My first trip to Spring Training came in 2010. It was a quick trip, lasting only two days, with only one day of baseball watching at Pirate City. I remember two things about that day. The first thing I remember was the lesson that you should wear sunblock in Florida at all times, even when it is overcast all day. The second thing I remember was that Jameson Taillon threw a no-hitter that day.
Of course, Taillon wasn’t a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time. That would come later, when the Pirates would take him with the second overall pick in the 2010 draft. The next year, I returned to Bradenton, this time staying for a week. One of my goals during the trip was to interview Taillon and find out about the new top prospect. It was during that interview that Taillon told me about the drop in his delivery [NOTE: At the time I called it a jump, and I think Taillon called it a hop].
I was fairly new to covering baseball at the time. Prior to that, I just watched the game, and focused heavily on stats and roster rules. I didn’t know about specific deliveries like “drop and drive,” and I didn’t associate those deliveries with any particular pitcher, such as Tom Seaver. So I went to someone who would know, and asked Jim Benedict about the changes that were being made. He explained what Taillon was doing, and why it was a bad thing.
“The bouncing of the back knee is just something for him that he did in high school that he thought gained velocity, and while gaining velocity he lost angle,” Benedict said during the 2011 interview. “So he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish, he was throwing hard. Now, these hitters, you can throw 98, but if it’s flat and up, they’re going to turn it around. He’s learned that here.”
Since that set of interviews in 2011, I’ve probably written about Taillon’s drop in his delivery, and how he is trying to reduce that drop, about a hundred times. In fact, I almost crashed my laptop opening tabs for every article that mentioned Taillon’s drop. But in the last year the focus for Taillon hasn’t been on the delivery changes, but returning from Tommy John surgery. So when I received the following question for last week’s Q&A article, it gave me another chance to look over the history of Taillon’s drop.
Jeremy Watt: Watching the first video you posted of Taillon throwing this Spring, am I right in noticing the “drop” in his delivery seems to be diminished even more than it was prior to his TJ injury?
I started answering Jeremy’s question in the Q&A. Then I decided to create some GIFs of Taillon’s drop over time to illustrate the changes. But it was quickly blowing up into a full article. That’s when I had the idea to take those GIFs, show them to Taillon and Benedict, and get their reactions about how the delivery has changed over time. It’s fitting, since I first learned about this by talking with those two about the changes four years ago.
I mentioned above that I came into this process not knowing much about the delivery process, or Taillon’s specific delivery. Over time I’ve learned a lot more, talking with scouts, players, coaches, and Taillon in every interview I had with him. But the responses from Taillon and Benedict in this look back were so insightful that it made me feel like I was back in 2011, not knowing anything at all about the delivery. So let’s begin.
Jameson Taillon’s 2011 Debut
The first video comes from Jameson Taillon’s debut with West Virginia in 2011. For all of these clips, I’m not going to describe what is going on. I’ll let Taillon and Benedict do that. I will add any notes that I think are relevant in the end.
Taillon: Specifically talking about the drop in the delivery, at that time, 19 years old, first outing in pro ball, I think the drop is attributed to the draft process. Trying to throw hard. Trying to get paid. [Laughs]. That’s how you’re trained growing up, unfortunately. I think some of it is immaturity. Not off-the-field immaturity, but with my body. That felt strong. I might not have been as physically mature at the time, so a big move like that helped me feel powerful and strong.
Benedict: If you watch the back knee, and his wanting to throw very hard, he’ll land on the outside of his left foot, and that spins his head off. He’s trying to throw hard and sacrifice his command as a result. This tape, all of the things he had done from a delivery standpoint, from an arm action standpoint, were created in high school. We were trying to get him taller, but at the same time, his training was to light up the gun and not to get people out with angles and spins.
Right away there are some red flags about the draft process, where young kids get paid for throwing hard, even if it comes at the expense of clean mechanics. You could probably work on an entirely different article studying the link between Tommy John surgery, and pitchers using improper mechanics in high school just to light up the radar guns.
The short of this was that Taillon felt he needed to drop in order to generate velocity, when all he was really doing was making it impossible to throw downhill, and throw with command. In fact, the same night as his debut, I talked with an American League scout who said that Taillon will never be able to throw at the knees with that delivery.
At the end of the year I talked with Taillon and Pirates’ farm director at the time, Kyle Stark. The message was the same: what worked to get Taillon drafted would not work for him in pro ball.
