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Can Jameson Taillon take a leap with his sinker?

Jameson Taillon has used his sinker earlier and more frequently than last year. Can it make him less predictable?

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Jameson Taillon’s 2021 was undoubtedly a mixed bag. He started the season poorly, had a spectacular July, and finished with an average second half, culminating in an ankle injury at the end of the season.

Looking at Taillon’s pitch mix during his dominant July, nothing dramatically different is apparent. Furthermore, Taillon’s pitch mix in the second half of the campaign doesn’t show any dramatic shifts. Last year, Taillon used his fastball roughly 50 percent of the time, a combination of either his curve or slider roughly 40 percent of the time, and the remainder of his repertoire filled out the final 10 percent of his pitch mix. Looking at his pitch profiles, we see Taillon has a plus fastball, with a high spin rate and good vertical movement. He also has a plus curveball that is above league average in vertical and horizontal movement. Finally, his slider has plus horizontal movement, and his cutter and changeup are league average.

If you peek at the pitch mix charts below, though, there is one pitch that Taillon began throwing at the end of May and continued to use consistently through the remainder of the year: a sinker. Once Taillon started throwing his sinker at the end of May, he used it more than his cutter and almost as much as his changeup. During that terrific July, we can see that he did throw his fastball slightly less than in previous months and used his sinker more.

Through two starts this season, Taillon’s pitch mix has been similar to last season. That said, he has started throwing his sinker right out of the gate, and he has used it a little more often. Taillon’s sinker usage isn’t notably extensive, roughly 10 percent of his pitches last season and a bit over that mark (around 13 percent) through two starts this season. While two starts are too small of a sample size to declare any permanent pitch mix changes, it is interesting to see Taillon use this pitch slightly more and use it to start the season. However, Taillon’s sinker is truly interesting because it is remarkably unremarkable.

Jameson Taillon 2021 Pitch Mix by Month
Jameson Taillon 2022 Pitch Mix by Game

Looking at the movement on Taillon’s sinker reported by Baseball Savant makes one wonder: why he is throwing this pitch? His sinker’s vertical and horizontal movement are both significantly below league average. Specifically, his vertical movement is 24 percent below average, and his horizontal movement is 15 percent below average. Strictly looking at pitch movement, this is Taillon’s worst pitch.

On the other hand, looking at pitch run values on Baseball Savant, Taillon’s sinker was his third-best pitch last season. Now I must point out that he did not throw the pitch much, but compared to his other low-frequency offerings, his changeup and cutter, it was still a better pitch for him. His sinker use is even more interesting because Taillon’s cutter and changeup are league average pitches when looking at vertical and horizontal movement, while the sinker is not.

In 2021, Taillon used his sinker 130 times, 120 of which were to right-handed batters, where he used it to pound the inside corner of the plate. He also used his slider 386 times, all to right-handed batters. Using his slider and a sinker against right-handed batters allows these pitches to play off each other. Specifically, sliders and sinkers are often paired because they break in opposite directions, making them a compelling pairing that can challenge hitters when executed well. For Taillon, the use of his sinker is still limited, because it is not necessarily a great pitch on its own, at least based on its underlying characteristic. Instead, it serves as a show-me pitch to set up his slider. But there’s another benefit to throwing his sinker; it makes him less predictable.

Last season, Taillon used his fastball nearly 50 percent of the time, and he threw this pitch in the upper-middle of the zone, taking advantage of his above-average vertical movement. But one of Taillon’s problems last season was his inability to keep his fastball in the top of the zone. This combination made it easy for hitters to sit on fastballs that could creep to the middle of the zone, especially when approaching the third time threw the order. Of the 24 home runs given up by Taillon last season, 13 were off of fastballs; his next highest count is four off of his cutter. Given that this is a fastball-hitting league, that is not what you want to see. Taillon didn’t allow a home run off his sinker last year, and only gave up one home run off of his slider. If Taillon can mix his pitches more effectively and reduce his fastball usage even slightly, it could help him address how predictable he was last season.

Taillon’s fastball and curveball already pair well, and using the sinker to set up his slider could prove valuable for Taillon this season, giving him a second pair of pitches to confuse hitters with. I must stress a pinch of caution due to the small sample size, but potentially, Taillon could make himself less predictable, and more difficult to face. If Taillon wants to take a leap this year, harnessing the potential of his slider/sinker combo could be key.