First Pitch: What Gerrit Cole Can Teach Us to Expect With Jameson Taillon

Earlier today I had my weekly radio segment with David Todd on ESPN 970 in Pittsburgh. We discussed a lot of topics in a two-segment interview, but started off with the primary topic of whether Jameson Taillon could pitch in Pittsburgh this year. You can click that link and hear the discussion, but I’ll give my thoughts in short.

The biggest issue for Taillon in the minors has been that he has been too hittable for a guy with his velocity. He sits mid-90s, and can touch higher. But early in his career the fastball was flat and up in the zone. He worked to improve that before Tommy John surgery, and has looked great in his rehab. He’s throwing the ball down in the zone with angle, and showing no effort in doing so. The biggest thing he needed to work on seems fixed. And as a result, I don’t think he’d need a lot of time in Indianapolis once he returns.

Taillon has the upside of a top of the rotation starter, but it’s important to consider that he’s probably not going to be that when he first comes up. In fact, we can take a lesson from Gerrit Cole here.

Right now, Cole looks like the ace he was projected to become when he was taken first overall in the 2011 draft. He had one of his worst outings on Monday from a stuff and command perspective, and still threw seven innings without an earned run, and struck out nine. On the season, Cole has a 1.90 ERA in 71 innings, with a 2.54 xFIP. But it wasn’t always this way.

In Cole’s first 222.1 innings, he had a 3.52 ERA and a 3.36 xFIP. That spanned through September 1st last year. Since then, he has a 2.25 ERA and a 2.40 xFIP. Those are some arbitrary end points, but the key thing is that he had about a full season where he looked good, but not great, and after that he started fulfilling his potential.

Break that down further, and Cole had a 3.89 ERA and a 3.75 xFIP in his first month, spanning 41.2 innings. That’s about where the league average is for the 2015 season.

If that’s what can be expected for Taillon, then that’s something you’d take. Obviously you can’t expect that for Taillon, since there’s no guarantee he’d do that well right away. But the key thing here is that the Pirates most likely wouldn’t be adding an ace. They’d be adding a guy who has the potential to be an ace — and it might take 200+ innings until he gets there, like with Cole. In the meantime, he could put up league average numbers, which would be a slight upgrade over the upside that you’d want from Jeff Locke if his ERA gets closer to his xFIP. And the best thing about Taillon is that he wouldn’t be expected to stop there.

I don’t know if the Pirates will call Taillon up this year, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Their conservative approach with his rehab not only plays it safe in bringing him back, but also leaves plenty of innings for him to finish out the year, even if he was needed to pitch in September and October in Pittsburgh. And outside of getting used to upper level hitters once again, and regaining command of all of his pitches, there isn’t much for him to work on before he will be ready to make that jump.

**David Todd Podcast: Can Jameson Taillon Pitch in Pittsburgh This Year? Also includes draft talk, and a discussion on Yeudy Garcia, Harold Ramirez, and Barrett Barnes.

**How Cole Tucker is Adjusting to His Aggressive Push, On and Off the Field. We talk so much about on-field performance, but I also looked at the off-field adjustments Cole Tucker is having to make as a young player in a full season league.

**Clayton Richard Getting Comfortable With New Mechanics in Triple-A. Ryan Palencer looks at how Richard has been improving in his starts with Indianapolis. After the article went up, he went 7.2 shutout innings in his latest outing.

**Prospect Watch: Richard Throws Shutout Ball, Willy Garcia Homers Twice. Along with that performance from Richard, Willy Garcia saw his power break out, and Yeudy Garcia had another great outing.

**Radhames Liz Clears Waivers, Outrighted to Indianapolis. Liz will stick around in the organization, which isn’t a surprise. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s up later in the season, especially if he manages to show some improvements in Indianapolis.

**Morning Report: There’s No Place Like Home?


  • Right now it teaches him that Cole’s approach of being mildly wild is actually better than him throwing the fastball for a strike every pitch, he is less hittable because hitters just can’t get comfortable. Also shows that having a curve and a slider is better than just one

  • Would he only be an option for starting, or could he also pitch in relief late in the year?

  • The pirates are quickly becoming (if not already) a go to destination for pitchers, instead of a don’t go there unless your carrer is over destination. Next step is getting hitters who want to come here before they are over the hill.

  • I hope they bring him up in time to see if he’s a better option than Morton and Burnett as a playoff starter. Whether or not, CH would trust him is a whole nuther matter.

