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This week’s notes are largely dominated by one player, whose breakdown is so large that it’s best we just drop the pleasantries and get straight to it.

Jameson Taillon

Taillon has gone 6.0 or more innings in all six starts since his return from the disabled list in mid-July, earning the quality start in each turn, and he walked just four batters while allowing only three home runs in a combined 38 innings of work. He has a modest K-count of 31 strikeouts over that stretch, but thus far in his brief career Taillon has been able to maintain low totals of both walks and strikeouts while generally keeping the runs off the scoreboard, including an ERA of 3.00 across 66.0 innings this season. The Pirates have been stretching out his leash recently, and Taillon recorded his first games above 100 pitches at the highest level by crossing the century mark in two of his last three games.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

August 16

6.0

3

6

0

1

5

91

August 11

8.0

0

3

0

2

4

101

August 5

6.0

1

6

0

1

6

102

His opponents haven’t been overly daunting, with his last three games coming at San Francisco, versus San Diego and versus Cincinnati, but Taillon’s easy transition from the minors and his ability to shake the rust from his DL stint are both excellent signs for his ability to pitch near the front of a playoff-caliber rotation. His K rate has fallen a bit from his minor-league numbers, where he had 8.5 K/9 across 443.7 innings, but Taillon has more than made up the difference by posting the lowest walk rate of his professional career.

For most pitchers, command and control are the last things to return following major elbow surgery, at least according to the conventional rule of thumb, but Taillon did just the opposite. Prior to his undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Taillon was coming off a 2013 campaign with a respectable-yet-unspectacular season of 4.2 BB/9 split across two levels, though his walk avoidance had been a bit better in previous seasons. After taking 2014 and 2015 off while he recuperated from surgery, Taillon came back with control being the best club in his bag, as he walked just six batters over his first 61.7 innings in the minors (0.9 BB/9), and he is currently sporting a microscopic 1.2 BB/9 in his 66 frames at the major league level. He hits targets with the fastball and at peak can choose to bury the breaking ball or spot it over the plate for a strike. Here’s an example of the latter, with opposing pitcher Jeff Samardzija playing the role of seat-filler in the batter’s box.

Taillon’s emergence in the major leagues was highly anticipated by yours truly. I have written glowingly about Taillon multiple times in the past, and I had the gall to give the right-hander above average grades in every single category of the mechanics report card back in preseason of 2013. The MRC had six categories instead of five back then (and there was no overall grade), and Taillon received plus marks of 60 or better in five of the six. I was very high on his delivery overall, but that was a few years and one surgical scar ago, so let’s see if and how his delivery might have changed.

Mechanics Report Card

Feb ‘13

Aug ‘16

Balance

55

50

Momentum

60

55

Torque

70

65

Posture

60

45

Repetition

60

60

Overall

B-

The first set of grades that I handed out to Taillon were based on what I had seen from his 2012 season, including minor league footage and his appearance at the 2012 Futures Game. He scored extremely well, as you rarely see such novice players earning such advanced marks except for in the power category of torque, but Taillon combined power, stability and mechanical efficiency like few players his age are capable.

As you might have guessed by looking at the grades, I actually preferred Taillon’s delivery a few years ago to what is on display now. Let’s compare:

Futures Game, 2012

Last Start, August 17, 2016

Taillon had a good-sized drop-n-drive back in 2012, in addition to a slight rock-n-roll pattern with a lean-back toward second base, but his Z-plane imbalance was minor and his X-plane was pristine. Fast-forward to today, and the drop-n-drive is still there but he has also added some side-to-side instability, as he tucks into max leg lift and then drifts his balance toward the back (first base) side throughout his stride. It’s not ugly, but for a pitcher who was on the verge of plus marks in stability as an amateur, it’s a bit disappointing to see that element go backwards.

