What’s Wrong With Jameson Taillon?

Jameson Taillon has an 8.13 ERA in his last six starts.

It was only a month ago today that most people were wondering when Jameson Taillon would be promoted to Double-A. The 2010 first round pick had a 1.47 ERA in 36.2 innings over his first seven starts in high-A. Along with that impressive ERA was a 36:7 K/BB ratio, and just 25 hits allowed. That was on May 15th.

Taillon was scheduled to make his next start on May 16th. He ended up getting shelled for six runs on seven hits in 5.2 innings. At the time it was nothing to worry about. He had given up six runs in 36.2 innings in his previous seven starts. One bad start isn’t anything to worry about. But that was just the beginning of a string of bad starts, usually highlighted by one big inning. Here is a breakdown of those starts.

May 16: Taillon gives up a solo homer in the second inning for his only run in the first three innings. He walks the first two batters in the fourth, and both score on a two out ground rule double. In the sixth inning he gives up a two out single, triple, and home run for three more runs.

May 22: Taillon gives up a walk and two hits in two shutout innings. In the third he gives up two walks, a single, a triple, and a wild pitch to bring in three runs. He went on to pitch three more shutout innings.

May 27: Taillon allows just one walk through three innings. He allowed a walk, a stolen base, a double, a wild pitch, a single, and a two run homer before getting his first out in the fourth. A double given up by Jason Townsend later in the inning brought in his final run, giving him five earned runs in the inning.

June 2: Taillon gives up a run on a walk and three hits in the first three innings. In the fourth inning he allowed three straight one out doubles, followed by a single, for three runs. He followed that up with two more shutout innings.

June 8: Taillon allowed one run on four hits in four innings. The batter that scored reached on a wild pitch, swinging at strike three. In the fifth inning, Taillon gave up four straight one out hits to bring in two more runs.

June 13: Taillon allowed one run on two hits through the first three innings. In the fourth inning he gave up two singles, four doubles, and a home run, leading to six runs.

Taillon has been hit hard lately, giving up all four of his home runs this year in those last six starts, as well as 41 hits, 28 earned runs, and a 26:10 K/BB ratio in 31 innings. That’s brought up a lot of concern and a lot of theories. Questions range from injury speculation, to the amount of fastballs Taillon is throwing, to just wondering if he’s not as good as we thought he was.

Taillon is healthy, so there’s no concern there. He’s been hitting in the upper 90s, and has touched triple digits this year.

The focus that the Pirates place on fastball command is highly documented in the lower levels. But Taillon isn’t throwing all fastballs. In his last six starts he threw 28% off-speed stuff. That’s still a lot of fastballs, but more in the normal range for a power pitcher who works off his fastball.

The “one big inning” factor also raises some questions. It’s not like Taillon is going out there and getting hammered from the start, struggling every inning. He does well the first time through the lineup, then has a bad inning. Sometimes he recovers and pitches a few more strong innings. Sometimes the bad inning is enough to bounce him from the game.

The answer to what is wrong with Taillon is simple. When he allows a few runners to reach base, he starts trying to blow hitters away. That leads to him “throwing” more than “pitching”, which leads to him elevating his pitches. And that leads to more hits, which leads to the big innings.

“The issue is that he doesn’t know yet how to minimize damage,” Pirates’ farm director Larry Broadway said. “Every pitcher is going to give up runs and baserunners. (Jameson’s) issue is that he doesn’t yet know how to minimize the damage and stick with his plan. It is something that comes with experience and maturity which is what he is going through right now.”

Usually the only questions people like to hear about prospects are “when will he be promoted”. No one wants to hear that a prospect has something to work on, unless it’s followed by “he’s coming along well with this”. At the start of the year we heard that Jameson Taillon was working on reducing the drop in his delivery. That was what led to a lot of his struggles last year. His progression looked great this year, driving his fastball down in the zone, and showing good command of his pitches.

In the short-term, this is a concern for Taillon, but only in the sense that it’s something he needs to address. The key with all prospects is realizing that they have something to work on. For Taillon, it seems that he needs to trust that his upper 90s fastball, his plus curveball, and his improving changeup are enough. He’s a 20-year-old pitcher just going through the development process that is normal for young pitching prospects. Look around the league and you’ll see similar stories. Dylan Bundy off to a rocky start in high-A. Shelby Miller getting hammered in his last five starts in Triple-A.

Every young player goes through stretches like this. The guys who go on to eventually make the majors are the guys who can adjust and fix whatever issue is leading to the poor performances. For fans — and especially Pirates fans who are used to seeing everything go wrong — it can feel like the player will never fix his current issues while the issues are going on. But to add some perspective, it was only a month ago that people thought Taillon had nothing to work on, and the only thing between him and the majors was X amount of innings/months at each level.

