Over the last few weeks, we’ve written a lot on the site about cutter usage on the Yankees pitching staff. I’ve investigated the way Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino are utilizing the pitch, and contrasted it with the cutter usage pattern seen from Nestor Cortes and Lucas Luetge. Then on Monday, Mason zoomed in on Luetge’s and how he’s made his cutter elite. Today I’d like to focus on the latest Yankees pitcher to add the cutter to his pitch mix: Jameson Taillon.
Taillon’s 2022 has gotten off to quite an impressive start. The 30-year-old righty owns a 2.84 ERA and 3.31 FIP across his first five starts. The most impressive number for me so far is his minuscule 1.9-percent walk rate — fourth-lowest among all qualified pitchers. He had it all on display against the Blue Jays Tuesday night — throwing six innings of one-run ball on 71 pitches — easily his best start of the campaign.
A lot of Taillon’s success from that start came down to the cutter. He threw it a career-high 20 times, landing it for strikes, getting swings and misses, and inducing weak contact. In fact, he threw it more than any other pitch type that evening. It’s a pitch that Taillon experimented with towards the tail-end of last season, but this year it appears he is making a concerted effort to make it a key weapon in his arsenal. Let’s take a look at his plan of attack with the pitch.
After falling behind Springer 2-0 in the bottom of the first, Taillon unleashed a demonic three-pitch sequence to ultimately fan the Blue Jays slugger.
The cutter is the linchpin of this entire exchange. The ability to pinpoint the pitch just off the outside corner plants a seed in Springer’s mind that he has to cover that quadrant. On the very next pitch, Taillon executed a perfect slider off the same aiming point as the last pitch. To Springer, it looks like another cutter that is going to catch more of the zone than the previous cutter, but then it continues to dive down and away, inducing the whiff.
In the fourth inning, Taillon showed how the cutter can be used as a groundball machine.
Matt Chapman saw Taillon just miss off the outside edge with a four-seamer the previous pitch. Therefore, when Taillon throws the cutter 2-0, Chapman is hunting heater in a fastball count, and swings at one that looks to be well in the zone. But then, the cutter darts underneath Chapman’s barrel, the late break preventing him from altering his swing plane and thus inducing the weak tapper back to the mound.
Finally, we see the way Taillon can employ the cutter to jam left-handed hitters.
The 1-0 cutter gets right in underneath Raimel Tapia’s hands, and all he can do is pound it foul.
Here are all 20 cutters that Taillon threw against Toronto on Tuesday:
The pitches I’ve selected highlight the remarkable command that Taillon exhibited in throwing the cutter, especially for a pitch that he is essentially learning on the fly. It’s a testament not only to his adaptability and rapid mastery of newly-learned mechanics, but also to his growth as a pitcher from last year to this.
Speaking after his April 28th start against the Orioles, Taillon discussed the developmental areas he’s most focused on:
I want to get better consistently throwing the fastball down and away to righties... In the fifth inning, I threw a couple cutters down and away to righties, which I had never done before, so that’s something I’m gonna start focusing on going forward.
Then, following Tuesday night’s start against the Blue Jays, Taillon expanded on that line of thought and how it was emblematic of his evolution as a pitcher since joining the Yankees.
There’s a lot more weapons now. Last year I feel like to righties I was fastball-slider, a lot of fastballs up. To lefties, I was fastball-curveball. I’m throwing the changeup more now. I’m throwing the curveball to righties. I’m throwing the cutter to lefties and righties now. So I’ve definitely kind of expanded the package... I was just backing myself into a hole last year, now I’m kind of showing the pitchability that I have.
Between the four-seamer, sinker, slider, curveball, changeup, and now the cutter, Taillon has a legitimate six-pitch mix at his disposal, allowing him a more diverse range of ways to attack hitters. He is a more unpredictable pitcher in terms of both the number of different pitches he throws and the growing confidence to use them in different situations.
This is what I’ve loved seeing from the Yankees pitching — the pitchers’ desire to learn and the ability of the pitching coaches to translate concept to on-field results. Taillon adopting the cutter is the latest example. Yes, the results on the pitch haven’t been pristine. But what matters is the recognition of ways to improve and the drive to get there.