A Behind the Numbers Look at Jameson Taillon’s 2012 Season

Jameson Taillon was promoted to Altoona today.

On July 25th, Jameson Taillon took the mound on the road in St. Lucie. The right-hander gave up four runs on eight hits in six innings. It was an unimpressive stat line, which has been an alarming trend for the top pitching prospect this season. I spoke to Bradenton Marauders pitching coach Mike Steele the day after the start, and his response was a bit surprising.

“It was his best outing of the year,” Steele said of the start. “Sound crazy to you?”

Yeah, it did sound a bit crazy. There was a silver lining to the start. Taillon did strike out six batters in six innings, which is one of the few times recently that he’s struck out a batter an inning. But it’s hard to see how that start was the best of the year for Taillon at the time, just looking at the numbers. But Steele was looking beyond the numbers.

“His failure was actually because of his decisions,” Steele said. “And that is like a win in and of itself, because he went out and he shook off to something that he probably shouldn’t have. He didn’t throw something because he thought he should throw it. He threw it because he wanted to throw it.”

Taillon has dealt with being indecisive this year. When he gets down in the count, or when he throws a bad pitch, he comes back with an attitude that he has to throw a strike. He stops trusting his stuff, and doesn’t go with the mentality that his stuff is good enough to make the necessary pitch. Without the confidence in his pitches, he’s not throwing them at 100 percent, which reduces the effectiveness of his stuff.

That wasn’t the case on July 25th. Taillon was commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate. His curveball was good, his changeup was on, and his delivery was good.

“It was everything, except for some poor decision-making,” Steele said. “He wasn’t indecisive. He didn’t 80% throw a breaking ball, or he didn’t 90% commit to his fastball in. He just 100% committed to everything and made a few bad decisions.”

Steele isn’t the only person who felt that was Taillon’s best start. Taillon felt the same way.

“I honestly thought [that start] was the best I’ve thrown the ball all year,” Taillon said the day after the outing. “Just delivery-wise, and spotting up. If I could take about three pitches back, I would. I felt like I threw it really well, and I’m seeing a lot of progress. I’ve made more decisions on my own. Just kind of listened to my gut, went with it. So now, after doing that, that’s kind of allowed us to get in to the pitch sequencing and how to set up hitters.”

The decision-making is key. Taillon would dabble with making decisions, but was afraid of making a mistake. He was doing what he thought he should do, rather than what he wanted to do. Lately, he’s done a much better job making those decisions on his own.

“You’re not going to be successful every time, but you start to learn ‘OK, I’m not going to do that, because that ball went really far’,” Steele said of Taillon learning from his mistakes.

Since that start, Taillon has pitched very well. In his four starts since the July 30th outing, Taillon has combined to give up three earned runs in 22 innings, with a 14:6 K/BB ratio. And today the Pirates announced that Taillon will move up to Double-A, making his debut with the Altoona Curve on Tuesday. Taillon is getting the promotion despite exceeding his 2011 innings total by 32.1 innings. On Sunday, Neil Huntington talked about what the team would consider in making the decision to promote Taillon.

“It’s that delicate balance of, do you take a guy at the end of his second full season and fatigue may be setting in a little bit, now you’re advancing a level,” Huntington said. “How do you respond to that both physically and fundamentally? Do you go ahead and make that challenge? Our guys are watching every start.”

“Are we seeing sings of fatigue, or is he still strong? Have you seen signs of a guy that can go up and have success or is he going up and battle and try and change and alter things? We’re watching closely. It’s nice to get that guy a quick taste of the next level in August. But you also don’t want to disrupt a lot of things that are going on. We’re keeping eyes on it and we’re opened minded to it. Absolutely.”

The 2012 season has been a mixed bag for the right-hander. He started off dominant. In his first seven starts, Taillon combined to give up six runs in 36.2 innings, with a 36:7 K/BB ratio. But Taillon then went on a rough stretch. Over his next six starts, the right hander was hit hard, giving up 28 earned runs in 31 innings.

“I’d say the difference back then is that I made pitches when I needed to,” Taillon said. “That’s what can define a start. One pitch, or one home run, one double, one walk can lead to a great start or a bad start. Back then guys were still getting on base, I was just getting out of stuff when I needed to.”

Since the rough stretch he has posted a 2.98 ERA in 57.1 innings, with a 36:20 K/BB ratio in ten starts. He’s had a few rough outings mixed in, including the July 25th start, and he’s not putting up the dominant strikeout numbers you’d expect from a top prospect.

