Going into the offseason, general manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees front office made it a priority to improve their starting pitching. They decided to let Masahiro Tanaka walk and use that money to bring in two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and former Pirates righty Jameson Taillon.
While the Kluber signing has excited Yankees fans this spring, the acquisition that should really get everyone hyped is the trade for Taillon.
Taillon is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery back in 2019, but has looked great thus far in spring training, posting a 1.08 ERA with 14Ks over 8.1 innings pitched.
During Taillon’s last full season in 2018, he threw 191 innings and recorded a 3.20 ERA with 179 strikeouts. He had fantastic results and also very strong peripheral numbers, according to Statcast, and as we have seen in years past, pitchers seem to get better when they leave Pittsburgh.
The Pirates pitching philosophy for years has been to induce ground balls (a lot of sinkers), which typically results in fewer swings-and-misses and, in turn, fewer strikeouts. We have seen pitchers over the years, specifically Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow, leave the Pirates organization and change their philosophy to a more north-south approach — attacking with fastballs up in the zone and devastating curveballs low in the zone.
For context: once Cole left the Pirates organization, he went from 8.69 K/9 (196 Ks over 203 IP) in 2017 to 12.40 K/9 (276 Ks over 201.1 IP) in 2018. He scrapped the sinker altogether (Cole threw it 13.1% of the time in 2017) and begun throwing his fastball much more often. His post-Pirates heat map is a thing of beauty:
Glasnow is a very similar case. Before being traded to the Rays, the right-hander featured four different pitches, including a sinker, which he threw 33.1% of the time in 2018. After the trade, the Rays organization told him to abandon the sinker altogether and increase his fastball usage. He began using that to attack hitters higher in the strike zone. His K/9 went from 8.13 in 2018 (his final full season with the Pirates) to 11.27 during his first full year with the Rays.
This is the type of change we should expect from Taillon going into the 2021 season. In 2018, Taillon threw his sinker 21.9% of the time, and hels already stated publicly that he plans to adjust his pitching style to fit the modern game.
The Yankees want him to pitch high in the zone and miss bats. This bodes well for who Taillon is as a pitcher. While his stuff is not as elite as Cole or Glasnow, Taillon was still the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft for a reason.
Adding more swings-and-misses to his game will do wonders for making Taillon a top-of-the-rotation starter. With his ability to limit walks — he posted a 2.17 BB/9 in 2018 — Taillon could be an absolute force this upcoming season.
The righty has also been working towards building up arm strength for the upcoming season, and even though his velocity has been down a tick in spring, he has seen a progression in almost every start. This is to be expected of someone who has not pitched in games since 2019.
The Yankees have already announced they are going to ease Taillon into the season, starting him in the sixth game of 2021 against the Orioles. This will allow the team to utilize him more later in the year and in the playoffs.
If all goes as expected, Taillon could be the most important starting pitcher behind his buddy, Gerrit Cole, this upcoming campaign.