Milwaukee Brewers: Taylor Jungmann’s Tenuous Success


Taylor Jungmann has been a revelation for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015. Since being called up on to make his MLB debut on June 9th, the 6’6″ right hander has thrown 37.0 innings, posting just a 2.43 ERA and four “quality” starts among his six big league games for Milwaukee. With his record currently standing at 3-1, Jungmann has been rated at 1.2 WAR by Baseball Reference, which would make him the second most valuable pitcher on the team this season (behind only All-Star Francisco Rodriguez). So, just how good has Jungmann really been?

The answer is probably not what you would think. Taylor’s peripherals at the MLB level illustrate that Jungmann has been the beneficiary of some good fortune during his time in Milwaukee. Yes, Taylor has managed a 54.6% ground ball rate, ranking 20th among starting pitchers this season (min. 30 innings pitched), but his .271 BABIP falls well below the league average of .296 this season (and ranks 40th lowest of 166 starting pitchers, min. 30 IP). Jungmann’s 17.9% strikeout rate this season is a 3% drop off from his 2015 AAA numbers, and a 6% drop off from his mark between AA and AAA last season.  Control has always been an issue for Jungmann, as he holds a career 3.7 BB/9 in 505.1 minor league innings. Though he has walked a career-low 6.6% to this point, he has thrown 51 pitches with a three ball count this year while facing just 151 batters. To put that in perspective, Jeremy Jeffress has thrown 30 “three ball count” pitches while facing 160 batters, yet has walked 7.5% of batters. As a result, pitch count has been an issue for Jungmann. He has gone into the seventh inning just twice in six starts, and his average of 16.1 pitches per inning is above the league average for starting pitchers this season.

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Pitch selection has also been somewhat questionable for the rookie. In his MLB Pipeline profile, Jungmann is listed as featuring a fastball/slider/changeup combination. In his first five starts, however, Jungmann was essentially a two pitch pitcher: his sinking fastball and curveball made up roughly 97% of his pitch selection, and he has yet to throw a pitch that Brooks Baseball labels as a slider this season. Two-pitch starting pitchers rarely experience sustained success against big league hitters (see Jimmy Nelson circa 2014), especially ones who are reliant on throwing ground balls with the National League’s 12th ranked defense behind them.

Jungmann’s pitch selection last start on July 5th was different, however, which could lead to a better chance at sustained success in the big leagues. Coincidentally, it also happened to be the best start of his young career. After throwing just 14 changeups through his first five starts (2.9% of his pitch selection), Taylor finally let his change loose, throwing it 15 times in 104 pitches (14.4%). While a curveball is generally a good weapon to have while facing right handed hitters, a changeup is a pitch that Jungmann can use to keep left handed hitters off-balance. Jungmann threw 11 of his 15 changeups to left handed hitters and gave up zero hits off the pitch. For the most part, Taylor kept the pitch away from left handed hitters while busting righties inside with it. He was able to generate some swings-and-misses off his curveball, generating three of his four Ks with the Uncle Charlie. Overall, Jungmann threw 8.0 innings of just one-run ball, allowing only four hits and two walks against Cincinnati.

Taylor Jungmann’s changeup heat map 7/5/15, courtesy of Baseball Savant.

Even though he walked just two hitters, Jungmann did throw 10 three ball count pitches in the game, demonstrating that control is likely still going to be an issue going forward. Jungmann has been able to limit both righties and lefties to under a .300 wOBA so far this season, but has had a history of reverse-platoon splits during his minor league career. Jungmann’s BABIP has been above .300 in all but one of his minor league stops, although he has done a good job of limiting hard contact at the big league level (just 21.1%, 7% below league average), which helps to explain his current low BABIP. ERA- rates Jungmann at 37% better than league average through his first six starts, but ERA estimators are split on the true level of Jungmann’s talent this season. FIP (3.54) and xFIP (4.00) say he has performed much closer to league average, while Taylor’s 2.97 DRA rates his performance at 28% better than league average.

So let’s pump the brakes on Taylor Jungmann a little bit. Yes, his bottom-line results have been excellent thus far in his brief big league career. The way he has gotten there, however, lead to questions about the sustainability of that success. Though he isn’t walking too many hitters at this stage, the staggering amount of three ball counts he has gotten in to are a great concern. Taylor only recently began mixing in a third pitch, and it remains to be seen if he continues mixing in his changeup to neutralize left handed hitters. Jungmann hasn’t been striking out nearly as many hitters as he has in his last two minor league seasons, meaning this ground ball machine’s success is more or less at the mercy of the Brewers’ infield defense playing behind him. With a cFIP- of 106, Jungmann’s production going forward is projected to be solidly below league average.

Taylor Jungmann is likely going to get every chance possible to secure a spot in the Brewers’ “starting rotation of the future”. If he can continue limiting his walks and bump his K rates back to his minor league levels, Jungmann could be a solid #3 starter for Milwaukee for the next several seasons, or even look like a #2 with the right defense behind him. If his control starts catching up with him, he could be just another back of the rotation type arm that gets lost in the shuffle. Only time will tell if Taylor Jungmann’s tenuously successful start can lead to a productive major league career.

Statistics as of 7/7/15

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