“I thought it was kind of funny looking back, because I honestly, I feel better now through this rough stretch that I had, than I did back then as far as just delivery, off-speed stuff,” Taillon said of the difference between his first seven starts and now. “My off-speed stuff felt like it’s been really good throughout the summer. And back then I really felt like I was a one pitch pitcher, going at guys with my fastball. My curveball wasn’t feeling good early in the year. I kind of just threw it in the bag early in starts. Lately I’ve been using everything, just throwing it all for a strike.”

A big focus this year for Taillon has been improving the changeup. In his third start of the year, with the minor league pitching coordinators in town, Taillon was challenged to throw 15-20 changeups in the game, which amounts to 3-4 per inning. In focusing on throwing the changeup more often, the Pirates wanted Taillon to start trusting the pitch, and to get comfortable with it.

“I felt like I was being a little Jamie Moyer out there, throwing so many off-speed pitches,” Taillon joked about using the changeup in that first start. “But the best way to develop a pitch is to throw it. So every start I’ve gone out there and I’ve tried to throw 15-20 a start no matter what. Whether things are going good or they’re going bad. Whether it’s terrible or it’s good. Just throw it. It’s helped me a lot.”

The pitch has seen some major improvements this year. Taillon is disguising the pitch well, throwing it out of his fastball slot, and with good arm speed. Right now the changeup is seen as average, with the chance to be above-average or plus down the line. The changeup gives Taillon a three pitch mix, pairing it with his plus curveball and plus fastball. His fastball has been consistently in the 93-98 MPH range, touching 99, while his curveball has been sharp, and has been the source of a lot of his strikeouts.

“Not looking at the numbers, it’s been a big year for me just development wise,” Taillon said. “I’ve got three pitches that I throw for a strike. I’ve got confidence in all three, and now my [changeup has] come a long way. My curveballs are good, my fastball command has been good. It’s been an interesting year. I’ve gotten hit. I’ve also had my outings where I went seven shutout. So it’s just been about learning consistency.”

One concern with Taillon this year has been his lack of strikeouts. The right-hander has struck out 98 in 125 innings, which isn’t what you’d expect from a top pitching prospect with a fastball that can touch 99 MPH. But just throwing hard isn’t going to lead to a strikeout per inning, especially now when it seems like so many top pitching prospects are throwing mid-90s.

“You read stuff like what Beckett was doing when he was this age, and what some of those guys [were doing] back then. Nobody threw hard back then except for those guys,” Steele said of comparing Taillon to previous pitchers. “Everybody now, all of these kids coming out of high school, they’re seeing 94-95 at all of these different showcases and all of these different things. So by the time they get to high-A, these guys have been seeing 95 plus.”

Taillon’s three pitch mix should lead to more strikeouts, and a better ERA than his 3.82 mark, but it’s not automatic. He needs to know how to throw his pitches, and he needs more confidence while throwing them.

“[I've got] more confidence now, and feeling more comfortable being able to read hitters and what their plan is off of me,” Taillon said. “Being able to understand what they what to do off me, whether that’s ambush a fastball, or try to look the other way and have a good approach, see a bunch of pitches. I’m learning what to throw, when, really.”

“His development has been very good,” Huntington said. “His surface ERA may not what people are thinking a stud prospect should do. But he’s getting ground balls, he’s getting strikeouts, and he’s getting the ball over the plate. We’re pleased with how he’s developing and going.”

The Pirates have recently started to watch Taillon’s innings closely. He was removed after five starts and less than 65 pitches on August 4th. That was after he threw an extra side session prior to the start, and in the middle of a blowout victory. In his next two starts he was limited to five innings, although he did throw 91 pitches on Wednesday night.

This year has been a bit different for Taillon. Not only has he exceeded his 2011 innings total, but he’s also been allowed to go deeper in to starts. He’s been getting used to throwing deeper in the games, and how that impacts his pitches.

“Last year, have a rough start, you’re out after four or five. Have a good start, out after four or five,” Taillon said. “This year I feel like I can really go as deep as I can let myself go. I’m going to dictate how far I go. Whether I stay within my pitch limits and stuff.”

His fastball velocity has gotten better or stayed the same in the later innings, so he’s not seeing a drop off like some young pitchers experience. The feel for his changeup gets difficult in the later innings, although the feel for his curveball gets better. Now that he’s over his 2011 innings total, he will have to experience some of the same things, learning how his stuff is impacted later in the season as his innings total rises. Looking at the Altoona schedule, he should have about three starts left this year, which should give him a good taste of the next level before returning to Altoona at the start of next season.

