Jungmann, There’s No Need to Feel Down

Taylor Jungmann was the 12th overall pick of the 2011 draft out of the University of Texas. I had pretty high expectations for him, but that’s heavily influenced by my watching him dominate at UT (1.85 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 356 Ks in 356 IP) with a few sprinkles of favorable bias* due to my being an alum, too.

*said bias wore off as he started his pro career and I tabbed him as a fifth-starter in this year’s SP guide “barring significant advancement of either the slider or changeup”. 

Pinning relatively high hopes on the 12th overall pick isn’t that crazy, but being drafted there was actually seen as something of a fall as Kiley McDaniel noted in his prospect write-up this year:

He slipped that far despite a 6’6/220 frame, track record and mid-rotation stuff because scouts were scared off by his short, abrupt, awkward arm action, which the Brewers corrected after signing him.

The minor league numbers were unimpressive as were the reports tied to them. McDaniel mentioned how his velocity dipped after the “corrected” arm action as he lingered in the high-80s/low-90s back in 2012, but a few more tweaks had him at 90-93 last year. Jungmann has been a great example of why minor league numbers aren’t always useful as a scouting tool, especially if it’s your only one. And let’s be honest, for a large majority of you, it was your only avenue outside of reading reports like McDaniel’s from March.

Milwaukee’s shift in Triple-A affiliates from Nashville to Colorado Springs didn’t suit Jungmann terribly well as he posted a 6.37 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 59.3 IP. His walk gains from 2014 were gone as his 11% BB rate was back in line with his 2013 mark of 12% after posting a somewhat passable 9% in 2014. It was made passable by a sizable jump in strikeouts from 14% in ’13 to 22%. He was able to hold most of those gains with a 21% mark during that Triple-A work.

Jungmann was called up to start on June 9th and tossed a gem at Pittsburgh: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, and 5 K. He was solid in his second start against Washington and emerged from a trip to Coors without too much damage (6 IP/4 ER). It took him four more starts to give up another 4 ER as he went 0, 2, 1 and 1, the last of which was a complete game in LA against the Dodgers. In fact, he allowed more than 2 ER in a single start since facing the Rockies giving him a 1.84 ERA in those 53.7 IP and a 2.26 composite ERA in his 71.7 MLB IP.

How did we get from a fifth-starter-at-best, kind of busted prospect to this groundball machine with an above average strikeout rate who looks like he could comfortably fit into the middle of many rotations? And perhaps more importantly, how real is it?

First off, the velocity we discussed earlier has ticked up even more. He’s averaging just under 93 MPH on both the four-seamer and sinker as a major leaguer. The results against aren’t overwhelmingly positive with a slightly better than average .723 OPS (.764 is average) and just below average 13% K rate (16% average), but honestly he just needs to not get crushed with the heat so he can get to the soft stuff.  His sharp groundball lean – 52% on all pitches, 56% on his fastballs (good for 11th) – covers the strikeout rate deficiency easily. Having two capable fastballs sets everything up for Jungmann to get to his secondaries, both of which have been amazing in the majors.

His breaking ball is often called a slurve as it has characteristics of both a curveball and slider, though it’s looked more curveball to me this year and gets classified as such in Pitch F/X. It’s of the slower variety, averaging 75.9 MPH which is good for 77th. It has positively stymied the opposition, allowing just a .342 OPS in 66 PA – fourth-best among starters who have thrown at least 240 curves (Jungmann’s thrown 247). He has a tremendous 49% K rate with the pitch, too, good for eighth among that same group of SPs w/240+ curves. It was responsible for seven of his career-high 8 Ks on Wednesday.

He has only thrown 78 changeups this year, but it’s tied with Jake Arrieta for the second-best OPS against among all pitchers at .235 in 17 PA (coincidentally, Arrieta also has 17 PA off of his change). The only one better than those two is Jungmann’s teammate Francisco Rodriguez who has allowed a hilariously minute .168 OPS in 85 PA ending on a changeup. He only has a 6-8 MPH split between the fastballs, but with remarkably similar movement to the sinker, that speed difference is enough to keep the opposition off-balance.

His trust in the changeup has grown with time, too. He didn’t throw more four in any of his first five outings, but he’s been below seven just once in his last six with totals of 15, 7, 14, 12, 11, and 5. He’s right at that 10% mark you like to see for a third pitch over the last six starts. The fastball usage is down to 68% in those starts as well, so he’s using his most hittable stuff less and the swing-and-miss stuff more.

It’s hard not to be encouraged by what we’ve seen out of Jungmann thus far. He’s only faced one team twice (Pittsburgh and he smashed ‘em both times w/a pair of 7 IP/1 ER outings) so we’re still operating in small sample size country but there is a repertoire and base of skills that can be bought with a measure of confidence. Command and control were his biggest issues in the minors which led to the exorbitant walk rates, but his groundball lean kept him out of home run trouble (0.6 HR/9 in 505 MiLB IP; 0.3 HR/9 so far in the bigs).

He has maintained an average walk rate (7%) despite a below-average first pitch strike rate of 58%. His 45% Zone rating is essentially average, too (45.5%). I wouldn’t be surprised if Jungmann’s walk rate ticked up some going forward. He has been better than average in three-ball counts despite a lot of opportunities from the opposition. His 34% BB rate in three-ball counts is well below the 38% average, but his 5.5 batters in 3BCs per game is way above the 4.0 average.

His 4% HR/FB rate is baseball’s best among starters with 70+ IP and while I believe he can maintain a mark better than the 11% league average, I’m not certain he can maintain a best-in-baseball level. So an increase walks and home runs (he’s allowed 2 so far) will cut into that 2.26 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. But saying he won’t maintain those marks isn’t all that daring. I don’t think his biggest proponents would expect that, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still be good.

Jungmann has displayed a skillset more commensurate with his draft pedigree than his minor league track record and the fact that there are changes behind it – improved velocity and the development of his curve into an out-pitch – makes it unlikely that this bout of success is just a stone-cold fluke.

While I think he’s likely to venture somewhere into the 3.60 ERA range, there is a chance that he continues to stay ahead of the competition and be a stud which makes him a worthy gamble even with a downside that could push toward the low-4.00s. He’s not widely available anymore having maintained a sub-3.00 ERA over two months, but I’d pick him up where he is and more importantly, I wouldn’t necessarily be looking to sell off or drop him at the first sign of trouble.

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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7 years ago

At least a 6 win title

7 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Literally the only reason I clicked this article. Title of the Year contender.