There was a solidified and reasonable level of expectations for starting pitcher Jameson Taillon after he signed a four-year, $68 million deal with the Chicago Cubs last winter. While not an ace, the hope was for him to be a solid 3-4 type starter that could deliver a 3.7-4.00 range ERA and FIP in 30 starts.
The total numbers Taillon ended up delivering in 2023 included a 4.84 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 1.28 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, and 1.57 HR/9 (highest of his career) in 154.1 innings. It was an overall rough season for Taillon looking at the numbers in a vacuum. With all of the money being paid to Taillon, better numbers were desired and it was frustrating to watch for much of the season.
With all of that said, breaking down Taillon's performance in depth might give Cubs fans and the organization hope that he is trending in a better direction heading into 2024. Taillon appeared in 30 games (29 starts and one in relief in game 161), and the Fourth of July approximately marks the mid-point of his season. Looking at those two halves tells two interesting stories.
Heading into Independence Day, Taillon in 14 starts posted a brutal 6.93 ERA, 5.14 FIP, 1.5 WHIP, .870 OPS against, 1.84 HR/9, and 12.8 barrel% against. The walk numbers were not terrible, 7% walk rate on the dot, but his command of the zone struggled. There were plenty of instances over that stretch where he seemed to not have full trust in what he was doing. He would often get ahead of hitters and not be able to put them away as balls would end up right over the plate and get walloped. Over those 14 starts, he only recorded one quality start, which did not come until June 13th.
Taillon would work hard on making adjustments. Not only on his pitching but also on his mind. He got assistance from mental skills coach Brian Cain per Marquee's Tony Andracki.
In his final 16 appearances, Taillon pitched to a 3.38 ERA, 4.24 FIP, 1.1 WHIP, .659 OPS against, 1.39 HR/9, and 9.0 barrel% against. The strikeout rate was pretty much the same (8.34 K/9 vs. 8.04 K/9) but many key numbers dropped for the better. Outside of just the ERA and FIP, the .211 drop in OPS against, 0.4 point drop in WHIP, and the increase in runners left on base from 56.2% to 72.8% all made a huge difference. Notable to see nearly half of the baserunners Taillon allowed ended up scoring in his first 14 starts. The average for LOB% is roughly 70-72% per FanGraphs.
Taillon looked more confident in the second half as he pitched more like himself. Going back to his struggles putting players away after getting ahead in the count; in his first 14 starts hitters slashed .261/.304/.510 against him combined in 0-1 and 0-2 counts. In his last 16 appearances, hitters slashed .220/.256/.330 against in those same combined counts. In the scorebook, out of Taillon's 15 final starts, eight of them were quality starts.
Hopefully, these are good signs of things to come. Taillon's track record is not necessarily All-Star caliber, but very solid. If he can pitch like the guy he did in the second half more consistently, that will be big for the Cubs next year.