Who You Got?: Jameson Taillon vs. Mike Foltynewicz

Matt BishopJanuary 15th, 2019

Who you got? Better yet, what are you trying to accomplish? Are you looking to bolster your rotation with a high strikeout, high upside arms? Or are you looking for control artists with less than a strikeout per nine with the ability to eat innings and pitch deep into games?

One of the following pitchers is my choice to take another step forward and rise to an elite tier, but it is not who you think. With the amount of 200 inning pitchers drastically decreasing in recent years, command and control have become ever so important in determining future value and longevity. But if you take a look at the following graphics, you can make an argument that control doesn’t guarantee success:

K/9 LEADERS                              BB/9 LEADERS

AVG. ADP = 50.3                        AVG. ADP = 164.1

If you take a look at the K/9 leaders for 2018, it is unequivocally a list of the best of the best in baseball.  There are only two pitchers on this list in the 100s among overall ADPs and these 12 pitchers combine for a 2.94 ERA. But if you peek over at the BB/9 leaders, the drop off is significant. The ADPs skyrocket with highs of 480 and 504 and these 12 pitchers combine for a 3.22 ERA. In fact, if you take the average ERA for both K/9 and BB/9 leaders, it will take 40+ pitchers before the ERA for BB/9 is lower than the K/9 leaders.   

So what does this mean? When deciding between a pitcher with, let’s say a 3.34 BB/9 or a 2.17 BB/9, don’t be afraid to take the guy with the higher BB/9. Even history appears to favor strikeouts.

JAMESON TAILLON, SP PITTSBURGH PIRATES (ADP 64)

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds : News Photo

FASTBALL (57.5%) SLIDER (18.2%) CURVEBALL (19.7%) CHANGEUP (4.6%)

Jameson Taillon will be a popular sleeper candidate this season. And with good reason. Taillon put up career highs last season in innings (191.0), Strikeouts per Nine (8.4) and swinging strike rate (10.7%.) while turning in career lows in ERA (3.20) and groundball rate (46.2%). His 33.5% o-swing, or chase percentage was up 3.0% from his 30.4% in 2017, while his swinging strike rate (10.7%) ballooned from his 8.2% the previous year, or 2.5%. His significant increases in swing rates (o-swing, z-swing, swing%) have resulted in pretty major decreases in contact across the board:

These are clear indicators of a breakout, which became visibly obvious as Taillon dominated down the stretch. Last 20 starts:

2.80 ERA 1.19 WHIP 125.1 IP 8.5 K/9 2.2 BB/9 11% Swinging Strike.

What is even more impressive is that Taillon had never thrown a slider in his 237.2 previous innings of big league service. Taillon was a fastball/curveball pitcher, who was struggling with his secondary offerings and was having trouble developing his changeup. On May 22nd of 2018, Taillon threw a slider. And while he only threw five sliders and induced one swing and miss in that May 22nd start, he induced six whiffs on his curve, which was double his season high and an indicator that this new pitch could set up his other offerings. For the remainder of 2018, his slider racked up a 49.8% o-swing and a 13.7% swinging strike rate.

He was able to increase his overall swinging strike rate from 9% without the slider to an impressive 11% since adding the slider to his arsenal. He finished the season in tremendous fashion with a stellar September, where he threw his slider 28.8% of the time:

SEPTEMBER:  1.97 ERA 1.06 WHIP 32.0 IP 9.3 K/9 1.7 BB/9

39.5% Groundball 23.9% Hard Contact 2.7 FIP 3.25 XFIP

Taillon proved durable down the stretch, turning in a 2.33 ERA / 1.13 WHIP combo with an impeccable 1.69 BB/9 after the all-star break. With elite control and microscopic contact rates, Taillon could be the real deal and a highly coveted fantasy asset during draft season. He has the tools to minimize damage and finish the season as a Top 15 Pitcher.

Mike FOLTYNEWICZ, SP ATLANTA BRAVES (ADP 79)

Divisional Round - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Four : News Photo

FASTBALL (56.3%) SLIDER (27.2%) CURVEBALL (10.9%) CHANGEUP (6.3%)

2018 was Mike Foltynewicz’s breakout season and coming out party. He was able to eclipse 180 innings for the first time in his career (183.0), while lowering his ERA almost two runs to a spectacular 2.85 ERA. He was able to keep the ball in the yard more by lowering his HR/9 to 0.84 and his HR/FB to 9.6%, which were both career lows. What’s most impressive is he was able to increase his K per nine by more than 1.5 strikeouts, to a career-high mark of 9.9 K/9 up from 8.4 K/9 in 2017. Last 20 starts:

3.00 ERA 0.98 WHIP 123.0 IP 9.7 K/9 3.1 BB/9 11% SwSt

His only weakness last season was his career high 9.1 BB% that can be attributed to his career low chase rate (26.8% o-swing) and first pitch strike (61.4%), which got him behind in counts more. Foltynewicz quietly provided the best swinging strike rate of his career (10.3%), while his contact rates were also career lows across the board:

Here is how Foltynewicz fared against the rest of the league in 2018:

.184 Batting Average Against (3rd)

.258 OBP (4th)

.309 SLG (5th)

.250 wOBA (4th)

0.98 WHIP (4TH)

.233 BABIP (2ND)

Foltynewicz’s success is solely dependent on the performance of his slider and opposing batters only hit .107 against the pitch in 2018. In fact, his slider was ranked the 4th best slider thrown in the league last season, according to pitch value. He increased the slider usage by 6% in 2018, which helped to increase his swinging strike rate of 3.0% to a career-high 17.9%. What’s more impressive is he was able to increase his o-swing, or chase rate on the slider almost 9% to a career-high 40.1%.

Even his career high 23.8 pVAL shows the major improvements he made on his secondary offering from a previous high of 1.4, but that may also be cause for concern. No matter how you spin it, that is a breakout.

Foltynewicz had a strong first half of the season: 2.66 ERA 1.11 WHIP 10.7 K/9 3.7 BB/9

This was capped off by an even more impressive June, where he dealt to a 1.13 ERA 0.75 WHIP 10.8 K/9. While the second half of his season wasn’t as impressive (3.10 ERA 1.05 WHIP 9.1 K/9), his ERA was drastically inflated by a 5.72 ERA in July and skewed his season-long numbers. Foltynewicz has shown he can carry a strikeout rate around 10.5 K/9 and he only appears to be getting better. People may not be rushing to grab him during draft season, but he has elite swing and miss potential and should finish the year as a Top 15 Pitcher.  

So here we are again. What are you trying to accomplish? I am a strong supporter of plate discipline and drafting guys with a high walk, low strikeout totals when taking batters. But when taking pitchers, I don’t give a crap about their walk rate and am only looking for strikeout upside. Hopefully, I have shown you why. But if I haven’t, here are the numbers so you can decide for yourself.  

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Main Credit Image:

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds : News Photo
Divisional Round - Los Angeles Dodgers v Atlanta Braves - Game Four : News Photo
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