MLB - The So What (6/8/17)

By Frank Brank @realfrankbrank

Jameson Taillon Returns

Jameson Taillon is staged to make his return to the Pittsburgh Pirates next week. In just a few weeks after undergoing successful surgery for testicular cancer, Taillon has made three starts between AA and AAA. It seems as though the three starts were a buffer from a month's long break from pitching to get Taillon's pitch count back up. One could make a case that Taillon is the best starter for Pittsburgh. Since being called up last year, Taillon owns a 3.36 ERA, 3.81 FIP, and 52.6% ground ball rate. If the Pirates are going to make a run at the playoffs, they'll need him to return, hope for continued health, and continue to pitch well.

What Does It Mean?
In the course of Taillon's absence, he missed about seven or eight starts. Given that, we would anticipate Jameson to make 18 more starts this season. Over that timespan, Jameson Taillon would be worth about 1.9 wins to the Pirates considering their other options, one of Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl, or Trevor Williams, are difficult to distinguish from replacement level players. Following that logic, in Taillon's time missed, the Pirates lost about 0.8 wins, per our estimation.

Alex Wood Comes Back
Alex Wood is the most improved pitcher in baseball this season. That isn't a slight on the previous version of Alex Wood, the upgraded version has just been incredible. The improvement seems to come from an uptick in change up use. Wood threw his change up in 15% of his pitches last season. That number has jumped to 24.4% this season, per PITCHf/x. His fastball velocity also jumped more than two miles per hour this season. All of that amounts to a 6% increase in strikeouts while maintaining his walk rate along with an insane 68.7% ground ball rate. This has translated to a 1.69 ERA and 1.89 FIP in Wood's first 48 innings this season.

What Does It Mean?
According to fWAR, Alex Wood has been worth 1.9 wins through his first 48 innings. It's safe to assume Wood will not continue this pace; however, his improvements need to be recognized. As he's returning this weekend and much like Taillon, Wood is expected to make around 18 more starts this season. In those 18 starts, we anticipate Wood to be worth 2.7 wins above a replacement level player. Considering he is replacing another quality starter in Kenta Maeda, that number will certainly reduce in reality. According to our simulations, Maeda would have been worth around 1.5 wins for the remainder of the season, leaving Wood's boost to a little more than one win.

Justin Bour Hits the 10-Day DL
In 321 plate appearances last season, Justin Bour compiled 1.3 wins above replacement, hit 15 home runs, and reached 114 wRC+ (14% more runs produced than the average hitter). Bour has always had a ton of pop, but he was strictly a platoon player last year. As with most left-handed power hitters, Bour struggled badly against left-handed pitching; thus, he was replaced in the lineup at any point while facing lefties. This year, however, he's made big strides in that department. Though Bour has only faced a left-handed pitcher in 45 of his 214 plate appearances, his adjustment is notable. Bour has supported a 210 wRC+ vs left-handed pitching this season, earning him a lot more playing time throughout the course of the season. Unfortunately, that playing time got cut short after Bour was placed on the 10-day disabled list with an ankle bruise retroactive to Monday. Manager, Don Mattingly, has stated he expects Bour back after the minimum ten days.

What Does it Mean?
Over the course of ten days, Bour's absence won't have much of a measurable impact on the Marlins win total even though his replacement, Tyler Moore, isn't a plus player. Justin Bour has already passed his value from last season, adding 1.5 wins this year above his replacements in more than 100 less plate appearances. His rapid pace likely won't continue, but there's no doubt he has improved. Bour should be expected to get around 380 more plate appearances once he returns from his ten day absence. Over the course of those plate appearances, we anticipate him to be worth 2.2 wins above his replacement, Tyler Moore. Whether it's Bour or Moore filling in at first base, the Marlins season will need a big turnaround. They sit at 25-33, 12 games back within their division to the Nationals. Bour has just turned 29 and starts his first year of arbitration next season. If Miami wants to capitalize on Bour's added production before he gets more expensive entering his age 30 season, he could make an attractive trade piece to a contender at the deadline.