“We’ve made progress with him understanding himself as a pitcher rather than a thrower,” Stark said in a September 2011 interview. “The things that got him drafted aren’t necessarily the things that are going to get him to the big leagues.”
Jameson Taillon in Spring Training 2012
Taillon: This is probably the most drastic change, I would say. Maybe even over-exaggerating a bit. Really trying to feel that downhill angle. Then again, it’s also a live BP. The live games definitely bring out the extra adrenalin, and that extra little drop, maybe. But that’s pretty free and easy there, as far as the backside goes.
I asked Taillon about his off-season work, and what led to this drastic change from 2011 to 2012.
We never specifically just said “Don’t drop and drive.” It was more in the throwing programs, staying tall in my legs and learning what that feels like. Staying over my body and keeping everything more intact. And it helped that back then, Mike Steele lived five minutes from me in the off-season, so I did a lot of my throwing programs with him. I think that’s him right there, throwing me the ball. He was my pitching coach in High-A that year. So there was definitely a consistent message in my head on what I needed to do.
As for what he did to make the changes work:
I’d say number one, I was just focused on my everyday throwing. Just not striding as far in my throwing program. Feeling what it felt like to be short, quick with the ball, athletic. That’s the number one thing, just starting to just think athletic with my throwing program. And whenever you nail that, that carries over to the mound.
Benedict: That’s an improved delivery. No backside loading though. If you look at the leg lift, it goes straight up. So he’s not getting to the back leg in this case. And then, he’s trying to stay tall. Once again, he’s on the left side of his foot, and that springs his head to the left, towards the first base side, which is one of those things from a command standpoint, it’s always a fight.
When I saw Taillon at the end of the 2012 season, the changes were obvious from the year before, as I outlined in this article. But it was still a work in progress.
Jameson Taillon in Spring Training 2014
Taillon: The first thing I see is Russell Martin is really good at framing. Here I’m a lot more physically mature, a lot stronger. My weight lifting program is a lot better. And I’m more mature mentally, too. At this point I’m starting to trust it a little more. I’m starting to feel strong without having to make those big muscle movements. I’m learning that my arm speed can kind of carry me through it. I also say here, my delivery is starting to be a little more geared toward the thought process that everything I do in the back — over the rubber, before I break, before I throw the ball — is just setting me up to be aggressive out front. A strong, big movement with my back leg early in my delivery is not necessarily going to help me get my fingers over the ball, or throw downhill, or throw harder. So here I’m starting to set myself up to be athletic early, so I can be aggressive late.
Did it all just click for him, or was this a result of his progress over time?
A little bit of both. I’d say it was kind of a give and take. I had to get comfortable with it, but I also had to stay focused on it. I still have to stay focused on it everyday. Because that’s the way I was taught to throw when I was little. So it’s something that was kind of ingrained in me. Definitely here I’m starting to trust it more, and here I’d say one of the big things too is my throwing programs are starting to carry over to the mound.
Benedict: He’s much more controlled. He’s command oriented. He’s trying to get his arm up in the back earlier. It’s just one of the things we’re still doing. He’s never been better than now at it. If you look at his head, his head is driving towards the catcher, which means command is taking place. In a bullpen, command is more important than anything else — downhill, hitting your spots, getting the spin. Because what the game adds is competitiveness and adrenaline, and you can’t really replicate that in any kind of practice scenario. The game is the ultimate video that I would get to do the comparisons with. That’s not unlike where we’re at now. It’s better now, but that’s pretty good right there.
I’ll note that I didn’t have any video of Taillon in a game or live BP, due to his Tommy John surgery that came later this Spring.
Jameson Taillon in Spring Training 2015
Taillon: Not too drastically different than 2014. My arm path is a lot looser, cleaned up a little bit. But here, what I was talking about in the last one about being quiet early so I can be aggressive late, that’s what I see here. Everything I’m trying to do is, I’m trying to be as quiet as I can. I’m trying to be as soft and athletic, and have some good flow, some good rhythm. And then I’m trying to be extremely aggressive with the ball out front and use these big muscles in my back, my lat, to pull. Trying to be whippy with my arm and loose. I’ve also, between ’14 and ’15 obviously I had a long time with throwing programs. A long time to work on it. So all I was doing was focusing on my mechanics for a while. I didn’t have games to worry about. I was strictly focused on nailing my throwing every single day. I had pitching coaches’ eyes on me every day. My elbow could speak to me. If I wasn’t doing something right, I might get a little more sore. If I was doing something extremely right, the ball would come out a lot better. I don’t want to be putting stress on it. So it was kind of cool to be able to feel what that was like. A year of a good weight lifting regimen, throwing program, a little more mature at this point, I think that ties in with the delivery changes.
