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Jameson Taillon’s Deception is Evolving

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Last night’s career-high 11 Ks may be a harbinger of things to come

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates starter Jameson Taillon dazzled last night versus the Kansas City Royals.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have their ace, and his name is Jameson Taillon.

The concept of an “ace” is something that is hotly debated in baseball circles. What makes an ace? If a pitcher goes out and performs well for long stretches (see: Williams, Trevor) wouldn’t that qualify him as an “ace?” Is an ace only an ace if he strikes out a ton of batters and always limits walks? At what point does an ace lose that moniker should he start to struggle?

The debate is maddening, and it does not matter. Jameson Taillon is the Pirates’ best pitcher, period.

If that was not known before last night, it should be very clear. Taillon’s start last night flashed one of the most necessary pillars that being an ace requires.

Deception

Taillon’s four-seamer last night was really something.

For all of the pub that his new-to-him (and new to the Pittsburgh Pirates) slider gets, it was Taillon’s tried and true that led the way to his career-high 11 strikeouts. Seven of those came on his four-seam fastball.

Within those seven, six came on swinging strikes, including this at-bat against Alex Gordon:

After getting to 0-2 on Gordon, Taillon showed an ability — and more importantly the confidence — to attack without giving up a hittable pitch. The high-fastball that is all the rage in baseball right now was made for situations/counts like these, and Taillon has embraced it.

The four-seam was not the only pitch getting in on the fun. Taillon’s curveball accounted for three strikeouts, and it was marvelous to see him mixing it in so well. He threw it 25 times yesterday, resulting in seven whiffs and five called strikes. It was put in play just once.

Of course, when you can tunnel like Taillon can, it is no wonder that the pitch was seen so often:

I wrote earlier in the season that Taillon’s curveball was getting lost in the mix. From that post:

It’s also not true for Taillon. That’s not to say that his curve isn’t effective. in the 0-2 count, when the pitch is seen the most, hitters are averaging just 83.4 mph in exit velocity on the six pitches they’ve been able to put into play. Starters will take that 10 out of 10 times, easily.

But, an even 50 percent of the curves thrown by Taillon at 0-2 were taken for balls. It almost becomes a 1-to-1 proposition. The right-hander will throw a curveball half of the time, resulting in a ball half of of the time.

That was from back in May, and thankfully we have a near-full season’s worth of data to play with now. If we look at how Taillon’s curveball has fared since May 23rd (the piece above was posted May 22nd) in two strike counts, we see much better results:

The scary thing about Taillon’s curveball is that it has room to grow. Among all MLB starters since May 23rd with a minimum of 25 curveballs thrown in any count, Taillon carries a 15.1 percent whiff rate. That’s good for 19th among qualified major league starting pitchers. It only stands to reason that this rate could continue to improve with Taillon’s new pitch mix he instituted this season. With the tunneling seen above and a slider in his back pocket, Taillon’s curveball should play even better as he continues to evolve in how he sets it up.

With a live four-seam fastball that has the potential to generate whiffs to the degree seen yesterday and a curveball that is developing into an outright weapon, the Pittsburgh Pirates might start to expect outings like yesterday’s more often from their young ace.

They would be right to do so.