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What to Expect from Jameson Taillon in 2021

By Chris O’Connor

February 23, 2021

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With spring training fast approaching, I find myself getting more and more excited for the 2021 season. In particular, I can not wait to see the new additions to the pitching staff, Corey Kulber and Jameson Taillon, show their stuff in Yankee uniforms.

Kluber is the experienced veteran at 34-years-old, the two-time Cy Young award winner, Kulber went 20-7 with a 2.89 ERA as recently as 2018. His 2019, however, was marred by fluky injuries: a fractured forearm after getting hit with a line drive and an oblique strain. Then in his first start of 2020, it was a Grade 2 tear of the teres muscle in his right shoulder. That one was a little more concerning, but could potentially be chalked up to the start-and-stop aspect of 2020. Also, all reports indicate that he has been fully recovered since October and had a normal offseason. Expectations are high for Kluber in 2021 and on just a one year deal, he should be motivated to restore his market value to get one more big contract.

I think Taillon, however, is more of an unknown. He has two more years under contract and, at 29 years old, he is at the age of prime physical condition. What should Yankees fans expect from Taillon in 2021?

Taillon was the #2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, right in between Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. His talent has never been in question. He quickly rose through the ranks to get to Triple-A by 2013, but in April 2014, he underwent Tommy John Surgery and during his recovery, he suffered a sports hernia that forced him to miss all of 2015 as well. He opened 2016 back in Triple-A, but was quickly promoted to the big leagues amid injuries to the Pirates rotation. Though he bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues throughout 2016, he ultimately started 18 games for the Pirates that year and went 5-4 with a 3.38 ERA in 104 innings.

He opened 2017 with the Pirates, but underwent surgery for testicular cancer in May. He miraculously recovered by June and went 8-7 with a 4.44 ERA in 25 starts and 133 innings that year. He was very unlucky that year with a .352 BABIP allowed due to the Pirates porous defense. Thus, because of his low 3.48 FIP , he was actually worth 3.2 FWAR, a terrific number in so few innings.

He then had his breakout in 2018: in 32 games and 191 innings, he went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA. With a 3.46 FIP, there was nothing fluky about his success either.

His 2019 was marred by a forearm strain that eventually required another TJS in August of that year, forcing him to miss most of 2019 and all of 2020.

Taillon throws a five-pitch mix: 4-seam fastball, slider, sinker, curveball, and changeup. His fastball sits in the 93-96 mph range, although it may be lower moving forward as he builds himself back up. He introduced his slider in 2018 and that, at 31.9% of the time, became his most frequently thrown pitch in 2019. His 4-seamer was second at 27.2% followed by a sinker at 19.8%, curveball at 15.7%, and changeup at 5.2%. He has never been a huge strikeout artist, with a 8.42 K/9 in 2018 his career high, but he does not walk many guys and limits hard contact.

The Pirates have been known across the majors in the last few years to have a pitching philosophy that, rather than see what each individual is good at and build from there, adopts mostly the same approach for every guy that heavily involves sinkers. The immediate success of Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow upon leaving the organization, as well as the immediate drop-off from Chris Archer upon joining, are the most notable examples of this phenomenon. I expect the Yankees to have him abandon his sinker and throw more fastballs, curveballs, and sliders. It would not surprise me if Taillon posts a career high strikeout rate, even if it comes at the expense of more walks.

Taillon is so clearly talented and with over a year-and-a-half to recover from the most recent surgery, he is reported to be fully healthy and looking great in Yankees camp so far. ZIPS projects him to go 6-6 with a 4.23 ERA in 18 starts and 106 innings in 2021, while Steamer is at 8-8 with a 4.65 ERA in 23 starts and 133 innings. These projection systems, however, are notoriously conservative.

I think if Taillon stays healthy for 20+ starts and has an ERA under 4.00, that would be a win for the Yankees. While the Yankees have not shown the same ability to get the most out of pitchers (see: Sonny Gray, James Paxton) that teams like the Astros and Indians have, I think just getting out of Pittsburgh could give Taillon a major boost. While Taillon’s injury history is very much a concern, he has demonstrated a warrior mentality in rehabbing from two TJS’s and recovering from testicular cancer in less than two months. He will not be intimidated by the bright lights of New York and I am already looking forward to him starting Game 2 or 3 of the ALDS in October.

#JamesTaillon

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