Recent Posts

Trevor Williams, Jameson Taillon Making Pirates History As 1-2 Punch

Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams have both emerged in the second half of the season, becoming one of the best duos in baseball. Their last starts of the season will determine if they make Pirates history, too. Taillon photo by Gene J. Puskar, AP. Williams photo by Carlos Osorio, AP.

The Pirates were officially eliminated from playoff contention Sunday. While it's a fairly anticlimactic end to what has been a roller coaster of a season, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic looking towards the future. For one, they are on the cusp of their fourth winning season in 26 years. They've also got a fresh batch of young talent that's ready for the majors. But perhaps most importantly, they have assembled an exciting pitching staff which is being lead by one of the best 1-2 punches in recent Pirates history — Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams.

Both pitchers have been firing on all cylinders in the second half of the season. Much has already been made about Williams' prowess after the All-Star game, leading baseball with a 1.08 ERA. Taillon has been thriving lately, too, ranking 10th among qualified starters with a 2.25 ERA since the Midsummer Classic.

I've already written about both pitchers and how they have been successful, especially as of late. For Taillon, it comes down to the slider, which is still evolving. Williams is one of the best at getting soft contact and for placing fastballs on the edge of the zone.

They also both do a great job at tunneling — making different pitches follow similar trajectories long enough that batters have trouble identifying what the pitch is until it's too late. Jason Rollison recently wrote about Taillon's tunneling and deception for Bucs Dugout. Here's the GIF he used in that story, courtesy of Rob Friedman. It's a great illustration to show how Taillon’s curveball becomes even more deadly when he is able to pair it with fastballs up in the zone.

Trevor's turn! Pitcher List's Michael Augustine did a overlay of Williams' four-seamer and slider that shows how a heater inside and a slider low and away take similar trajectory planes for him. When slowed down, you can see Ryan Braun starts his swing just as the two pitches start to branch off from one another. That’s too late.

They have become quite the dynamic duo. In fact, they have been arguably the best pairing around since the All-Star break, combining for the lowest ERA of any two rotation mates in baseball (min 40 IP each entering play Sunday).

1. Pirates — Taillon/Williams: 138.2 IP, 26 ER, 1.69 ERA

2. Mets — Zack Wheeler/Jacob deGrom: 160.2 IP, 32 ER, 1.79 ERA

3. Dodgers — Walker Buehler/Clayton Kershaw: 142 IP, 34 ER, 2.15 ERA

That’s some good company there. Kershaw has multiple Cy Young awards and deGrom should get his first this year. Buehler is the best rookie pitcher of 2018 and this has been Wheeler’s breakout campaign. They’re all playing second fiddle to the Pirates’ 26 year olds, though.

These strong finishes have erased both pitchers’ inconsistent starts, with Williams and Taillon currently sitting at a 128 and 120 ERA+ on the season, respectively. They have not just given quality innings, but they’ve given quantity, too., Both pitchers have made 30 starts. 19 teams do not have a pitcher that's made 30 starts with an ERA+ at 120 or better. Only six teams — the Pirates, Astros, Cleveland, Cubs, Rockies and Diamondbacks — have multiple pitchers meet those criteria.

I teased some history tidbits in the lede, so let's get to them! Over the past 90 years, only four pairs of Pirates pitchers had an ERA+ of 120 better while making at least 30 starts. It hasn't happened since 1984.

1984: Rick Rhoden: 33 starts, 134 ERA+; Larry McWilliams: 32 starts, 124 ERA+

1977: John Candelaria: 33 starts, 169 ERA+; Jim Rooker: 30 starts, 128 ERA+

1968: Bob Veale: 33 starts, 141 ERA+; Steve Blass: 31 starts, 137 ERA+

1960: Bob Friend: 37 starts, 125 ERA+; Vern Law: 35 starts, 122 ERA+

If those parameters feel a bit too much like stat gerrymandering, let's take a look at good ol' fashioned, unfeeling WAR. Taillon has been worth 4.4 bWAR this season and Williams is on the cusp of a 4-win season himself, sitting at 3.9 bWAR with one start remaining. Over the last 50 years, the Pirates have only had two seasons where multiple starters finished with at least 4 WAR in a season.

1983: Rick Rhoden (4.9), John Candelaria (4.5), Larry McWilliams (4.1)

1978: Bert Blyleven (5.1), Candelaria (4.0)

There have obviously been some close, but no cigar pairs, too. The '84 rotation had four guys with over 3 WAR, but only Rhoden cracked four. Doug Drabek and John Smiley barely missed 4 WAR each in 1991. The 1996-1998 Pirates each had one 4 WAR pitcher and another with 3, but never two with 4. More recently, Tom Gorzelanny (3.9) and Ian Snell (3.7) both barely fell short in 2007. They certainly would have watered down the exclusivity of this club.

Does having two starters reach 4 WAR mean anything more than say 1996, when Denny Neagle had 6.1 wins above replacement and Danny Darwin had 3.6? No, but it's just another threshold that Taillon and Williams are on the cusp of crossing. They both took big steps from being roughly average pitchers last year. If the second half of this season is a sign of another step for 2019, then the Pirates could have one of the top 1-2 punches for years to come.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.

5 Comments on Trevor Williams, Jameson Taillon Making Pirates History As 1-2 Punch

  1. I figure Pirates will make Archer the opening day starter in 2019 though.

    • Kevin Creagh // September 24, 2018 at 1:56 PM //

      I think Taillon gets the home opener, maybe Archer for the season opener in Cincy. But I could see Taillon getting the season opener nod, Williams the home opener.

  2. I'd like to see the metric number of Chris Archer, during his glory days with the Rays. I have a feeling Archer will return to this dominance, thus providing the Pirates with a dynamic trio of starters, all essentially pitching as a No 1 starter.

  3. Posey, Alan // September 25, 2018 at 12:01 PM //

    The Pirates had Nova as the opening day starter this year. I thought Taillon deserved it. That’s why I think they will go with a veteran again even though I think Taillon deserves it. I’m optimistic for a dynamic trio next year. I was also impressed with Musgrove and Nova down the stretch. I think we are a power hitter or two away from being a NL Central contender next year.

  4. Judi SIlvania // October 13, 2018 at 6:34 AM //

    I followed jake on his site I am happy someone recognized his talent.

Comments are closed.