Taillon and Meatball Swings, Burdi and Estrada, Wesneski and Hendricks, Umpshows, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Taillon and Meatball Swings, Burdi and Estrada, Wesneski and Hendricks, Umpshows, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

The series is still right there for the taking today. That’s how you start a turnaround. Bit by bit, winning a series on the road against a solid – but struggling – team. The Cubs need this win today. Probably more than a team should need any mid-May game.

  • It’s really hard to figure out what’s going on with Jameson Taillon, who is getting wrecked in a way he never has before. Like, specifically, the bad results are because he’s getting wrecked – barreled out the wazoo. But what’s so challenging is that when you dig into the data, even getting granular on individual pitches and shapes and movements and usage and velocity, there’s just not much there. He basically looks like he’s doing the things he has done in recent years (with maybe a slight deviation in horizontal release point?). So what gives? Because it’s not all bad luck at this point.
  • That makes you think it’s a command thing, which anecdotally does track. I feel like we’ve seen a whole lot of belt-high misses. But here’s the weird thing: Taillon is throwing FEWER meatballs (an actual stat tracked at Statcast) than ever. It’s not like he’s just hanging everything and throwing middle-middle constantly. HOWEVER, guys are SWINGING at his meatballs at a rate that blows away anything they’ve ever done in the past (despite the fact that swing rates against him overall are not up). So, somehow, hitters are getting fewer meatballs than ever from Taillon, but they’re swinging at nearly every single one of them (92%, after historically being about 73%, which is better than league average). It’s the highest rate in baseball for a starting pitcher, and just so out of whack from his career norms that I’ve gotta think SOMETHING funky is going on there. If batters are correctly diagnosing every single one of your meatballs, however rare, you’re going to be giving up a whole lot of damage.
  • Taillon is going to dig in to try to figure things out, but he’s kinda entered that zone that you don’t want to see – where a guy wants to be making a better impression in a new city, but knows he isn’t. “Being on a new team in a new place,” Taillon said, per Cubs.com, “you want to prove that I deserve to be here and I’m a good player. So far, I haven’t had the opportunity to show that. It’s a pretty crappy feeling. And obviously when you’re pitching, you’re out there by yourself. It’s not fun. But you have no choice but to punch back. Pick yourself up and find a way to punch back.”
  • Crazy thing I noticed while exploring those pitching leaderboards, by the way: three of the top six pitchers in baseball at meatball swing rate are Cubs pitchers (Taillon, Michael Rucker, and Julian Merryweather). Adbert Alzolay, Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson, and Michael Fulmer are all well above league-average, too. What the heck? Is there something about Cubs pitchers that makes batters more likely to swing at their meatballs when they happen to throw one? Something about the way the Cubs do pitch sequencing? Something about the catchers? It could just be a fluke, but it’s pretty jarring to see all the names near the top of the list.
  • It was a blowout, so the timing was appropriate, but it was pretty interesting to see David Ross giving Nick Burdi back-to-back appearances. Wanting, perhaps, to see how he’d handle it? The command was down, but the velocity was still tickling triple-digits. I think it’s still TBD on whether he’s going to have bounced all the way back into being a big league contributor, but he’s got big league pitches, that’s for sure.
  • Speaking of how guys handled things, Jeremiah Estrada was great again. Believe me, I totally get that he’s been limited to low-leverage spots and it could all change when the pressure is really on. I also get that his 17.9% walk rate is scary, and he’s given up some very hard contact. But I also know that the raw pitch quality is there, and he has struck out nearly HALF of the batters he’s faced this year in the big leagues. I think pretty soon you’ve gotta give him a higher-leverage opportunity (or two or three) and see how he fares. That’s gotta be part of the development process for a 24-year-old reliever with significant back-end upside, AND it’s gotta be part of the Cubs trying to right the ship in the bullpen. If it turns out he’s not ready for it, OK, fine. You learned, and he learned.
  • As noted last night, great outings at Iowa for Kyle Hendricks and Hayden Wesneski. Hendricks cruised through six innings and looks ready to return to the big league Cubs later this week (he definitely sounds like he’s ready to go), and Wesneski went hitless:
  • Generally speaking, I really like that Wesneski had a strong Iowa debut this year. Getting demoted can be such a jarring, emotional thing to handle, and it’s probably not easy to just get right back to work on focus on what you’re trying to do that day. Being able to handle that kind of moment is probably yet another useful development step.
  • Meanwhile at Iowa, another erstwhile Cubs starting pitching prospect getting a look in relief:
  • Whole lotta guys getting that reliever conversion look right now, including Clarke, Riley Thompson, Luke Little, Ryan Jensen, and Daniel Palencia. Are the Cubs quicker to pull the trigger on bullpen conversions now because they feel good about the starting pitching depth? Because they hope to get one or more of these guys up to the big leagues this year? Combination?
  • Thank God this was not called from the bench:
  • One of the worst calls you’ll see:
  • This call wasn’t nearly as bad, but it may have netted the Cardinals a win and the Dodgers a loss:
  • Ultra casual ejection:
  • The story there, if you were curious: Winker was called for an automatic strike because he wasn’t ready at 8 seconds, though the pitcher wasn’t on the mound yet (the pitcher doesn’t have to be). Winker complained, and that’s basically an automatic ejection, even if the situation isn’t heated.
  • Randomly makes me think about: is it just me or does Christopher Morel get a lot of auto strikes called on him? I can think of at least three already in his ten games up with the big league team.
  • Trevor Bauer is now pitching in the minor leagues in Japan:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.