It’s been a good minute or two since the Brewers had a prospect worth writing about. A few players here and there have sparked some interest, but for the most part, they’ve been bland. Headlined by athletic outfield types and hard throwers with little understanding of the strike zone, it’s no wonder the Brewers had trouble building off of their few playoff runs over the past decade; the well is completely dry.
And then enter Taylor Jungmann. Basically written off prospects lists due to age (he’s almost 26), he had never really offered anything in the way of game breaking ability. Average strikeout rates, normal velocity and control that swayed from okay to erratic. Yet he’s been off to a torrid start since he’s been called up to Milwaukee, with a 2.42 ERA and 23% strikeout rate. His 2.4 fWAR in just 96.2 innings already places him as an average to plus major leaguer, and extrapolated over a full season pushes him almost to All-Star status.
Taken with their first pick in the 2011 Rule Four draft, the Brew Crew was expecting the college righty to rise quickly. The 6’6 frame was menacing on the mound, but failed to find much consistency through the lower levels in which he was supposed to excel. ERA’s around 4.00 and FIP’s often worse signaled bad things about Jungmann’s future. 2015 also started off poorly for him, managing a 6.37 ERA in Triple A over 9 starts before the Milwaukee management decided to test him against the top competition.
Due to his large frame, Jungmann throws from an awkward arm slot that gives him good natural downward plane action. He throws two fastballs, one that creeps upwards to 95 MPH and another one that more resembles a sinker, sitting in the low 90s but with considerable dip. Together he throws both almost 70% of the time, meaning his one true off speed pitch (his curveball) needs to be dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodging all bat sizes and swings for him to be at his best. A low 70’s offering, it moves seven inches both vertically and horizontally. A true plus weapon for him, the curve is an out pitch at its very definition for Jungmann’s arsenal.
What has troubled Jungmann so much through his tumultuous pro career to date has been getting his feel for a third pitch. He tried hard with the team through the past few seasons to get his changeup working well, switching grips and arm slots to get better movement and results. But the numbers show a story that isn’t so kind to him, resulting in often tough outings for him as he had trouble fooling anyone with the change – which in turn hurt his confidence and other pitches.
As he’s entered the majors, we’ve seen him move almost completely off the change. It still shows some signs of being at least an average pitch, but he throws it just 6.5% of the time; not nearly enough to be developing it into anything special. But moving off the pitch seems to be what’s helping Jungmann. Where he uses his four seamer early to get ahead, he can open up the two seamer more for grounders and then the curveball to get whiffs. Right now it’s sitting at an 18% whiff rate, an elite mark for a curveball and above average for even the best pitches. His control, or rather his lack of it, has been maybe the biggest concern about what his future holds, but focusing so much on fastballs and only one breaking pitch will help him stay ahead in counts.
Look at his pitch tendencies this season:
What we see here in the data backs up the intuition behind what’s helping Jungmann dominate so much this season. He’s using fastballs often, and keeping them in the strike zone to avoid walks which have plagued him so much. The strategy has helped him keep his walk percentage down to 8.7%; nothing too special and actually around league average, but it symbolizes progress in the right direction.
Something to always consider with pop-up players like Jungmann is their projections, as they will compare to historically similar players and see how those careers panned out. So far, no forecast system seems to think too highly of Jungmann, with all them seeing both a loss of over a strikeout per nine and an increase in one walk per nine innings pitched. It’s easy to see why these systems are bear-ish on someone with a past like Jungmann’s, but they also are expecting some of his “luck” stats, such as LOB% and BABIP, to start to creep towards unsustainably bad territory. So take these with a grain of salt.
Taylor Jungmann represents something we haven’t seen in a while, a good player drafted and developed by the Brewers. He’s still raw and needs to refine a third pitch to have long-term dominance in the league, but with the way he’s adapted to major league hitters so far, there’s little doubt that he will have success going forward.
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