Jameson Taillon Is the Star He Was Supposed to Be, and More

The former top prospect finally made his long-awaited debut this year, and the numbers say we should be very excited about 2017.

Saying Jameson Taillon will be a star next season may seem like an attempt to make a bold stab at predicting a breakout player.

It’s not.

Taillon isn’t going to break out next year. The breakout has done happened. Big fella is a star right now.

Over the second half of the 2016 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates' rookie was one of the game’s premier pitchers. Even if he doesn't get any better, he's going to be a very good pitcher in 2017, but his late-season performance hints that he might become even more of a monster in his first full season in the big leagues.

Prospect Pedigree

The second overall pick in the loaded 2010 MLB Draft, Taillon was taken between a pair of guys you may have caught wind of -- Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. With a lofty draft status, he carried a lot of hype with him into the minors. FanGraphs called him "the best high school pitching prospect since Josh Beckett," and he delivered until injuries threatened to derail his career.

Taillon reached Triple-A in 2013, his age-21 season. That year, he spent most of the campaign in Double-A, recording a 3.46 FIP and 22.2% strikeout rate over 110 1/3 frames. He received a late-season call-up to Triple-A, where he posted a 22.8% strikeout rate and 3.18 FIP in 37 innings.

He appeared to be on track for his debut in the bigs at some point in 2014, and he was ranked among the game’s top prospects, along with current teammate Gerrit Cole. Then the injury bug hit, and it hit hard.

Taillon underwent Tommy John surgery and was shelved for the entire 2014 season. He followed that up by sitting out all of 2015 with a sports hernia. That’s a whole lotta rehab.

He was able to get back on the hill at the start of this season, opening the year in Triple-A. Dude got medieval on ‘em, coming back with a vengeance to the tune of a pencil-thin 1.95 FIP with a 25.9% strikeout rate and 2.5% walk rate.

That’s called earning a promotion, and he got just that, making his much-anticipated debut with the Pirates on June 8. In all, he threw 28 innings in the first half, getting off to a promising start with an 18.4% strikeout rate, 4.4% walk rate, and 3.76 SIERA. Those are pretty good numbers, especially for a rookie.

Second-Half Surge

Taillon went ahead and got silly after the All-Star break, improving in nearly every single statistic -- and baseball keeps a couple of those nowadays.

Split SIERA Strikeout Rate Walk Rate Hard-Hit Rate Ground-Ball Rate
First Half 3.76 18.4% 4.4% 35.6% 51.8%
Second Half 3.56 21.1% 4.0% 32.3% 52.7%

His second-half numbers rank among the best in the game. Taillon’s ground-ball rate (9th) and walk rate (2nd) are top-10 numbers since the break, while his SIERA ranks 17th, just behind the 3.56 mark put up by Cy Young contenders Jon Lester and Corey Kluber. That minuscule walk rate looks impressive enough, but when you peep the raw numbers -- 12 walks in 304 total batters faced -- it looks even more mind-numbing.

Overall for the season, he’s sporting a sparkling 3.44 xFIP with a 20.3% strikeout rate, 4.1% walk rate, and 52.4% ground ball rate.

The Arsenal

As you would likely suspect for a pitcher who is 6’5”, 240 pounds, Taillon has a pretty good heater. His average fastball velocity of 94.2 miles per hour in the second half gives him the 16th-hardest fastball among starting pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched.

The ched is nice, but his changeup and curveball are his best offerings. Per pitch value data on FanGraphs, he tossed the 9th-ranked curve and 13th-best change among qualified starters during the second half of this season.

You can see his wickedness at work in an August 5th start against the Cincinnati Reds. In the outing, he fanned six in six one-run innings, mixing in a knee-buckling curve with mid-90s heat.

A pitcher would be effective if his only above-average trait was a top-tier ground-ball rate. A hurler who could only brag about a truly elite walk rate would produce solid numbers, as well. When a pitcher combines those two things, we should get excited. That’s what has made Marcus Stroman so appealing throughout his career.

If we can quibble with anything when it comes to Taillon, it’s his lack of big-time strikeout numbers. If he could add punchouts to the mix, we’d go from a really good pitcher to one of the game’s best, which is exactly what’s happened to Stroman since he starting racking up strikeouts in the second half.

Those whiffs may be coming for Taillon, too, as he showed flashes of better strikeout ability down the stretch. He posted a double-digit swinging strike rate in three of his last six starts of the season after doing just just twice in his first 12 starts. If he improves his strikeout rate in 2017, look the heck out.

Going Out With a Bang

Wednesday, in his last start of the season, Taillon dominated the Chicago Cubs. He held one of baseball’s best offenses to one hit and one run over six masterful innings, fanning four.

He was trying to make a statement, and he did just that.

We see you, Jameson, and we can't wait to see more of you in 2017.