In some ways, Jameson Taillon’s time in New York was a microcosm of his career. Solid but rarely spectacular, just enough flashes of brilliance to let you see the ceiling that got him drafted in a sandwich between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but also just enough inconsistency to make you doubt it’ll ever fully show up. For the second straight year, Taillon posted a perfectly league average ERA (100 ERA+), though he did it with an extra three starts and 30 innings over 2021, and for the second straight year, he earned a B- grade from the writers at Pinstripe Alley, a stability that feels just about right for his tenure in pinstripes.
2022 Stats: 32 GS, 177 IP, 14-5 W-L, 3.91 ERA, 4.20 xERA, 20.7% SO%, 4.4% BB%, 1.3 rWAR, 2.3 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Free agent
The one way in which Taillon’s Yankees run did not mirror his career more broadly was his health, in the big picture. A mounting stack of injuries is the reason that Taillon is just now hitting free agency a full four years after his 2010 draftmates: he’s had Tommy John and hernia surgeries in the minor leagues that wiped out two full seasons, a bout with testicular cancer in 2017 that he thankfully won expeditiously, and a second torn UCL that precipitated his trade to New York in early 2021. While he wasn’t a full paragon of health with the Yankees, missing the last several weeks of that year with an injured ankle, 2022 marked just the second time in his career making it through a full, healthy season of rotation work.
Even at a league-average ERA, that kind of volume and stability were a boon to a Yankees pitching staff as low on durability as it is high on talent: Taillon, Gerrit Cole, and pre-injury Luis Severino are the only Yankees since 2017 to make at least 29 starts in consecutive (full) seasons. He couldn’t replicate the peak he reached in 2021 earning July’s Pitcher of the Month award, but unlike that year, when he faded badly to the tune of a 4.74 ERA from August on, he finished the 2022 season on a strong note, working seven-plus innings (all quality starts) as many times in his last 10 starts with the Yankees (four) as he had in his first 51.
While he couldn’t recreate that stretch of dominance he showed in 2021 over the course of a full month this year, he still had moments where he looked like the top-of-the-rotation yang to Gerrit Cole’s yin that many in Pittsburgh dreamed on a decade ago. Who could forget his brilliance in late May and early June, when he followed up eight shutout innings against Tampa Bay by retiring the first 21 Angels hitters he faced five days later?
Although the bottom-line results were similar, Taillon was a much-changed pitcher in 2022. His fastball velocity ticked up a touch with surgery another year in the rear-view mirror, but he relied on it far less, dropping its usage down to 35.7 percent after brushing up against 50 percent in 2021. Perhaps relatedly, it was a less effective pitch, too. It added more than two inches of arm-side run, a roughly 40 percent increase, and he was less adept at spotting it at the top of the strike zone than last season. The result? Fewer whiffs and harder contact: Its swinging strike rank plunged by nearly 35 percent while its expected wOBA and wOBAcon jumped more than 50 points and his overall strikeout rate fell to a below-average 20.7 percent.
Fortunately, the rest of Taillon’s stuff was pretty good, and he made up whatever gusto his fastball lost by keeping hitters on edge with a true six-pitch arsenal, throwing all six of his offerings — four-seamer, sinker, curveball, slider, changeup, and new cutter that he threw in bulk for the first time — at least 8.5 percent of the time. He threw fewer fastballs than ever, but also managed to run a 96th percentile walk rate of 4.4 percent.
The reduced walks, the re-incorporation of his sinker (its usage doubled from 5.5% to 11.1%), and his subsequent seven percent uptick in grounder rate indicate that his dearth of strikeouts could potentially have been a product of hunting for weak contact, rather than a decrease in skill or effectiveness. In spite of the four-seamer’s issues, virtually all of his secondary pitches saw equal or better results in 2022 than 2021. Removing his draft and prospect status and simply thinking of him as a solid mid-rotation starter, the changes that led to the reduction in punchouts might look more like a feature than a bug.
At the very least, he was good enough that he may have pitched himself out of the Yankees’ price range, relative to what he brings to the table. Interest is reportedly growing in the 31-year-old, and he’s projected to receive a four-year deal in the vicinity of $50 to $60 million. Roansy Contreras had a strong rookie year and may yet develop into someone the Yankees severely regret trading, but for now it’s hard to not consider Taillon’s two-year stint as a win, broadly speaking. The old cliché goes that the best ability is availability, and there’s some truth to the idea that league average pitching is in fact a little bit better than that if you know you’re going to get it every fifth day. That’s more or less what Taillon brought to the table in New York. Earning a B- is nothing to write home about, but it sure gets the job done all the same.