Jameson Taillon recently earned Player of the Week honors and has looked superb in his first two starts this season. He is 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA. He has 16 strikeouts to just two walks in 14.1 innings of work. Of the 50 batters Taillon has faced this season, only eight have reached base.
Taillon has looked, dare I say, like an ace in his first two starts this season. He notched his first career complete game and shutout yesterday.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates to have any sort of chance to compete this season, Taillon must be a force. He has been just that in his first two starts. But can he continue this excellence for another 30?
Pounding the zone
Of the 50 batters he’s faced this season, Taillon has been ahead in the count 0-2 or 1-2 28 times. In those instances, batters have four hits, zero walks, and 16 strikeouts. Taillon has fallen behind 3-0 just once in the young season.
His aggressiveness has translated to a 32 percent K rate and four percent walk rate.
Taillon is throwing his fastball or sinker at a rate of 71.3 percent this season, about seven percent higher than his career rate. Hitters are 3/36 against those pitches with 13 strikeouts. One batter has reached base against the sinker in particular via walk in 17 plate appearances.
Here’s a look at his early season pitch location with the fastball and sinker, via FanGraphs.
Against righties, Taillon is staying near the bottom of the zone. He is living on the corners. Not many pitches are mid-mid. This shows that Taillon has a firm command of his heat, even in the cold.
Against lefties, Taillon is staying away, but also taking advantage of the top of the zone. He has done a great job of staying out of the lefty happy zone, down and in.
I know it’s a little early to bust out the heat maps, but then again, no it’s not. Taillon has done a phenomenal job of locating his hard stuff early on this season.
How can this success continue?
It’s great that Taillon is establishing his fastball early in the season, but at some point he will need to rely on his curveball and changeup more. Much more. Of the top five pitchers last season via fWAR, only one threw the fastball more than 51 percent. That was Chris Sale, the only lefty of the group.
A fastball rate of 71.3 percent is much too high. His career rate of 64.1 percent is also too high. In today’s MLB, hitters feast on fastballs. That is why most of the elite starting pitchers in this league only throw it about half of the time. Taillon will need to follow suit to take the leap from promising young pitcher to Cy Young candidate. He has the secondary stuff to do it. Both his curveball and changeup are plus pitches. Against the secondary pitches, opposing batters have two hits in 11 at bats. Over his career, opposing hitters have a .539 OPS against his curveball and .585 OPS against the changeup.
The big question is, will the Pirates allow him to throw less fastballs? Ask Gerrit Cole. He is currently thriving under the Houston Astros’ breaking ball happy philosophy.
The Pirates have preached the gospel of the fastball. It’s an outdated approach. It just is. Yes, it is working for Taillon right now. But he’s only had two starts. Over the course of a long season, this will eventually become a problem.
But then again, he’s only thrown 14.1 innings. Perhaps Taillon will rely more on his breaking pitches as the season progresses. He will definitely need to at some point.