  • Personally, I doubt we see JT unless in Sept. However, he could start out next year as our #5 if his recovery progress continues to go well.

  • I’m a little confused. It seems as if your assuming they would be looking for someone to pitch as the #5 starter. IMO AJ Burnett is not going to pitch like a #1 starter all year. He is probably a #3-#4 guy by years end. Liriano is a #2 or #3 for sure. Morton isn’t much more than Jeff Locke. He is a 4-5 Starter. Two good starts doesn’t change that and he will eventually blow up and come back to earth. but he is a solid back end guy. If he has a good season by his standards and he’s suddenly bumped to the #5 spot because we picked up a #2 or #3 the Pirates get even better. 1. Cole 2. ? 3. Liriano 4. Burnett 5. Morton. Just replacing Locke with another #5 type starter would’t make much impact. Anyhow that said I personally wouldn’t want them to make any deal for a SP and trade away the future with JT . TG and AS so close. the Pirates aren’t going to go out and make a deal for a #5 .

    • Chris: The Pirates have always felt that Charlie Morton would be a solid No. 3 and I think he has that ability. Jeff Locke has a plus changeup, and the ability to hit spots with an average FB, but, his Curve is pedestrian at best. Therefore, in the current Rotation, he is a No. 5 at best, unless he can find a better 3rd pitch. If Taillon can transition his bullpens over to his rehab starts, I would hope to see him in July/August, and get maybe 10-12 starts.

      I have seen Locke throw his FB at 93 – can he find 95 as a Reliever? Watson has become one of the best relievers in the game with his 95 mph fastball balanced off against an ever-improving changeup. Locke’s changeup is even better, so . . . .

    • Hurdle has publicly stated that Locke has a higher upside than he has been showing. He said he has been trying to be too fine.

      I still see a lot of Ted Lilly in Jeff. I hope I am right….for once. 🙂

    • When Ground Chuck is healthy, as he currently is, he is much better than a #5 SP. He is a solid #3. I personally would feel good having him up against any other #3 SP in NL playoffs.

      I agree Burnett will be more like a #4 as season progresses, but that’s good enough for this team as he is an innings eater who gives team a chance to win nearly every time out.

      Cole, Liriano, Morton and Burnett is good enough playoff staff to win a WS. If JT comes up and pitches out of his mind, that will just be a bonus. but hardly necessary for this team to succeed.

      • 5 iCole, Liriano, Burnett, Morton are your 1-4 in terms of talent at this point in their careers IMO. 5 is a crap shoot. Locke is better than Worley, but not necessarily better than the other options, we shall see. If Taillon can be an upgrade over Locke, great, or Sampson or Sadler as far as im concerned…. Locke can still pitch much better, he shouldn’t have gone out for a 7th inning yesterday that was hurdle’s fault, 6 innings 3 runs, you gotta take that with your 5th starter

    • Christopher B
      June 4, 2015 2:07 pm

      Charlie Morton has been, by both fWAR and RA9-WAR, a roughly average pitcher, and by ERA, an above average pitcher over the past two years. And I’m not even accounting in the WAR values (which are “counting” stats) that he lost a lot of time to injury. He’s right around average by both despite the lost time.

      I think “roughly average” is a pretty good criterion for a #3, and he’s at worst, according to that criterion, a #4. I’d consider it fair to call him a 3/4 or so. But when he’s healthy, he’s comfortably in #3 territory.

      2010 and 2012, I will grant, were disastrous for Chuck, but both were riddled with injuries (he only went 50 innings in 2012). He was solid in 2011, though (average by ERA, above average by fWAR), great in 2013 (well above average by ERA, average by fWAR despite it only being half a season), and average in 2014 (average by both fWAR and ERA) despite the injury.

      Chuck’s better than a #5, he’s valuable, there’s no getting around that.

  • Christopher B
    June 4, 2015 12:25 am

    You thought Cole’s stuff was lacking against the giants? The movement on his fastball alone was filthy enough to get him through it.

    • Early on, yes. He recovered nicely the last few innings.

      • Christopher B
        June 4, 2015 1:54 pm

        Ah, I missed the first couple innings because I was in transit from work. I guess I only saw the part where he recovered.

        • He recovered well, too. 81 pitches through 5.1 innings, and he had the bases loaded with one out. Then he needed just 19 pitches for his next 5 outs, which included escaping the bases loaded jam.

  • Chris Thomas
    June 4, 2015 12:08 am

    I hope you are right