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

    Does this contradict Randy’s article from a couple of days ago?

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

      What do you mean? Are you asking if it’s a response to that article?

      • Lee Young

        Randy’s article seemed to imply that JT was not pitching at an ace-like level. He had two groups. JT had the worse K rate in the groups.

        Not asking your article is a response, but should we be using his article as a yardstick? Or, is this article saying that JT should still be an ace?

        Or……..????
        In other words, how are we to interpret these two articles in regard to JT ‘s future?
        Did that clarify it?

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

          The blogs section of the site is for personal opinions. Kind of like columns. Anything in that section, whether it’s from me, or Randy, or anyone else, should be viewed as that one person’s opinion.

          This article was written after input from pretty much everyone who has dealt with Taillon’s development this year, Taillon himself, plus what I’ve personally seen from him throughout the year and what other people I’ve talked to have seen.

          • szielinski

            So, you wrote a journalistic piece instead of a analytical piece meant to get to the last word on the subject.

            Nothing wrong with that.

    • RandyLinville

      I wouldn’t say it contradicts what I wrote. Admittedly, what I wrote was 100% statistical and I have no first hand knowledge of the organization’s plan for his development. I didn’t talk to Taillon or anyone who has worked with him, which Tim has done. Regardless, even if they were not at all satisfied with his progress, I’m 100% certain that no one in the organization is going to go on record as being disappointed in his 2012 season. So, while my statistically based post should be taken at face value since I have no contact with anyone in the organization, Tim’s post also falls in the same bucket because the organization is, of course, going to verbally defend his so-so statistics as being part of the development process.

      In other words, it is too early to judge him. I, personally, would be more enthused if the stats looked stronger.

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

        In response to your 100% certainty that no one would say they are disappointed with his season, I’d ask if there’s a reason they should be disappointed with his season?

        I’m not trying to knock your post here. Other than scanning through it, I haven’t really read it to see what you’ve said, other than just the general message that his stats are disappointing. But these two articles aren’t “in the same bucket”. One article is a person’s opinion based on nothing more than numbers in high-A. The other article has information about what is actually going on, based on conversations (both on and off the record) with people in the organization, plus conversations with scouts from other organizations, and personally watching Taillon develop since he entered the system.

        • RandyLinville

          Of course there is reason to be disappointed. He hasn’t dominated. Wouldn’t the organization rather see his ERA a run lower with another three or four whiffs per nine innings? Of course they would. Wouldn’t you rather have him put up numbers like Cody Buckel at Myrtle Beach or Jose Fernandez at Jupiter did this year in A+ at roughly the same age? This path of development could be exactly what he needs to develop into a stud pitcher. Time will tell. And I’m certainly pulling for him.

          Playing devil’s advocate, at what point – maybe a 5.00 ERA with 5 BB/9? – would the organization openly express concern to the media? Other than cases where it is completely obvious (like Allie), how often does an organization actually come out and say they are disappointed in someone’s progress? I’d venture almost never.

          My post was based on stats. Your post is based on the opinions of people in the organization and they have nothing to gain by being negative and everything to lose by being negative. I take both at face value. The stats aren’t telling the whole story. Neither are the opinions of people who are so heavily invested in Taillon’s success (I just re-read the post and didn’t see any quotes from an opposing scout).

          Prospects miss. It happens every year even as organizations tell the fans and the media that all is well. Hopefully Taillon won’t miss.

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

            What about his last ten starts? He’s got an ERA under 3 in that time. He’s showing improvement. It’s all about development. He’s made some strides this year. This is the first time he’s had to pitch late in the game, every five days, for a full season. He’s using his changeup more. And most importantly, he’s getting to the point where he’s trusting his pitches.
            The problem with looking at his season stats is that they’re quickly obsolete. He’s not the pitcher he was when he went through that rough stretch in late May and June. He’s not even the pitcher he was at this time last month. The season numbers show what he’s done. And overall you want to see better. But the overall season numbers don’t say anything about what kind of pitcher he is today, because they don’t tell how he’s progressing.
            As for the organization expressing concern, I think you’re looking at it in a black and white scenario. Like there’s some point where they’d just say “we’re disappointed” and nothing else. That’s not the best approach with prospects. Prospects are always developing. There’s always something to work on. There’s always an adjustment that could be made. They usually point that out, focusing on what players need to improve on. It’s not as easy as a black and white analysis of disappointed or not disappointed.
            Two comments on the quotes. First of all, with scouts I typically use their information to back up what I’ve seen and what I’ve been told from the organization. Things like the grade on Taillon’s changeup, or how his curve looks this year were things I heard from scouts, and the organization.
            Second, not every comment from the organization makes it to articles. In some cases they’ll talk about a prospect who is improving or playing well. Except the numbers don’t match that, and what I’ve seen doesn’t match that, and what scouts have said doesn’t match that. So I don’t include the comment.

