Chris Tillman Finally Arrives?

The trade that sent Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners is famous for bringing Adam Jones to Camden Yards. Jones wasn’t the only big talent included in the infamous deal, though — Chris Tillman, a 6’5″ right-handed pitcher and the Mariners’ second round pick in 2006 was considered at at time to be an ace in the making. Topping out as the 22nd-best prospect in the game according to Baseball America in 2009, Tillman was billed as a future staple of the Orioles’ pitching staff.

But Tillman’s tires spun in the major leagues. In 36 starts over the past three seasons, Tillman managed just a 5.58 ERA and a 5.31 FIP. Tillman made his 2012 debut Wednesday night in Seattle, and as the east coast launched Fourth of July fireworks, Tillman torched the Mariners. His final line: 8.1 innings, two unearned runs, two hits allowed, seven strikeouts, and two walks.

Tillman has had successful starts before — July 10th, 2010, October 1st, 2010 against Detroit, and April 2nd, 2011 all stand out.

But neither has the full-scale dominance Wednesday night’s start had. It was his longest outing of the group, it tied the October 2010 outing for best K/BB ratio, and it featured the least fly balls. The 80 game score was a career high by six points.

And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Tillman appeared to figure something out in Triple-A this year, striking out over a batter per inning again after dropping to under 7.0 per nine innings in 2010 and 2011. According to StatCorner, he drew 11.4% swinging strikes after marks below 10% in both 2010 and 2011.

Just a look at the radar gun readings shows what happened: Tillman’s fastball is back. He touched 97.2 MPH in the ninth inning — twice — after averaging just 89.5 MPH on his fastball last season. Tillman averaged 95.0 MPH on the fastball Wednesday, and every pitch saw an uptick in velocity — the cutter up to 93.0 from 84.2, the curve up to 77.4 from 75.2, the changeup up to 83.2 from 78.7 (a massive 12 MPH difference from the fastball).

Tillman drew 15 whiffs in his 125 pitches, a 12.0% rate. His past three years have been defined by constant contact — no MLB season over 7.0% swinging strikes. A pitch-to-contact Chris Tillman is not the one that was drafted in the second round nor the one the Orioles angled for in the Erik Bedard trade. That was the Chris Tillman that throws in the mid-90s, not the high-80s.

Wednesday night was only one start, and it was one start against the Mariners at SafeCo Field at that. But the stuff and results Tillman showed — particularly the stuff — show a clear step above everything he’s done in the major leagues the past few years. With this stuff, Tillman should be a legitimately solid pitcher at the major league level and a huge asset for the Orioles as they compete for 2012 and beyond.

Update: Tillman was sent back to Double-A following the start, but just to stay on normal rest over the All-Star break — he’ll be back in 10 days for another start.



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Joe
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Joe
3 years 10 months ago

Mariners at Safeco is a very big asterisk on this imo. At the least, its certainly not the type of individual performance that I’d want to generalize anything from this year (c.f. Dave Cameron’s article on safeco week or two ago)

David
Guest
David
3 years 10 months ago

Safeco doesn’t help velocity. Will be interesting to see if he can keep it up.

BSLJeffLong
Member
3 years 10 months ago

This isn’t really a sabermetric analysis as much as it is statistical based scouting. Throw out the results if you want. Fact of the matter is, Tillman sat in the mid-90s all night with his usual solid secondary stuff & good control. Even if he gave up 4 runs over 5 innings the serious improvement in stuff is exciting.

Fletch
Guest
Fletch
3 years 10 months ago

I agree that the opposing team and the ballpark probably played a role in his success yesterday, but the resurgence in his stuff seems to be quite legitimate. I’m very curious to see how he does against better offenses and in less pitcher-friendly ballparks.

Kennan
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Kennan
3 years 10 months ago

Joe, did you watch the game? The stuff was there, regardless of the guys at the plate.

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
3 years 10 months ago

Also, it has started to warm up in Seattle. The discussion of cold weather wouldn’t apply to that start.

Kennan
Guest
Kennan
3 years 10 months ago

He looked absolutely fantastic yesterday. As Jim Palmer alluded to a few times during the broadcast, his stuff was Verlander-esque.

Whether or not he can maintain his mechanics and repeat this type of outing is the question. The ceiling is clearly very high, but can he reach it?

GoToWarMissAgnes
Guest
GoToWarMissAgnes
3 years 10 months ago

Yeah, and Jim Palmer’s never been known for hyperbole…

Verlanderesque? Come on.