I pointed out that Taillon’s left leg is landing more firm than it was in the 2011 video.
That’s something we’ve talked about. 2011, again, a little more mature. A little younger. It felt strong to squat, and throw off, and over-throw. And here, I just trust that I’m strong. A lot more coordinated too. My kinetic chain works a lot better. But again, this is a bullpen, so if I carry it over in a game, the goal is to nail that front foot every time. Sometimes I’m going to still roll off when I get a little extra adrenalin, or have a runner on third maybe.
I also pointed out how he used to fall toward the first base side of the mound after he threw.
Trying not to. That’s pretty much it right there [referencing the video]. On this pitch too, my delivery is at its best. It’s really easy for me to throw that down and away fastball, which for me is one of the most important pitches. That’s a telltale when I can get that fastball down and away, and doing things right in my delivery to get it over there.
Benedict: He’s a little deep in the back, if you look at the backside arm action right there, he’s swinging. This is a rehab bullpen, so he’s at about a 70% effort. He’s trying to stay over his legs. The back knee is sturdy. The head is quiet and it comes down straight forward, with the arm and the back up before landing. That’s getting closer to the ultimate goal right there. The only flaw I see there is a little bit of an arm swing.
The Evolution of Jameson Taillon’s Delivery
The drop and drive will always be a part of Taillon’s delivery in some way. The only way to remove it would be to overhaul his delivery completely, and that wouldn’t be a good move with the talent he has using that delivery. And a drop isn’t a bad thing if done correctly.
“It’s when you do it,” Benedict said of the drop. “If you do it first thing, then it’s not good. If you do it on the way, it’s OK. Because you don’t want that head to pop down.”
The key for Taillon’s delivery will be staying stronger on the backside. He doesn’t need a drop to generate power. He needs to use his body to do the work.
“Staying tall on your legs allows the upper body to pull through instead of push,” Benedict said. “That’s taking a load off all the joints. When you add velocity and competitive nature, this delivery holds on to those things, theoretically.”
Taillon said that he’s having a much easier time throwing down in the zone with his new delivery than he did when he came into the system.
“It’s a battle for every pitcher, probably,” Taillon said. “I’d say it’s easier to throw down in the zone with less effort. I’m thinking about it, but I don’t have to throw this ball down. If I do things right in my delivery now, it just feels like it powers itself down. It just goes down.”
As for his other pitches, Taillon said the delivery has impacted the curveball a little bit, mostly by changing the shape of the pitch some.
“I’d say my shape might be a little different now than what it was in 2011, but I’d say it’s a lot better now,” Taillon said. “A lot more refined, tighter. I can do some different things with it, whether I’m facing a righty or a lefty. Back foot it to a lefty, or bounce it on the plate to a righty. I just have more of a feel of where my arm is, in relation to my body. So I can do a little bit more things with my curveball. Coming back from the surgery though, the curveball, I’ve had some time to work on that too, so that’s feeling pretty good. I’ve been throwing it off flat ground a lot. Had plenty of time in the bullpen to start throwing it. And the curveball for me is a big delivery pitch too. If I’m nailing everything, my curveball shape will be tight, not loopy.”
I talked with an NL scout about the changes in Taillon’s delivery, also showing him the GIFs. This particular scout has always liked Taillon, even in 2011 when he had the drop in his delivery. The scout agreed with the process of trying to take advantage of Taillon’s size as much as possible and generating a downhill plane.
“Based on all of that, it looks like the adjustment that he made since he signed is permanent,” the NL scout said about the videos. “Good direction and everything. And by eliminating that backside collapse, he can get on top of the ball better and have a better downhill plane.”
The scout noted that Taillon has cleaned up the delivery since he has signed, and also praised him for having really good direction to the plate, noting that guys who don’t have good direction to the plate usually don’t throw consistent strikes.
Benedict offered big praise about the new delivery, calling Taillon’s bullpen session last Saturday “sickening.” There will still be adjustments going forward, but Taillon has already come a long way to reduce his drop and be able to throw at a downhill angle. He’s going to need some work this year sharpening his pitches. His changeup was a work in progress before his injury, and he should spend time this year continuing to improve that pitch. But as for the delivery, he could compete in the majors with where he’s at right now.
“You’re trying to get him in position to compete,” Benedict said. “He’s going to be able to compete with that delivery.”