            You can write these comments off in a “they have to say this, even if it’s not true” manner. But I wouldn’t just include information if it was only them saying it. I’m going to go off what I’ve seen, and what I’ve been told from people outside of the organization. If it matches what they’re saying, I’ll write about it.

            Also, I’ve been talking to Taillon for the last two years. He’s very accountable, and he says when he’s doing something wrong. Most players in my experience are the same way. They’ll say they’re not playing well, when they’re not playing well. If they’re not showing improvement, they’re not going to say they’re showing improvement. And everything the organization said, Taillon also said.

            There’s no guarantees here. This is just telling what’s going on. Taillon’s biggest issue this year has been his decision making and his confidence. He’s wasn’t throwing his pitches as well as he could, because he wasn’t fully trusting the pitch. That has changed in the last 4-5 starts. He’s learning what pitch to throw, when to throw it, and he’s trusting that it will be effective. And that’s what this article is pointing out: what is going on behind the numbers.

            • RandyLinville

              If you want to look at only the last ten games, then, yes, his ERA is better but his peripherals are worse – fewer whiffs per nine and more walks per nine compared to his season stats. Is that improvement?

              You are right – it isn’t only black and white. But it is always going to be verbally more positive than negative.

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

                That doesn’t really make sense, saying an opinion is going to be more positive than negative. It’s a blanket statement, when truthfully each situation is different. It kind of implies that they shouldn’t issue more positive statements than negative statements. I think it’s easier to just look at each situation individually and asking whether you trust that situation, rather than trying to make sure the amount of positive statements on one side match the number of negative statements on the other.

  • JohnDreker

    I thought for sure once he made it this far with Bradenton, he was staying for the experience of the pennant race and possible playoff baseball. Not saying it’s a bad move, just saying they usually call up the better players to get that experience, so instead of Taillon leaving, I expected maybe Hanson,Polanco(if healthy) and Osuna to see a few later season/playoff games for Bradenton. At least that is what past history has shown

  • Lee Young

    Tim/Randy….I didn’t mean to get you two into a battle of words…but it was very informative. Just another reason this is the best site for Pirate news!!

    • RandyLinville

      No sweat, Lee. I’m a fan of healthy debate.

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

      No worries. I’m just trying to point out the difference. Articles on the main part of the site are more news driven. The purpose of this article was to explain what is going on with Taillon’s season and what might have led to his numbers at various points in the year. It’s not really meant to draw a conclusion, or be the final word. It’s just pointing out what’s happening in his development.

      Specifically in this case, Taillon has the stuff, but has been struggling with confidence and decision making, which has led to poor numbers. And recently he’s done a better job with that, which started a turnaround his last 4-5 games. Whether that continues remains to be seen. It could carry over to Double-A, or it could revert back to him throwing his pitches without confidence. But right now, he’s shown progression in that area.
      On the other side, the blogs section is for personal opinions. Those can be based on numbers, or behind the scenes information, but they’re just the opinion of one player. When I’m writing my First Pitch articles, or when Randy is writing an article, those are just the opinion of the writer. But stuff on the site isn’t opinionated. It’s meant to provide a look at the system without personal opinions mixed in. Sometimes I write stuff that I don’t personally agree with, such as when a few scouts like a player more than I do, or dislike a player that I’m higher on.

      I think a prime example of the difference between the two sections of the site would be Robbie Grossman. On the main part of the site I talked about him as someone who people were split on. Whether it was scouts, or people in the organization, there was a divide on whether he could be a starter. He didn’t have the defense for center, and didn’t have the power for the corner spots. That was the feeling on him. But one side felt that the total package was enough, while the other side felt he was more of a 4th outfielder. I was on the side that felt the total package was enough, and I expressed that on my blog. But when it came to news articles on the site, I gave consideration to both arguments, even though I only agreed with one, because that was how he was viewed in the industry.

      To answer your original question on which article you should believe, I don’t know if there’s a good answer to that. I can only point out the difference in the articles. One is a personal opinion, and the other is a news story reporting on what has been going on with Taillon’s development, but not meant to draw any conclusions.

      • Lee Young

        I felt the debate was just as informative as the article…lol