Tillman’s Flyballs

With the Orioles promotion of Brian Matusz to start tonight’s game, the shift to a young starting rotation is nearly complete. Matusz follows fellow top prospect Chris Tillman, who was promoted last week and has now made two starts in the big leagues. Tillman, who the Orioles got from the Mariners in the Erik Bedard swindling, is the focus of this post.

One of the concerns I had about Tillman when he was coming up through the lower minors with Seattle was how often he pitched up in the strike zone with his fastball. It helped him rack up a good amount of strikeouts, but also spelled danger for his future home run rates when he started facing guys strong enough to put those pitches in the seats. Through his first two starts in the majors, he’s quickly learning that big league hitters like high fastballs.

Here’s his strike zone plot from last night’s performance against the Tigers, via Brooks Baseball.


That’s a lot of green in the high part of the strike zone. He did a pretty good job of not hanging the curve ball, but the fastballs are very heavily concentrated in the middle-high part of the zone, and unfortunately located in the middle of the plate to boot. The result?

Of the 37 balls in play he’s allowed over his first two starts, he’s only induced eight ground balls compared to 21 fly balls and eight line drives. Four of those 29 balls in the air have cleared the fence, as Tillman has been undone by the long ball.

Now, he’s not going to keep giving up home runs on 19% of his flyballs, but there’s little doubt that Tillman’s style of pitching is going to make him an extreme flyball pitcher, and home runs are always going to be an issue for him. As he matures, he’s going to have to spot his fastball down in the zone with some more frequency – it will cost him a bit off his strikeout rate, but the reduction in balls in the air will be worth it.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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