Kennan
Guest
Kennan
3 years 10 months ago

Did you watch the game? Have you seen the pitch charts?

Kennan
Guest
Kennan
3 years 10 months ago

You can compare their pitch charts for yourself:

Tillman: http://pitchfx.texasleaguers.com/pitcher/501957/
Verlander: http://pitchfx.texasleaguers.com/pitcher/434378/

GoToWarMissAgnes
Guest
GoToWarMissAgnes
3 years 10 months ago

Yes, I did. As mentioned below, I tuned in starting in the 2nd inning and watched the rest of the game. You can read my comments and I think it’s pretty obvious I saw the start.

I also looked at the pitch charts. I changed Verlander’s range to include the full season since it would be silly to ignore the data we have. Tillman’s stuff last night was very good. It wasn’t as good as Verlander’s.

Larry Bernandez
Guest
Larry Bernandez
3 years 10 months ago

I was AT the game. Verlanderesque? Come on. Yeah he had good stuff, but even Hector Noesi has looked good at times this year. It really helps when you can face a Seattle or a San Diego and just go after hitters because you know they’ve been making AAAA starters look like the second coming of Koufax for YEARS. Phil Humber threw a perfect game against the Mariners for crying out loud. From a psychological standpoint, as well as a literal standpoint, it is much easier to pitch against the Mariners. Please stop insulting Justin Verlander.

jroe31
Member
3 years 10 months ago

Interestingly enough, looks like Sunday after the Break Verlander and Tillman will be matched up against one another.

jirish
Guest
jirish
3 years 10 months ago

Well, it seems he has arrived-right back to AA. They sent him back right after the game.

Kennan
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Kennan
3 years 10 months ago

Just due to the All Star Break. They want him to make his scheduled start on Monday and then be back for his next scheduled start after the break.

Proper roster management.

Rob
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Rob
3 years 10 months ago

They’re sending him down for one start so he pitches on normal rest over the All-Star Break

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
3 years 10 months ago

Is this Rob Shields?

GoToWarMissAgnes
Guest
GoToWarMissAgnes
3 years 10 months ago

It’s also worth discussing because the velocity bump was easily explainable: he has a completely different windup. When I turned the game on in the 2nd inning, I did a double take after the first pitch he threw. Palmer started talking about it incessantly by about the 4th-5th inning.

As with any ‘transformation’ we need a far larger sample before arriving at any conclusions, but this does seem to be a case where we can at least note that it’s worth watching since there is a legitimate explanation for the different results.

All that said, he is still a work in progress. There were probably at least half a dozen pitches last night that he didn’t get a good release on and the ball slipped, resulting in pitches 2-3 feet up or off the plate. Good MLB pitchers don’t have that happen more than once or twice a game. Couldn’t tell whether he was trying to throw the curve or the change when it happened. Overall, the change still looked pretty pedestrian, but he threw some dynamite, knee-buckling curves over the course of the game.

jroe31
Member
3 years 10 months ago

Thanks for the specific find-hand info re: ball slipping and secondary pitches.

Hodgie
Guest
Hodgie
3 years 10 months ago

Easily explainable, because of a different windup? The guy has only ever touched 95 twice before in his MLB career and now he returns from the minors averaging that? After consecutive seasons of declining velocity, he suddenly is adding 3 MPH to his fastball and 4 MPH to his cutter when compared to his career peaks three seasons ago? Even his old scouting reports only talk of him touching 94-95. How often does a pitcher suddenly add that much velocity at 23 years of age?

GoToWarMissAgnes
Guest
GoToWarMissAgnes
3 years 10 months ago

By changing his windup. I’m not sure I understand why it’s so surprising that a complete change in mechanics can derive more power and efficiency out of a player’s physical tools. Think Jose Bautista’s swing. It doesn’t work for all, but it can work for some. It’s certainly a better explanation than “he’s in the best shape of his life” or “he’s been working real hard with the pitching coach in side sessions.”

His new delivery is MUCH simpler and cleaner and allows him to get much more on top of the ball. It’s easy to see how vertically aligned his body gets when he reaches back, and his delivery is now straight over the top. For a guy who’s 6-5, I think it makes perfect sense that reworking a windup and allowing him to get on top of the ball to create leverage and really throw downhill would add velocity.

mcbrown
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mcbrown
3 years 10 months ago

Hodgie, I think what GoToWarMissAgnes is trying to say by “easily explainable” is “is supported by an observable change in mechanics”, as opposed to “could be easily replicated with similar results by any other pitcher.” I.e., without a visible change in mechanics we would have no plausible explanation for the change in velocity and thus no obvious reason to expect it to continue. With a visible change in mechanics, we have a plausible explanation for what we saw, and we have a basis for revising our expectations going forward.

