The Cubs are six games under .500 heading into Wednesday night’s contest in Milwaukee, but they’re 10 games under (2-12) when Jameson Taillon starts. If they had somehow managed to go just 6-8 in Taillon starts, they’d be at 43-41 and just three games out of first. And if a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its ass when it hopped.
While there have been flashes in Taillon’s performance, notably in his most recent start against the Guardians, we’re well past the point where everything can just be chalked up to bad luck. Fortune has certainly frowned upon the righty, as evidenced by a .337 BABIP and several numbers that all say he’s been better than his 6.93 ERA indicates. A 5.62 xERA, 5.18 FIP, and 4.86 xFIP aren’t sterling by any stretch, but they all say the same thing.
What they’re saying is that Taillon needs to be better. The Cubs are leaving him in the rotation for now, but they recently optioned Hayden Wesneski to Triple-A in order to stretch back out as a starter and they have lefty Jordan Wicks pitching in Iowa now as well. A move to the bullpen isn’t out of the question for Taillon if things don’t turn around quickly, or maybe that pesky groin starts acting up again and necessitates another IL stint.
He’s still got the ability to turn things around too, and we saw in that last start that he’s got the stuff to do it. The problem seems to be that his mistakes aren’t isolated, they tend to snowball to the point where he starts pressing and then pitching not to lose rather than pitching to win. Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy spoke to 670 The Score’s Mully & Haugh Wednesday morning about how Taillon is working through his struggles.
“The biggest part for me to continue to watch is there are things every single game that he’s doing that are getting better,” Hottovy said. “But when the little things happen, when those hits, those bloopers find a hole, that groundball finds a hole – it’s finding a way to continue to stay focused on what’s going to get you through that outing and giving you success and not chasing results, which is not uncommon for guys when they’re going through a stretch like this.”
Part of the problem is that Taillon is simply not as sharp as he’s been in the past, particularly with the cutter and curve that combine for nearly 36% of his pitches. The cutter hasn’t really been working in the zone, which could be forcing him to come back over the plate with a four-seam that he can’t blow past hitters any longer. The sweeper he worked to incorporate after signing with the Cubs has been a little better, but it’s thrown with almost identical velocity to the curve and the shapes may not be different enough to keep hitters off of either.
“There’s obviously some things we’re working on, trying to get some pitch shapes back to where we feel like they’ve been in the past,” Hottovy explained. “Some of that is mechanical, some of it may be a grip change or something that we need to continue to hone in on. But he’s putting in the work. He’s out there working every single day trying to get better, trying to get back to what we feel like we can do. And on the flip side of that, there is just some bad luck and stuff involved with that.”
The home run Andres Giménez hit the other day is an example of bad luck, as that pitch was up at the batter’s shoulders and never should have been swung at in the first place. That Giménez went full Vlad Guerrero isn’t on Taillon, but the problem is that too many other mistakes end up in spots where most hitters are able to jump on them. Perhaps tightening up his mechanics and tweaking a grip or three will result in little changes that allow Taillon to shift things in his favor.
As strange as it might sound when looking at the numbers to this point, I don’t think Taillon is actually that far off from being a really good pitcher again. That said, the Cubs can’t really afford to wait much longer for him to put things together if they truly intend on fighting for the division title.