It’s been one strange start to the season for the New York Yankees. With over 70 games in the books and the All-Star break only a couple of weeks away, the Yankees have found themselves sitting six games back from first place with a sub-par 40-36 record to show for, barely outpacing the Toronto Blue Jays in fourth. Prior to winning seven of their last nine games, the Yankees lost a shocking 13 of their last 18 games from May 25th to June 13th, a rare sighting for a team that’s as prominent and as talented as the Yankees (ESPN).
To clarify, there have been a lot of influential factors that have played into this unusual start in the Bronx and there’s certainly not one specific cause to blame for the outcome. Whether it’s the fact that their offense is 19th in the league in hits and is only mustering a .235 team average, to their inconsistent pitching from both their starting rotation and bullpen, to their fielding and base running mishaps every other night, the Yankees have struggled with just about everything and haven’t looked like the team they have been known for over these last four years.
Though their lack of hitting and offensive fortitude is certainly a key component that has thwarted their success this season, a big thorn in the side of this Yankees team, has been the inability from their starting rotation to keep earned runs at bay and deliver the big, shut-down starts they need on a daily basis. Outside of Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber when healthy, the Yankees starters have struggled with minimizing earned runs and have put their ailing offense in challenging, comeback circumstances all too often this year. Although this has been a joint issue reflected in pitchers like Jordan Montgomery and Domingo German, the greatest cause for concern within this starting rotation, has been none other than Jameson Taillon.
When the Yankees traded for Taillon earlier this year, the aim was to have him become a strong third if not second in command for this rotation, particularly with Kluber out and Luis Severino still sidelined for the first half of the season. But Taillon has fallen well short of matching those expectations all year, and with the trade deadline gradually approaching, the looming question on whether the Yankees should acquire an additional starting pitcher, has grown increasingly larger by the week.
In the midst of his fifth season in the league, Taillon is putting up some of his worst numbers in his career so far and his shortcomings don’t seem to be improving fast enough. From his high 5.18 ERA, to his team leading earned runs total (37), to currently placing second on the team with 11 HRs allowed on the year, to his shaky 1.32 WHIP, Taillon has just struggled with his control and accuracy and hasn’t looked like the pitcher he used to be in Pittsburgh (ESPN). Consequently, the ultimate decision the Yankees have to determine is just how long they want to stick with their newly acquired starter and whether they should potentially look at trading for someone else to replace his role. And although this decision might seem clear-cut, it is by no means as straightforward as it looks.
For starters, Taillon is not only still pretty young at age 29, but also faced a hefty physical setback during the height of his career in Pittsburgh. After seven starts in 2019, Taillon was shut down for the season after suffering a right forearm injury, which led him to receive surgery that August in order to repair his flexor tendon and complete a UCL revision in his right elbow. As a result, Taillon did not play a single game in 2020 prior to being traded to the Yankees, and that kind of absence from a starting pitching role is truly significant, considering how demanding pitching is on your arm and how much your body can change in over a year.
Secondly, Taillon as a whole, brings a lot of great qualities to the table, he just needs to refine his minor imperfections. Possessing a mean four seam fastball that can hit the mid 90s along with a deadly power curveball and circle changeup that carry slow yet sharp breaking movement, Taillon has the arsenal to contain opposing lineups but his pitch placement and lack of control has cost him all year. In other words, Taillon has delivered a handful of good starts this season for the Yankees where he’s held the opposing team to one or two earned runs and gathered 5+ strikeouts in five to six innings of work (ESPN). But on the contrary, he’s has also delivered several bad starts that have been characterized by home runs, walks, and multiple hits, directly highlighting his struggle with finding the strike zone and locating his pitches in the right spots. Though this isn’t the quickest fix for a pitcher, Taillon’s case doesn’t appear to be as severe as it might seem, and with a little more time, could level out and improve. However, if manager Aaron Boone was willing to send German to an alternate training camp in early April (which did help him significantly), he should certainly consider doing so with Taillon as well if his accuracy issue persists in the second half.
Lastly, and oddly enough, the Yankees don’t really need another starting pitcher for their rotation. With Severino poised to make his return within the next month or so and German and Montgomery doing well with their respective roles, the Yankees not only have a young prospect they can rely on in Michael King, who has shown encouraging signs of talent already this season. But in addition, they also have the brilliant Nicaraguan native in Jonathan Loaisiga who’s been an absolute gem for this pitching staff. Though he hasn’t pitched more than two innings all season, Loaisiga’s versatility and skill has been instrumental for the Yankees success this year (ESPN). And if Taillon continues to struggle, he could certainly take over his role in the rotation if need be. In short, the Yankees have several other starters that can take Taillon’s place if it really comes down to that. And because that’s the case, the necessity to trade for another starting pitcher, just isn’t dire or essential at all, considering how strong their starting rotation is when fully healthy.
At the end of the day, pitching investments like this possess a high amount of risk and fragility, and let’s face it, the Yankees have been treading a fine line with Taillon. But considering his youth and potential, it’s only fair for the Yankees to give him more time to overcome his first half setbacks and adjust to the daily grind he was absent from for over a season and a half. Not even three days ago, Taillon delivered a sharp outing against the Kansas City Royals, allowing just 5 hits and 1 run with 6 strikeouts in 6.1 innings of work to secure his second win of the season (ESPN). This is precisely the type of pitching performances the Yankees need from Taillon and he has shown that he has the ability to do just that. But his inconsistencies have to change for that to come to fruition on a regular basis, and whether he will surmount that obstacle this season, seems shaky and uncertain.
To put it simply, Boone needs to keep Taillon on a short leash for the remainder of the season. But that doesn’t mean jumping the gun too soon by trading for more starting pitchers that the Yankees might not even use, more or less don’t need. And with the Yankees rumored to be eyeing positional players like Ketel Marte and Trevor Story instead, it appears that trading for a starting pitcher is the last thing on their mind and understandably so.