I don’t think he’s implying that adding 4 MPH to your fastball is as simple as changing your windup. It’s obviously exceedingly rare for things like this to happen, but not unprecedented. THT had a few articles earlier this year about Ubaldo’s mechanics that included side-by-side GIFs illustrating mechanical problems that might explain his loss of velocity – I suggest looking it up, because I found it incredibly educational.

GoToWarMissAgnes
Guest
GoToWarMissAgnes
3 years 10 months ago

Thanks for clarifying mcbrown; that’s exactly what I was saying. Obviously not every pitcher can just change their windup and add 4 mph. But exactly as you said, I was trying to explain that in this case we can point to an observable difference in the player other than just seeing a bigger number on the radar gun. I find it much more legitimate when a there is an obvious difference like in this case than when a guy just has a good start and we get the standard cliches explaining why.

Grant
Guest
Grant
3 years 10 months ago

are you using “wind up” as a equivalent to mechanics? Because the wind up itself is more of a ritual to deliver your body to the right point to start throwing and changing that really can’t add velocity (I’m sure he threw much harder from the stretch than usual last start as well). But sure if he cleaned up his mechanics during the actual delivery ie keeping his weight back longer, delivering his lead hip towards the plate (instead of toppling over leading with the shoulder), keeping his shoulder closed as long as possible to increase shoulder-hip separation and thus torque then yeah. Problems with the wind up itself are usually more an issue of unnecessary movement and distraction and are more likely to lead to control problems not velocity issues.

RA Rowe
Member
RA Rowe
3 years 10 months ago

Good eye, Jack. His K/9, FIP and xFIP have all improved in each of his stints in the big leagues. Trending toward his potential is not something new for the guy, and he’s only 23.

MrMojoRisin
Guest
MrMojoRisin
3 years 10 months ago

I just want to pat myself on the back for starting him in my league last night. With Scherzer, Colby, and Yu all missing starts I was starting to fall off the pace a little so I grabbed him since he’s been good at AAA and was in SafeCo. I got 38pts out of him and waived him in the morning.
Now that I’m reading about the MPH increase I may have to resign him though.

I Agree Guy
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I Agree Guy
3 years 10 months ago

No one cares.

Giant Kamala
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Giant Kamala
3 years 10 months ago

yeah right boys and that includes Jack, like he was just blowing those AAA guys away. co’mon guys, how many of you are ready to trade Bauer to get Tillman. I mean Bauer must just be horrid. not hard to forget this writer is 22 now

GoToWarMissAgnes
Guest
GoToWarMissAgnes
3 years 10 months ago

Huh? Where the f did Bauer come from? I don’t know any O’s fan who wouldn’t trade Tillman for Bauer in a heartbeat. Doesn’t mean we can’t be excited about seeing him throw 97 in the 9th inning.

Antonio Bananas
Guest
Antonio Bananas
3 years 10 months ago

So, keep him and hope it’s real. Or hope he sustains it long enough and puts up ridiculous numbers in that park and trade him for a package much better than he’s really worth?

antoine
Guest
antoine
3 years 10 months ago

The velo was no fluke… he was showing that plus velocity in Spring Training, granted is was in a relief role but he was throwing blazing heat, they do really have to bring him back

Daniel
Guest
Daniel
3 years 10 months ago

as you noted, what should be taken from this game is not who he was pitching against or what the resulting line was, it’s the incredible, knee-buckling curve and the fastball that hit mid-upper 90’s all the way into the 9th inning. that’s pretty remarkable for a guy who couldn’t hold down a rotation spot because he was a righty who couldn’t even average 90 on his fastball just one year ago.

at the very least, it looks like the O’s may have found themselves a reliable long-relief man.

Carson
Guest
Carson
3 years 10 months ago

Oh he’ll be starting for sure. The only starters that have produced for the O’s have been Hammel and Chen. They’d be nuts if they kept giving Eveland and Miguel Gonzalez starts with Tillman in relief

Bryan
Guest
Bryan
3 years 10 months ago

Is there a place to take a look at his velocity in the minors this year? I am curious if it has been this good all season or if it has been trending up as the season wears on. His monthly splits in just about every category show continual improvement and I want to know if the improvements correlate with increased velocity.

Jason
Guest
Jason
3 years 10 months ago

Well, whatever he had against the Mariners, he didn’t have it tonight, sheesh.

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