improvement in his BABIP (.246) and strand rate (88%) since June 12th, when he had a .317 BABIP and 67.2% strand rate. We’ll probably see some regression in the coming weeks here, but that doesn’t mean Taillon will warp back to his early-season self.

The Yankees really need Taillon to keep up this strong run the rest of the way, and particularly in the short-term. The team has a rotation’s worth of starters on the IL (Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino, Corey Kluber, and Domingo Germán), making good Taillon essential. Thankfully, that appears to have arrived and hopefully is here to stay. It took some aggravation and patience to get here, but clearly, it’s been worth it.

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11 Comments

  1. stevecwang13

    At the beginning of the season, Taillon said he was using a new delivery with more of a short-arm motion in an attempt to avoid injury. He seems to have gone back to his old delivery with a longer arm motion, which roughly coincided with the time he started pitching better. I haven’t heard anyone mention this; I’d love for someone in the media to ask him about this.

    • MikeD

      Mike Axisa did a breakdown on that recently and he didn’t see much of a change.

      • Ask Eddard for an explanation of that breakdown, I hear they are so close they share the same calzone sometimes…

  2. dasit

    it’s an insane long-shot but i’m holding out hope that they make the post-season with cole kluber severino and taillon peaking at the same time

    • MikeD

      There are worse things to hope for. It could even happen.

      I’ll add in decent selection of Judge, Stanton, Gary, Gleyber, Rizzo and Gallo all peaking on the hitting side. Last year, it felt like Stanton and no one else was hitting. Not everyone will hit, but getting several of the big guys hot at once is what championship runs are made from.

      • dasit

        in this 1-year “deal ball era” they might have a chance if just 2 of those guys are hitting
        if they win it all, it’s likely their run will include a bunch of 2-1 games

  3. Taillon was pitching out of the stretch full time at the start of the season, something (as a former pitcher through college) I hate to see-he got away from it in that start against the Phillies and started throwing the ball much better.

    I think that has lots to do with his improvement along with having enough innings under his belt to get a better feel for pitching and how to do a better job of both reading and missing bats. There’s no analytic to identify those mental adjustments except looking at results after they have already happened.

  4. Frankie Ho-Tep

    Do the Yankees have any plans to lessen Taillon’s workload? He threw all of 37 innings in 2019. He’s going to be on fumes in September, if not sooner. He needs to skip a start or two and/or have some extra rest between.

    I hope the Yankees have a plan. But remember, this is an organization that threw Severino, their young ace, out there every fifth day to get annihilated in the 2nd half of 2018 when it was obvious he wasn’t right. Weirdly enough, he hasn’t pitched since due to shoulder and elbow injuries. Can’t imagine why.

  5. Anthony Rizzeddardo

    Jameson’s turnaround has been remarkable, Derek. I’m surprised they didn’t give up on him after the Philly start after everyone was calling for his head. The kid can pitch and that’s always been clear. Another kid that can pitch is Luis Gil. And of course this FO rewarded the kid with a trip back to Scranton today. Can’t have that great arm in the majors. I’m sure the analytics department said Luis “isn’t ready for the majors” and Andrew Heaney is promoted to staff ace because “his peripherals are outstanding.” Little Red Ridings hood is still in the pen for now. Where has that kid been all season while Green and Chappy were blowing games and Nick Nelson was pitching to a 10 ERA? “They’re not ready” is always the excuse but talent is talent. You never know what they’ll do until they get up here and they get a chance to show us.

    • DZB

      I hadn’t seen that Gil was sent back to Scranton. I thought he would stick for another start after that gem and with Monty going on the IL. Weird decision. Maybe they figured that Baltimore was the right opponent for him and the next start wouldn’t be so kind. It would be nice if Garcia was ready for a start

    • Cmon, Mike, you know better than this but I guess trolling requires lots of dumbing down.

      The Yankees sent him down so they could bring up another reliever and will bring him back on Sunday for another start. Jack Curry reported this today. It can be done because the Covid IL allows it, it’s different than the normal 10 day wait.

      As for Ridiings, he looks really good and they picked him up off the scrap heap and converted him from starter to reliever in the spring. His last minor league work was in low A in 2019 so doubt he was ready for the bigs earlier in the season but am pretty sure his inning last night (while mourning his grandmother, who passed away a few days ago) will keep him up for the foreseeable future. Plus he’s a local kid, which may not mean anything to the club but means lots to fans.

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