Breaking Down Jameson Taillon’s 2017 Season

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: Starting pitcher Jameson Taillon
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 30: Starting pitcher Jameson Taillon /

Jameson Taillon had a stellar rookie season in 2016 and started off his 2017 on the right foot.  Taillon showed both positive and negative signs in his second year, but the results were not always there.

Jameson Taillon made his long-awaited debut last season, posting a 3.38 ERA in 18 starts and 104 innings.  He tossed eight shutout innings – the first six allowing zero hits – against the New York Mets in his second start.

He went eight innings three times, with the rest of the staff combining for an additional five.  Taillon posted the eighth lowest walk rate for a rookie who pitched a minimum 100 innings since 1920.  He did everything you would’ve wanted from a rookie that missed essentially two full seasons because of Tommy John surgery and hernia surgery in back-to-back seasons.

Taillon did have his troubles last year, primarily his 3.71 FIP, though his FIP- which adjusts him for the league and park was 91, making him nine percent above average.  Taillon’s strikeout rate of 20.3 percent was below the average of 21.1 percent.  His hard contact rate, which Baseball Savant describes as any ball hit 95 miles per hour or higher, was 36.31 percent compared to the league average of 34.66 percent.  But Taillon did get a ground ball on 52.4 percent of his batted balls, much better than the league average of 44.7 percent.  His deserved run average (DRA) of 3.71, and DRA- of 82.2, makes him 18 percent above average.  He pitched extraordinary well.

Jameson started off his 2017 going toe-to-toe with potential 2017 CY Young winner Chris Sale, whose 7.7 WAR (FIP based) ranked first, and his 7.64 PWARP (Baseball Prospectus’ WAR based on DRA) ranked second behind Corey Kluber.

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In that cold start in Boston, Taillon pitched seven shutout innings, which included him escaping a first and third no out jam in the fifth by striking out Pablo Sandoval and Sandy Leon before getting Dustin Pedroia to ground out to him.

Taillon’s start was promising, ruined by a walk-off grand slam by Sandy Leon against Antonio Bastardo in the twelfth inning of a 0-0 game.  His third start of the season, coming against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, was also a gem.  Taillon tossed seven innings of one run ball, with that run being unearned, though Taillon did have to pitch out of trouble in that seventh and final inning.

Then in his first, and only start, start in May, Taillon was shelled at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.  Taillon only lasted five innings, gave up six runs, and two home runs – one off the bat by Billy Hamilton.

It was then announced on Monday, May 8th that he underwent surgery for testicular cancer.  The off the field scare could be an explanation of his 8.7 percent walk rate, double the rate of his impressive rate he posted in his rookie season.  Though at this moment of time, his on field performance was secondary, and the only thing that really mattered was his well-being.

Thankfully for Jameson Taillon and his family, Taillon recovered and actually returned to the mound five weeks later.  In his return, Taillon tossed five shutout innings while striking out five against the Colorado Rockies.  It was a great sign to see Taillon back on the mound, but more importantly, he was healthy and free of cancer.

Through his first 13 starts and 73 innings, Taillon was Taillon.  He had a 3.08 ERA (72 FIP-) and 3.19 FIP (75 FIP-), and he was pitching like the pitcher that the Pirates thought they were drafting with the second overall pick in 2010.  But in his final 12 starts, starting with his

But in his final 12 starts, starting with his three inning start in San Francisco, and 60.2 innings, Taillon had a 6.08 ERA (134 ERA-).  Though, his 3.83 FIP (90 FIP-), showed he was pitching better than his ERA indicated.

The problem with this stretch of games is how it ballooned his progressive ERA and RA9, whereas his FIP remained relatively consistent.  After overperforming his FIP, Taillon underperformed his FIP, but more drastically than he was overperforming.  Below is a Tableau of his career progression of his ERA, RA9, and FIP, and you can scroll to the right to see from May 2017 to the end of season:

Part of the reason Taillon struggled was the .361 BAbip in his final 12 starts, and he saw his strikeouts and walks fall.  Fangraphs, in their calculation of WAR counts infield pop outs as strikeouts, which I have done below, making SO+IFFB rate.  I also calculated his walk rate using only unintentional walks and hit by pitches.  Also below are his regular strikeout rates and walk rates in a similar Tableau as above:

Taillon’s increasing walk rates, both regular and uBB+HBP and decline in strikeout rate, and SO+IFFB, is cause for concern.  So is Taillon’s decrease in ground ball percentage from 52.4 percent to 47.3 percent.  Despite his decrease in hard hit rate from 36.31 percent in 2016 to 31.07 percent in 2017, which league average in 2017 was 33.34 percent.  This decrease in hard hit rate is always a great sign, though the decrease in ground ball percent and strikeout rate was troubling.

Part of the reason, I think anyway, of Taillon’s high BAbip was the decrease in ground balls.  More balls in the air leads to more opportunities for hits, and with his decrease in hard hit rate, which is a reason I think his home run rate fell from 3.1 percent in 2016 to 1.9 percent in 2017, more of those balls fell.  The BAbip number is still outrageously high and should regress more to the mean next year.

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The decrease in home runs and hard contact is a good sign, but increase in walks, decrease in strikeouts and ground balls is more worrisome.  Part of the control issues could relate to fatigue to his body after a long season both on and off the field.  His FIP of 3.48 and FIP- of 82 are signs he actually pitched better than the 4.44 ERA and 104 ERA-, though his DRA of 4.51 and DRA- of 96 shows he was more average than stellar, like his FIP shows.

There are signs for a strong season from Taillon on in 2018, but the strikeouts need to improve.  The high BAbip should come down, especially given his below average hard hit rate, and with that his ERA and RA9 numbers should lower as well.  After overperforming his FIP, Taillon began to way under perform his FIP, and like the BAbip, the ERA should start to converge toward the FIP.

*Numbers from fangraphs, baseball-reference, and baseball savant