PITTSBURGH -- The pitch that changed Jameson Taillon's 2018 season is not yet a finished product. Neither is Taillon.Taillon added a slider last May and took off from there. He allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last 22 outings and posted a 2.92 ERA with 149
PITTSBURGH -- The pitch that changed Jameson Taillon's 2018 season is not yet a finished product. Neither is Taillon.
Taillon added a slider last May and took off from there. He allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last 22 outings and posted a 2.92 ERA with 149 strikeouts in his final 25 starts. He threw his new pitch 18.5 percent of the time, according to Statcast™, and benefited from having an option in between his 95-mph fastball and big-breaking curveball.
Now, Taillon will actually get a chance to work on his newest offering.
"I think with that pitch," Taillon said, "I can take a big step forward."
That's good news for the Pirates, whose hopes this year rest primarily on their starting rotation and therefore on Taillon. According to Baseball-Reference, he ranked fifth among National League pitchers with 4.7 Wins Above Replacement last year and led the Pirates in WAR during his first full, healthy season in the Majors.
Going wire-to-wire last season was a point of pride and a mission accomplished for Taillon. When asked about his goals for this year, the 27-year-old right-hander didn't list any awards or specific statistics. He went straight to his slider.
Taillon threw a slider in high school, but he gave it up in the Minors to focus on fastball command. Even without an above-average changeup, Taillon made it to the Majors on the strength of his fastball and curveball.
But big league hitters eventually adjusted, and they stopped chasing his curveball as often. He needed another weapon. So he experimented with one grip that didn't work then tried another. Just like that, his cutter/slider hybrid was born and introduced on the fly.
"And it happened to be pretty good," Taillon said.
Some pitchers spend all winter working on a new pitch. Some need years to fully develop a pitch and get comfortable enough to throw it in a game. Taillon played catch with it a couple times, threw it in a bullpen and took an idea to manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage. He wanted to use it in a game.
Taillon's confidence and detailed presentation had them sold, Hurdle said.
"He had almost pretty much made up his mind," Hurdle said, smiling. "We could have said, 'No, son, you're not going to do that' -- and I had a feeling we were going to see 12-13 sliders anyway."
It wasn't perfect. Opponents hit .237 with a .408 slugging percentage against Taillon's slider last season, according to Statcast™, and the "expected" results -- based on the quality of contact against it -- were higher than the actual numbers. But Taillon is already looking forward to developing the pitch in Spring Training, talking to Searage and assistant pitching coach Justin Meccage about ways to improve it.
"You don't really know how it's going to be until you throw it out in a game, and the game told me it was a pretty decent pitch," Taillon said.
Taillon put together a 3.20 ERA in 191 innings over 32 starts last season. If he does indeed take another step forward, he will join a class of elite starters. The idea of being an ace doesn't bother him.
"I embrace it. I always pitch better when there's something on the line or when people are looking at me a certain way," Taillon said. "Last year, I remember games where our bullpen was taxed and it was my day to pitch. I take pride in that stuff, when they say, 'Oh good, Jamo's pitching. He's got us. He's going to go deep.' I love that.
"But I also don't want to say, 'I want to be the guy and screw everyone else.' I think we have a bunch of aces. I don't back down from it or shy away from it, but I don't want to slight anyone else, either. I think we've got a lot of guys who can do the job."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog.