Is Taylor Jungmann for Real?

Every year, a number of starting pitchers seemingly come out of nowhere to become significant contributors at the major-league level. Sometimes, as in the case of, say, Jacob deGrom, the sudden evolution at the major-league level is real and sustainable. In the case of the majority of these short-term success stories, the league adjusts, the pitcher is unable to, and either disappears from the major-league scene or settles into a lesser role.

Coming into the 2015 season, Brewers right-hander Taylor Jungmann appeared to be little more than a failed first-round pick, with prospects of perhaps a big-league cup of coffee in his future. Instead, he has turned out to be a bright spot in a lost season for the Brew Crew since being summoned to Milwaukee in early June. Has the big righty turned a corner, settling in for a long run in the big club’s rotation? Or is this a short-term mirage, a dream that the big righty might wake up from any moment now?

I spent six years, through 2008, in the Brewers’ scouting department. Over that time, we had a great deal of success procuring position-player talent in the draft, but not nearly as much on the pitching side, outside of landing Yovani Gallardo in the second round in 2004. By 2011, I had since moved on to Seattle, but the Brewers still had a need to supplement their position-player core with pitching talent in the draft. Possessing two of the first 14 overall picks, they selected two of the more polished college arms available, Jungmann at #12, and Georgia Tech lefty Jed Bradley at #14. Things didn’t exactly proceed as planned with both arms, who were selected in part because of their perceived ability to reach the big leagues quickly.

It soon became apparent that Bradley had left his best stuff behind him in the SEC. That left it to Jungmann to deliver on the club’s substantial first-round pitching investment. I had some concerns with him entering the 2011 draft; he was a college performer who lacked a true plus offering, and there were concerns regarding his ability to repeat his delivery. He was a big leaguer, sure, but there were some questions regarding his ultimate upside.

After he signed and began his pro career, even making it to the big leagues became a questionable proposition. Each year, I compile my own ordered minor-league lists of top full-season-league position-player and starting-pitcher prospects based on performance and age relative to league and level. These basically serve as follow lists, with the orders then tweaked based on traditional scouting methods. Every year, close to 200 minor-league starting pitchers qualify for my list; Jungmann never once made the cut.

He began his career in the pitcher-friendly High-A Florida State League, and ran a disturbingly low strikeout rate. Things got worse in his Double-A debut in 2013; an 82/73 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) in the pitcher-friendly Southern League wasn’t exactly what the Brewers were looking for. He did show substantial improvement in a repeat engagement at that level in 2014, and kept it rolling in his first foray into a hitters’ league, posting a respectable 3.98 ERA and striking out a batter per inning in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League over 101.2 innings. He now at least was on the periphery of the big-league radar screen.

As he advanced, he showed an ability to make adjustments and maximize his performance, as alluded to in Eno Sarris’ recent article. This first rounder couldn’t simply ride his raw tools to the big leagues; he had to make like an overachiever and squeeze out that extra 2-3% every step of the way.

On the surface, he’s been a revelation at the major league level, posting a 2.66 ERA in his first 14 major league starts. There would appear to be a long-term opportunity available in Milwaukee if this performance is even close to being for real. To make an informed observation to that end, let’s take a look at Jungmann’s plate appearance frequency and production by BIP type data. First, let’s look at the frequency information:

Frequency Data for Jungmann, 2015
Metric % REL PCT
K 22.5% 111 63
BB 8.4% 112 81
POP 1.7% 53 16
FLY 28.7% 94 44
LD 21.7% 103 64
GB 47.8% 106 54

Unlike most pitching prospects, Jungmann has seen his K rate increase as he’s moved toward the big leagues, and he’s maintained that elevated rate since his June promotion. His 22.5% K rate is good for a 63 percentile rank, despite a below average (for ERA-qualifying NL starters) 9.0% swing-and-miss rate. His curve ball has been his bread and butter bat-misser and, as Eno Sarris notes in a recent piece here on Jungmann, a move on the pitching rubber and some expert pitch sequencing has allowed it to play up.

Jungmann has struggled to throw strikes in his major-league debut season, as evidenced by his 81 BB rate percentile rank. He’s never been particularly precise in his minor-league career, so this isn’t a shock. From a batted-ball perspective, there isn’t really a standout tendency. He has a slightly elevated ground-ball rate (54 percentile rank), but has generated very few free pop-up outs (16 percentile rank). Jungmann has achieved his early success despite running a relatively high 21.7% liner rate, good for a 64 percentile rank. That should regress at least a little moving forward, which is good news.

On balance, you have a pitcher with a fairly pronounced control issue, whose K rate is running a little higher than you might expect given his stuff, and whose ball-in-play (BIP) profile is very unremarkable, not suggesting much potential for the accumulation of large numbers of free outs of any type.

Frequency data only tells us so much, however. The production by BIP type data will give us a better feel for the authority yielded by Jungmann, which will help us fill out his profile.

Production Data for Jungmann, 2015
FLY .158 .421 68 118
LD .557 .770 66 97
GB .200 .263 73 84
ALL BIP .305 .433 85 108
ALL PA .228 .294 .325 78 96 2.66 3.02 2.98 3.70

The actual production allowed on each BIP type is indicated in the batting average (AVG) and slugging (SLG) columns, and is converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure is then adjusted for context, such as home park, team defense, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column. For the purposes of this exercise, sacrifice hits (SH) and flies (SF) are included as outs and hit by pitchers (HBP) are excluded from the on-base percentage (OBP) calculation.

Jungmann has been quite fortunate on each batted-ball type to this point. He’s allowed only .158 AVG-.421 SLG on fly balls, which translates to actual 68 REL PRD. Based on the StatCast velocities allowed on those BIP, he “should have” allowed 118 REL PRD. Similarly, his actual liner and grounder Unadjusted Contact Scores of 66 and 73 are adjusted upward for context to 97 and 84, respectively. On all BIP combined, his actual Unadjusted Contact Score of 85 is inflated to 108 once adjusted for context. After the K and BB are added back, his “tru” ERA of 3.70 tells us a much different story than his actual or component ERA, or his FIP. Once BIP type frequency and authority are introduced to the evaluative mix, Jungmann has basically been a league-average starting pitcher.

Additional pluses and minuses arise upon looking at his average StatCast velocities by BIP type. His average fly-ball velocity allowed of 91.1 mph is over one-half standard deviation above league average. On the other hand, his liner (average 91.3 mph, over one-half standard deviation lower than average) and grounder (83.0 mph, over one standard deviation lower) authority allowed has been relatively low. With all BIP types combined, his average velocity allowed of 86.5 mph is over a standard deviation below average. There is some upside present if Jungmann can maintain this authority profile while whittling away at the number of fly balls and liners he allows, developing a true grounder tendency in the process.

That’s if everything goes right, however. In reality, what I think we’re looking at is Brandon Duckworth. Duckworth arrived in Philly in 2001, unfurling 11 very solid starts. He “pitched up,” sequencing well, his results outpacing his raw stuff. He had very little margin for error, and for a while was able to execute with the precision to keep the fat part of the bat off of the baseball enough to experience some success. Every pitch has to be executed almost perfectly, thanks to the absence of big picture margin for error. It’s very difficult to pitch successfully that way over the long haul.

Jungmann appears to be a very bright individual, and realizes that he needs to hunt for every advantage possible to have big league success. At the end of the day, however, there are very few easy outs for him, and too many free passes, whittling his margin for error way down. He pitches his home games in a stealth hitters’ park, and he has been able to escape its effects to this point. I wouldn’t expect that to last indefinitely.

All of that said, kudos to the Brewers and to Jungmann himself for getting to this point. I see him as a possible back-end starter moving forward, and that’s quite a bit more than he appeared to be a couple of years back. There’s always hope when a pitcher has shown the aptitude to implement complex physical and mental adjustments at each level, and Jungmann has certainly done that. I wouldn’t go into 2016 spring training counting on him to man a roster spot, but I would continue to give him every opportunity to earn one.

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Umpire Weekend
8 years ago

Another day, another Taylor Jungmann puff piece….

smiley mcfaniel
8 years ago
Reply to  Umpire Weekend

I don’t think you understand what the term ‘puff piece’ means