When Jameson Taillon opened his Yankees career with a 5.74 ERA in his first 12 starts of 2021 and only pitched six innings once over that span, everyone seemed to roast general manager Brian Cashman for putting his trust on the arm of a guy who had pitched only 37.1 innings over the last two seasons. While other run prevention metrics such as FIP (4.48) and xFIP (4.49) painted a more optimistic outlook about his performance up to that point, there was a lot of frustration towards Taillon, one of the most talented arms in the staff.
And understandably so. Taillon was missing bats and getting strikeouts (9.79 per nine innings), yet he was allowing too many home runs (1.69 per nine). His command — a strength for much of his career — was not always there, and his ERA suffered.
But time usually rewards talent and hard work. Over his last seven outings, Taillon has been arguably the most consistent pitcher in the Yankees’ rotation, with a 2.59 ERA, and while he does have a 4.43 FIP over that timeframe, he looks much better in the run prevention department. Basically, Taillon has struck out fewer hitters (7.56 per nine innings) in his last 7 outings compared to his first 12, but has been more successful at preventing runs. So what’s happening?
Taillon appears to have made considerable strides with his command, getting more comfortable with his new pitching philosophy of using the upper part of the zone more. Yes, he has lost two strikeouts per nine frames if we compare his two “seasons,” but his quality of contact has improved. Specifically, Taillon has an average exit velocity of 90.2 mph in his first 12 starts compared to just 86.8 mph in his last seven.
Taillon is hitting his spots more often and throwing “better” strikes. His home run rate (1.30 HR/9 in his last seven games) has decreased, as has his average exit velocity. There is also some luck involved because in his most recent seven outings, he has left 85.9 percent of men on base and has a .237 batting average on balls in play. However, once everything stabilizes and evens out, it will become clear that he is far from a 5.00+ ERA pitcher — he is much better than that.
Per Erik Boland of Newsday, the turning point for Taillon came when the Phillies knocked him out in the first inning on June 12th. The right-hander now not only commands his pitches better, but he also deploys them up in a smarter way, too:
“I think it caused him to add to his repertoire a little bit and get a little more versatile,” [Aaron] Boone said, “and we’re seeing him now incorporate a number of pitches. Early on it was a lot of four-seam [fastballs] at the top and curveball off of that. We’re seeing him mix in the two-seam now, we’re seeing him mix in changeup and slider to still go along with the four-seam that he’s featuring and the curveball ... So he’s just a lot less predictable and a lot more versatile on the mound and he’s pounding the strike zone, and I think he’s just into the rhythm of the season.”
If we give other guys some time to hone their craft, why wouldn’t we give it to a guy who has pitched only 37.1 frames in the last two years? Of course it was going to take a few weeks of getting used to facing the best hitters in the world every five days, but we are finally seeing reliability from a Yankees starter not named Gerrit Cole.
Taillon may not be an ace, but he has shown that he can be a very competent starter, one who is capable to provide some length (he has pitched six or more innings in three of his last four starts, with a couple of seven-inning efforts) and keep his team in the game most nights.
And Taillon will be an awfully important piece for the stretch run because Luis Severino and Corey Kluber’s return dates are still uncertain at this point. If he can be a mid-3.00s ERA pitcher from this point forward, it would be a huge win for the Yankees. Sometimes, we just need to have a little patience.