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Jameson Taillon’s TTO struggles boil down to one simple thing

Put em away. That’s all Taillon has to do.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

When Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington cited Jameson Taillon’s Times Through the Order penalty (TTO) as an explanation for Clint Hurdle’s quick hook against the Phillies, it kind of made sense.

After crunching the numbers and looking at the data, does it still make sense?

Let’s find out.

Just put them away

I was talking to a pitching coach in the St. Louis Cardinals organization last week (please don’t hate me), and he told me that one of the hardest things to do at a major league level was to put guys away.

“Those guys get paid too,” he told me. “So if you get to two strikes or ahead on a guy, you feel good about your chances. And the numbers probably show that, but you’d be surprised how many times an at-bat can go either way, even if you’ve got two strikes on the guy.”

Not so oddly enough, this axiom applies to Taillon as well. But first, the baseline. How does Taillon match up in terms of TTO — agnostic of pitch type, count, situation, etc. — against MLB starters as a whole?

Jameson Taillon - wOBA by TTO vs MLB

Pitcher/League 1st TTO 2nd TTO 3rd TTO
Pitcher/League 1st TTO 2nd TTO 3rd TTO
Taillon 0.288 0.27 0.352
MLB 0.303 0.314 0.338

Overall, Taillon’s “struggles” are not that pronounced against Major league starters as a whole. We’re talking about a .017 jump here. Is “protecting” Taillon the third time through more valuable than letting him go through the fire, coming through forged with an ability to limit the TTO penalty?

That’s a worthwhile conversation to have, especially when we are, again, talking about a .017 difference.

EDIT: As reader JRoth95 pointed out in the comments, a better degree by which to measure how the third time through the order affects Taillon would be to measure him not against the MLB rate but against himself.

As Taillon goes from .044 points better than the league rate in wOBA the second time through, down to .017 worse on his third trip, we are actually talking about a .061 swing in effectiveness. Thanks JRoth95 for the fantastic comment!

What is indisputable is that Taillon has a clear issue putting hitters away the more they see his stuff:

The elephant in the room — just sitting off in a corner trying to be inconspicuous yet failing miserably to do so — is the absolute bombing that Taillon’s four-seam fastball takes the third time through an order when the young right-hander has the hitter in a two-strike count, or when he is even just ahead on the hitter.

A .691 wOBA against the pitch when ahead in the count is almost unfathomable, same for the .566 mark in a two-strike count. In two-strike counts especially, the heat brings down what is a solid set of pitches. (Note: the curveball and changeup are included here for completeness’ sake, but the combined overall usage for both of these pitches the third time through the order (regardless of count) is rather low. In both two-strike counts and when ahead, the curve and change account for just 13.3 percent of pitches in these scenarios combined.)

As the Pittsburgh Pirates continue to emphasize fastballs as their “ride or die chick” as the kids say, let’s focus on what the heck is happening with Taillon’s heat late in games.

Flat out miss

Take a look at Taillon’s detailed zone chart for two-seamers and four-seamers when ahead or at two strikes:

In this image, red are four-seamers; yellow are two-seamers.

Yeah, this is not a very pretty chart. But perhaps it can tell us a bit about why Taillon is missing so much.

Broken out against left and right-handed batters, we can see a couple of trends start to emerge. The propensity to miss is still there, but now we see that Taillon is attempting to go away from left-handed batters and seemingly in to right-handers.

That’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff. Here’s where it gets interesting.

Against lefties, Taillon is not working the edges well. Look at the leftmost-middle zone in the graph above. That’s a ton of wasted pitches hanging out there.

Against right handed hitters, Taillon’s pitches are drifting towards the middle of the zone. With a higher concentration of four-seamers, the chart above starts to make some sense.

Some may cry out that this is a small sample size, and they might be right. These pitches seen are not great in number; They are great in significance. Missing when ahead in a count or at two strikes lets a hitter back in the at-bat.

Returning back to the quote above, the hitters get paid too. So why give them another chance to earn their keep?

Missing with the heat is not the only reason that Jameson Taillon may be struggling the third time through the order. But it would be a hell of a place for the Pittsburgh Pirates to start looking for ways to put more faith in their best starting pitcher.