Jameson Taillon has Surgery for Suspected Cancer

We ought to consider Jameson Taillon the person before we consider Jameson Taillon the pitcher.

On Sunday, the Pirates sent burgeoning top-of-the-rotation arm to the 10-day disabled list for groin discomfort. A day later, the club announced that Taillon had undergone surgery for suspected testicular cancer.

Taillon has already dealt with a number of health issues in his young career, from Tommy John surgery that robbed him of his 2014 minor-league season and a hernia setback that stole 2015 from him. Now he deals with a much more serious health complication.

I had a number of personal encounters and interviews with Taillon during my time as a beat writer covering the Pirates. Despite being just 25 years of age, Taillon was one of the most introspective and earnest Pirates players in the clubhouse. He had a maturity and humility about him, perhaps enhanced from the obstacles he had overcome to arrive in a major league clubhouse. He was also interesting, something of a coffee and Netflix connoisseur. Taillon allowed the media in more than most players. He was human and relatable. He is especially so today. As a writer you tend to find yourself rooting for people — and your game story — more than teams, and Taillon was always a player many enjoyed seeing have success. Everyone is, of course, rooting for Taillon now. Nearly everyone has been touched in some way by cancer. If the issues is indeed cancerous, hopefully it was caught early and will be treated effectively.

After his surgery Monday, Taillon sent out a message on social media, showing as much resolve as ever to pick up where he left off in regard to his promising career.

It is, of course, a secondary matter what his loss means to the Pirates, but the loss will have a real, and very negative, on-the-field consequences for the club.

The Pirates have already dealt with a number of setbacks. From Jung Ho Kang’s legal trouble and inability to gain a work visa to enter the country, to Starling Marte’s 80-game PED suspension and the struggles of Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen, little seems to be going right for the Pirates.

One thing that was working in the club’s favor was a surprisingly robust starting rotation.

The Pirates’ rotation entered play Monday ranked third in the majors in FIP (3.62) and fifth in WAR (2.9). Ivan Nova, remarkably, has more complete games than walks as a Pirate. Gerrit Cole is in his 2015 form when he finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting. The erratic but talented Tyler Glasnow could perhaps be turning a corner after a quality outing on Sunday, and Taillon had picked up where he left off in 2016, when he completed an impressive rookie season.

Through his first 35 innings this season, Taillon has posted a 3.31 ERA, 4.05 FIP and 0.4 WAR. To date in his young career, he has a 20.3% strikeout rate and 5.3% walk rate. It is remarkable command given the time he has missed to injury. He also picked up an effective two-seamer on the fly as a rookie last season and has posted a 52% ground ball rate, which spoke to his aptitude, openness to new ideas and coach-ability.

This is not the type of arm, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft, that will easily be replaced.

While the Mets and Giants have seen their playoff odds take hits early this season due to injury, opening the door to a Wild Card race that could live up to its name, the Pirates entered Monday in last place in the NL Central (14-17) and with 13.3% odds of reaching the postseason. Those odds took a hit with Monday’s awful news.

The Pirates were already being tested to overcome the loss of arguably their best two position players. While Kang and Marte were lost due to their own missteps and choices, it is a terrible health luck that removes one of the Pirates best from their rotation. Should the Pirates remain out of the race at the deadline, it will be interesting to see how much tearing down the club does. McCutchen could be on the move, and the club could receive excellent returns for a Cole or Nova should it consider a more extreme tear down. But that is discussion to consider more deeply on another occasion. The Pirates’ playoff odds seem relatively meaningless at the moment.

Despite missing two entire seasons of competition due to elbow and hernia surgeries, Taillon vowed to return better than ever. He debuted last season in the majors with an excellent rookie campaign. Taillon vowed to return again Monday, just as he has done in the past. The baseball world is rooting for him.

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A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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Lovely piece. I wish all the best for him during his road to recovery.


Ditto that. Hoping he rebounds from this as well as Mike Lowell did after his testicular cancer.


Thanks for mentioning Mike Lowell, too. His surgery happened right at the beginning of a great career, so the prognosis for full recovery is excellent. I notice Lowell came back after two months: “underwent surgery on February 21 returning to the lineup on May 29”


Fortunately, if you detect testicular cancer early you’ve got an excellent chance of taking care of it through surgery. I really hope this is what happened, although my understanding (maybe incorrect) is that if you’re experiencing pain it’s not that early anymore. I hope I’m wrong about that, and if I’m not I can only hope that the “groin discomfort” was from the surgery and not what led to the surgery.

Also, dear heavens that’s horrible and I hope he’s okay.