Looking back, it seems kind of silly to think that based on seven starts, although it was easy to feel that way in the middle of his dominant run. By the same measure, it’s ridiculous to have any long-term concerns based on six horrible starts. And once again, it’s easy to worry when you’re in the middle of the bad stretch.

Taillon is 20 years old, and needs to work on being a mature pitcher, limiting the damage of one big inning and preventing the wheels from falling off the wagon. The simple truth is that if he didn’t have to work on things like this, there would be no reason for him to be in the minor leagues.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

Share This Post On
  • Lee Young

    Great article. It is better to fix something in the minors (assuming JT can fix this) than in the majors. I hope he gets it back together.

    I wonder if that same principle will work with Pedro? lol

  • john.alcorn

    Yeah, I see where you are heading, but Taillon was supposed to be so good that he shouldn’t be having problems at high A+. Eventual ace SP’s usually blow through the low minors.
    Even your example Shelby Miller had a 2.89 ERA at A+ as a 20 year old last year, followed buy 2.70 at AA in the second half. The guy Taillon was compared to is Josh Beckett. When Beckett was in pro year #2 he had a sub -2 ERA at A+ and AA on his way to 4 excellent big league starts. Taillon isn’t your average prospect who should struggle with college level bats.
    The bar is different here and it is concerning that NH and Co have yet to produce a homegrown MLB SP.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      If the expectation is that eventual aces won’t have problems in high-A, then there would be no need to send them to high-A.

      You mentioned Miller. He’s now getting hit in Triple-A. Is that perhaps because he blew through the lower levels so fast that he didn’t learn the proper adjustments needed for success in the upper levels?

      Same for Jacob Turner. Moved quickly through the lower levels, and he’s getting hit hard in the upper levels.

      People wanted to promote Taillon after seven starts. No one saw anything wrong with him. But clearly there’s something he has to work on. And that’s normal.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

      I guess we should just cut him then

    • VtTom

      In response to a question in a chat today, Matt Eddy of Baseball America mentioned Taillon as one of the pitchers he’d select if he had to pick a five man rotation for 2015 out of current minor league pitchers. He didn’t have Gerritt Cole but said he was one he considered. That’s encouraging for Taillon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    I feel like you ended with such a perfect statement.

  • st1300b

    I hear the words, but I would argue that I’d rather have Taillon and Cole in the majors throwing their 100 gas and 3/4 pitch mixes – with Ray Searage mentoring them through rough patches rather than seeing Kevin Correia or Brad Lincoln start another game. These are not typical arms, these are the kind of arms like Kerry Wood or Clemens.
    Nothing wrong with some minor league time for these two, but if they aren’t on the team by end of 2013 then we’re missing the real opportunity of having them get the jitters out at ML and ready to come strong for 2014 – god willing I’m here to see it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=821302765 R. Matthew Geist

    You can only blow so much smoke up a pirates fans ass until he decides to quit rooting for them. I have been a bucco fan for 35 years (since birth) and I had to admit I was excited when they drafted alvarez, taillon, allie, cole and sanchez. We know as fans they have to work hard to make an impact at the major league level but wtf would you give allie 2.5 million and then make him a hitter after only so many starts. Is he injured has he found god and god told him to revert back to being a hitter? I cant take the lying bs from upper management and the training staff in the minors about our players. There is a serious developmental and scouting issue thats why we have sucked so bad for 20 years. I live in erie pa so I can always be an indians fan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=821302765 R. Matthew Geist

    Strasburg was drafted and promoted the same year with the nationals. Harper it took him a year and he is in the bigs and now look at him he is the hottest thing in DC since Ovechkin. He skipped levels of minor league ball to get here hes not old enough to buy beer but he can hit homers with regularity. Kyle Stark needs to go he has been the pirates key guy for player development and look what that has gotten us. Rene Gayo has to go too I mean what key latin american prospect has he signed recently that made it to the big league level?

    • Mark Ludwig

      Y’know, if somebody had asked me if it were possible to miss the point of a well-thought out, well-written article as badly as you apparently did, I would have said ‘no.’ Thank you for reminding me to never underestimate the overreactions of knee-jerk Pittsburgh fans.

      Your complaint that Taillon hasn’t progressed as arguably the two greatest prospects of the past 50 years is absurd. Apparently every hockey prospect who doesn’t score 100 points as a rookie like Sidney Crosby is destined to be a bust, right? Every rookie QB who doesn’t win 14 games in his first season like Ben couldn’t possibly succeed in the NFL. And, of course, every 20 year old pitching prospect who isn’t dominating (in case you were wondering, there isn’t a single 20 year old pitching in the majors right now, There are three 21-year olds: Julio Teheran (with his 8.31 ERA) Jordan Lyles (5.50 ERA) and Drew Hutchison (doing the best with a 4.60 ERA but FWIW, he was taken a year earlier than Taillon and started last season, his age-20 season in High A like Taillon) in the majors should be cast aside because he was so obviously a terrible draft pick.