Jameson Taillon’s poor outing on Tuesday against the Angels was, unfortunately for him and the Yankees, a continuation of a trend. He looked strong to start, then ended up not being able to finish five innings and gave up six earned runs. It was a far cry from his pitching back in July, when he earned the title of American League Pitcher of the Month.
What’s changed? Taillon once again appears to be hitting a wall around the fifth inning, or the third time through the batting order, like he did at the beginning of the season. Fatigue has to be considered one of the biggest factors. Taillon has pitched 131.2 innings so far this season after not pitching at all last year, with a month of regular season and the playoffs potentially still to go. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Aaron Boone try to give him extra rest, especially with Corey Kluber finally back.
Beyond that, to a certain extent Taillon could simply be coming down to earth. His BABIP in his July starts averaged .213 — since then, it’s .283. July was the best month of his career to date, and no one could have expected him to sustain it. Even Gerrit Cole can’t pitch to a 1.16 ERA for a full season (though I would love to be proven wrong). Even so, he still needs to be a serviceable pitcher, not put the offense in a hole of five or six runs, and leave four or five innings for the bullpen to soak up.
Interestingly, Taillon struck out more batters in August than he did in July — 33 compared to 25. He also walked fewer batters. This gives some credence to the theory that his luck was turning, not necessarily that his pitching was getting demonstrably worse. The average velocity of all of his pitches also hasn’t decreased, so that shouldn’t be the reason for his increase in hard contact either.
The major difference in his basic stats between these two parts of his season is that during July Taillon virtually never gave up home runs — he allowed two during his July 11th start in Houston, but that was it. From August onwards, he’s given up at least one in every start except one, including two in his frustrating August 26th start against Oakland.
If Taillon’s velocity hasn’t gone down, then the primary reason for giving up more home runs could be in the location of his pitches. Since August began, all but one of the home runs he’s given up have been off a fastball, according to Baseball Savant. And according to FanGraphs, he’s been leaving it much closer to the middle of the zone as of late.
The fastball locations in Taillon’s July starts:
Taillon appears to be leaving his fastball much closer to the middle of the strike zone, where many a batter would love to see it. While he has fine velocity and vertical movement to his fastball, it’s not elite like Cole’s, so Taillon has to be much more precise to get hitters to swing through it.
Perhaps this issue is mechanical, driven by fatigue. Whatever the source, hopefully pitching coach Matt Blake is working with him to correct it. Taillon might never reach the heights of his July performance again, but the Yankees need him to reach a happy medium between that and his current struggles.