Taillon has ‘clear direction’ in '24 prep

December 4th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- During the Winter Meetings a year ago, the news that the Cubs had landed spread swiftly through the halls of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. The North Siders reeled in the free-agent starter on a four-year deal, giving the rotation a new core piece.

As the Cubs’ front-office team arrives at the Opryland Resort in Nashville this week -- looking for avenues to turn the roster into an October-ready product -- Taillon is advancing through his offseason training program. The big righty has had time to reflect on his rocky first year with the Cubs and is ready to show why he was given that $68 million deal.

“I have such a clear direction that I want to head and things I want to accomplish,” Taillon said in a recent phone conversation. “I’m proud of the way I hung in there, took some punches, and then finished strong. There’s definitely some things I learned about myself -- some positives. And ideally, you learn from it and don’t let it happen again.”

The 32-year-old Taillon ended 2023 with a 4.84 ERA in 30 games, but that snapshot does not tell the winding story of his season. There was the minor groin injury early in the year. There was the new pitch (sweeper) he was learning and honing. His delivery went awry in the first half and, soon enough, Taillon admitted his confidence went missing, too.

It was a trying season that saw his ERA balloon to 8.04 through May, sending Taillon down a rabbit hole in search of solutions.

“Going into that search mode can be dangerous,” Taillon said. “You go in to fix one thing and you end up messing up other things. I think a good lesson for me going forward is just understanding my foundation and my base and, ‘This is what I do. This is what I do when I do well.’ And if you have a bad game, it doesn’t mean you change things. It just means you really lock in that foundation.”

Taillon teamed with Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy and assistant pitching coach Daniel Moskos to iron out the delivery, finding some specific drills to focus on. The pitcher began a journaling routine, creating daily goals, affirmations and identifying gratitudes as part of the process. He rewatched every start in detail, studying the execution and sequencing to see if he was controlling his part of the equation.

“I’d watch every pitch from an honest bird’s eye view, and say, ‘Was I executing?’” Taillon said. “I had good outings this year where I executed at a low rate, and I had bad outings where I executed at a high rate. Once I started seeing that, it kind of locked me in to just, ‘Let’s just go out and execute pitches. You can't control anything else.’”

To Taillon’s point, the Cubs as a defense posted minus-10 outs above average with him on the mound (tied for the third fewest among MLB pitchers). And that is from a team that ranked seventh in MLB with 18 OAA as a team. There were command issues early on, but Taillon was undoubtedly the recipient of some hard luck behind him, too.

“It felt like what could go wrong did go wrong,” Taillon said.

Steadily, Taillon controlled his end and the production and numbers followed.

From June through the end of the season, Taillon posted a 4.02 ERA over 123 innings. Starting with his eight-inning gem against the Yankees on July 7, the righty turned in a 3.38 ERA in 90 2/3 innings through the end of the campaign. His final nine appearances featured a 3.04 ERA with 49 strikeouts and nine walks in 50 1/3 innings -- statistics that reflect some of the best seasons of his career.

That finish has Taillon excited about what is to come in 2024, when the pressure of a new contract will be gone.

“I’m really excited to run it back,” Taillon said. “We got to a really awesome place. We were in the trenches together. We worked through some things and I feel like we came out on the other side with a really good, strong relationship and an understanding of what I need to do to avoid that going forward.”