Joints are funny things, one of nature’s little jokes. Our knees support virtually our entire weight, and yet there are so many ways they can fall apart. You probably never even think about your hips until you’re either breaking in new jeans, or you strain one. Then, all of a sudden, every movement hurts.
And of course there’s the elbow, whose fragility torments pitchers at every level of baseball. Even medical advancements like Tommy John surgery has its limits — there’s only so many times you can drill holes in a bone before the resulting scar tissue just stops co-operating.
For Jameson Taillon, we can’t speculate on the condition of his elbow, but after two Tommy John surgeries, changes needed to be made. His long wingspan gave him a deceptive release point and great horizontal action, but also increased stress on his elbow. Mechanical changes were required, starting from the ground up.
If you remember Roger Clemens from his Red Sox days, you know he wasn’t exactly the.... gym rat... he would later become. What he did have were tree-trunk sized legs, hips that could hinge and drive him towards the plate, and take stress off his arm. The secret to pitching, and to pitching healthy, is the legs. We don’t have very high quality video of The Rocket from this time, but Taillon has adopted the same basic principles, and you can see it in comparing his last start in 2019 with his work this spring:
Here he is at the old Globe Life Park, May 1st 2019, the last start Taillon made in his Pirates career. Let’s look at the way Taillon discards his legs, and puts way more weight on his arm on the pitch.
Look how far back Taillon’s arm comes, before swinging all the way around to get to his release point. This kind of whip can generate a lot of power, but the rotation around the elbow is what’s providing that power, and absorbing all of the stress. It’s similar to the way we all knew Chris Sale’s mechanics would eventually be a problem for his elbow too — you’re just asking the joint to take on more stress than it can handle, in exchange for better velocity.
Leading with your arm also leads to inconsistency in control, since your legs and arms are moving independently, rather than as a chain. Your legs are moving at one speed, and your arms either rush or drag to catch up. Inconsistency in delivery is going to lead to inconsistency in the pitch, plus all the added stress on the elbow.
Compare that to last week against the Tigers, or yesterday against his old squad in Pittsburgh, and he looks like a completely different pitcher. Again, let’s go frame by frame.
The weight is perfectly centered on the drive foot — you can draw a vertical line from his head, splitting his shoulder, through the hips and down to the heel. Every part of his body is moving in tandem, rather than that rush/drag problem he would have with the Pirates.
His arm doesn’t drop down as far, nor come as far back. It’s much less of a whip effect throughout the delivery... but his fastball is as hard as ever. His legs have taken on the brunt of the delivery — they’re dropping lower and driving toward the plate more, look specifically at how much his drive leg, and the plant quad, hinges through the spring training pitch. Just like with hitters, driving through with the legs and hinging at the hips means all your arms have to do is follow the natural motion of the body, increasing consistency and taking stress off your elbow. Everyone’s legs are stronger than their arms, so just trust that your legs can handle the load.
You can also see these changes in the drive leg and hips from Bryan Hoch, who was thoughtful enough to Tweet all of Taillon’s batters faced yesterday:
Jameson Taillon vs. Dustin Fowler: pic.twitter.com/ASB88p5nqz— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) March 6, 2021
Look, we have three innings of work from Taillon to go off of, three innings of exhibition baseball against two pretty bad clubs. But it’s one thing to look at a line score and say “eh, it’s spring, we’re not putting much stock in it”. It’s another to look at a line score, and then be able to look at the actual film of the guy pitching, and see the very deliberate changes he’s made to be a more efficient, more healthy player.
I know I started this piece talking about Roger Clemens, but if you wanted the best contemporary comp for Taillon, it’s probably Lucas Giolito:
Both guys have moved to this short arm delivery, and compensate for the power by driving with their legs. Both guys are more balanced, quicker to the plate, and taking the rotational stress off their elbows, transferring it to a much stronger part of the body.
Your legs are the key to pitching. Being able to drive off the mound, hinge the hips, and move down toward the plate give you power, control, and relieve some of the stress that throwing a baseball imparts on an arm. We’ve never been able to see just what Jameson Taillon can really do in the majors, because his old delivery just ate away at his elbow pitch after pitch. I don’t know how good he will be, but these are the kind of mechanical changes that keep players on the field throwing 180 innings a season, and that’s a really good start for a guy with Taillon’s natural talent.