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Analyzing Yankees starter Jameson Taillon’s long-awaited return to the mound

For his first MLB start since 2019, Taillon exceeded all reasonable expectations despite exiting down a run.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Since his initial call-up to the big leagues in 2016, Jameson Taillon has been put through the ringer. A survivor of testicular cancer, two Tommy John surgeries, and a sports hernia, the former top prospect has been limited to a total of just 82 big league games. Having not pitched since 2019 — when his torn UCL required the second Tommy John — it would have been reasonable to expect some rust coming out of the gate.

Following 8.1 spring training innings in which he allowed a single run, Taillon kept the momentum rolling into his first Yankees start. Although he did get tagged for a pair of solo shots, his repertoire was otherwise sharp against the Orioles, especially for his first big league start in almost two calendar years.

While Taillon lacks any of the overpowering offerings that have helped bring generational wealth to a couple of his current teammates, his democratic deployment of three plus-pitches helps him punch above his weight class. Incredibly, Taillon’s average spin bested that of his most recent season despite having lost a tick or two in terms of his velocity. With his better-than-average fastball spin rate, he was able to generate whiffs on 29 percent of opposing batters’ swings. Taillon’s 95-mph fastball plays up at least a couple ticks faster due to its solid rise and typically excellent location.

Compared to the fastball, Taillon coaxed even more out of his slider and curve. Combined, he threw one of the two breakers more than half of the time, and generated whiffs on more than a third of opponents’ swings. Further, Taillon saw even more spin improvement to those two pitches than he did to the fastball, raising their relative quality of movement from good to great.

If Taillon were to maintain his average spin from his first start for the remainder of the season, he’d have the 23rd-highest spinning curve in the majors, and the 12th-highest spinning slider (compared to qualified pitchers’ averages from the 2020 season). It’s entirely possible that the mechanical adjustments that Taillon has made to protect his balky elbow have brought with them substantive improvements to his pitches’ spin, and therefore movement.

With superb execution of three of his four offerings, Taillon was able to run up seven strikeouts in 4.2 innings on a conservative 74-pitch outing.

Like a poor man’s Gerrit Cole, Taillon played the vertical break of the curve against the horizontal break of the slider, keeping opponents guessing on multiple planes of movement and speeds.

However, when Taillon is unable to hit his spots or work efficiently to actualize advantages in the count, he doesn’t have the raw stuff to get away with the same mistakes in location that a Cole or Aroldis Chapman might:

In a fastball count, Taillon missed his down-and-away spot with a changeup. This pitch started middle-in and drifted right down the pipe, giving Cedric Mullins all the time in the world to plant and turn, launching it into the stands.

Of his four pitches, Taillon’s off-speed is both his least used, and least effective pitch. In each of his last two full seasons, Taillon has held batters to a sub-.320 wOBA on each of his pitches except the changeup, which opponents have cleared at least a .425 wOBA against. As a pitch with a horizontal break opposite his slider, it would be a nice inclusion in Taillon’s arsenal, especially against lefties. However, it just doesn’t break firmly enough to be a worthy option against major leaguers at this point. Moving forward, Taillon should avoid throwing it anywhere near the zone, considering he has so much else to work with.

For the latter of the two solo shots Taillon allowed in the fourth, Taillon served Anthony Santander a fastball intended for the top of the zone, but too low to get in on his hands:

Instead, at just 93 mph, it ended up as a middle-middle meatball, and a delightful dish for an above-average big league slugger to demolish.

Looking ahead, there was a lot to like from what Taillon brought to yesterday’s start. The fastball velocity was solid, the breakers looked sharp, and Jamo had the control of a seasoned vet. With a better-than-average career walk rate, he’ll probably be able to keep up the control, even if he walks a batter or two over the course of the season.

With Taillon’s checkered injury history, a clean bill of health all season long is certainly no given. However, if his elbow can sustain the ramp up into a full-time starter’s workload, Taillon could be a stellar option to start a game by the time the postseason comes around.