His 2012 delivery had powerful momentum, and though it involved a blatant gear change after reaching max leg lift, Taillon carved an efficient route to the plate that was evident in the way that his head and body followed the baseball toward the plate after release point. He has slowed down a touch in 2016, and rather than an efficient stride direction, he appears to flop open and yank his energy off-line to the glove-side. It’s a manifestation of the imbalance that was mentioned, as everything begins to drift to the left during his stride and into his release.

The torque is still awesome, though it appears to be more dependent now on his upper-half generating additional separation, as his delay of trunk rotation has shrunk since his amateur days, punctuated by the fact that he often initiates trunk rotation too early, “opening up the front shoulder” as they say. This premature trunk rotation minimizes his torque a bit and throws a wrench into his timing, which makes it all the more remarkable that Taillon has been able to control the walks as well as has.

The biggest change in Taillon’s game has been his posture. It makes sense, given that posture occurs chronologically latest in the delivery and is essentially the culmination of all of the preceding links in the kinetic chain. The first-base-side drift that tarnished his balance grade, and which was related to the inefficient stride direction that dinged his momentum grade, which then gives way to premature trunk rotation and a rotational pull to the glove side, manifests in heavy spine tilt that engages quickly once he triggers trunk rotation. This is compared to posture that bordered on 65-grade four years ago, an attribute that typically gets better with age.

In summary, he’s lost a little bit of everything. His entire glove-side appears to be soft, as all of his leaking of balance and momentum is in that direction, plus he features more flail to his glove-side into and out of release point than he used to. It’s somewhat remarkable that he has exemplified the control that he has thus far in spite of these issues, as any or all of them can easily interfere with pitch command. It’s a disappointing result, as you expect a developing player to emphasize either power or stability at the expense of the other, but his once-incredible delivery has lost some its luster in virtually every category.

Jason Hammel

The Rodney Dangerfield of the pitching world, Hammel gets no respect considering his high level of performance, which gets lost on an exceptional staff of starters. He has a 2.76 ERA for the season that’s 0.99 runs better than last season, but he has done so despite peripheral stats that are going in the wrong direction to support this level of improvement, with a K rate that’s down from 24.2 percent last season to 21.1 percent this year, along with a walk rate that’s up from 5.6 percent to 7.9 percent; it’s the hits allowed that have cratered, and his ERA has followed. Not helping things is Hammel’s reputation for flipping the switch on his performance, suddenly and without warning, but right now he is on one of the good streaks.

Date

IP

R

H

HR

BB

K

PC

August 16

7.0

0

2

0

3

7

110

August 10

7.0

0

4

0

2

6

101

August 2

6.0

0

4

0

2

3

80

Hammel’s reign of terror has extended even further back than his scoreless streak, with a 1.26 ERA and 40:13 K:BB over his last seven starts, covering 43.0 innings of work. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in any start and has only given up three home runs over that stretch, though the strikeouts have been capped at seven in any given game. Most remarkable, he’s allowed just 25 hits over that seven-game stretch, with an opponent average of .170 and an opponent BABiP of just .212.

Adding a twist, the seven-game string of dominance directly followed what was by far Hammel’s worst start of the season. He has only allowed more than four earned runs once in his 23 starts this season, but in this game he coughed up 10 runs, including a ridiculous five homers against the Mets. So what was so different about that ill-fated start and his recent streak?

In a word: sinker. Hammel’s sink just wasn’t working in the July 1 game, carrying a bit less movement than usual both in terms of sink and fade, and the Mets tattooed the pitch for four of their five home runs in the game. He went to the sinker 36 times and invoked 18 swings, but not one of those swings came up empty. Hammel is a bit of a nibbler, seemingly out of necessity, but his ability to generally stay low in the zone helps to make him a viable source of run prevention for the Cubs down the stretch.

Thank you for reading

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TGT969
8/22
Perhaps missing 2 complete seasons has changed the way the Pirates have chosen to get him ready to pitch in 2016. One thing that is not measurable is that his poise is terrific. He does not seem to let (small sample size) get him down.