It’s understandable if you came into the season with Chris Tillman buried on your starting pitcher list. After back-to-back intriguing seasons in 2013-14, he ran all the back toward and even beyond his ominous FIP numbers with a 4.99 ERA in 173 innings. In those two solid seasons, he posted a 3.52 ERA, but was all the way up at a 4.22 FIP. An already-tenuous skillset sank further, yielding a 1.9 K:BB ratio and took Tillman off the radar in just about every league type.
On Tuesday night he dropped seven strong on the Yankees, shrinking his ERA to 2.81 and tying a career-high with nine strikeouts (7th ever, 2nd this year). This time around, there’s actually support for his numbers. He has a 2.64 FIP thanks in large part to a 26% strikeout rate and just 24 hits allowed in 32 innings. His 9% walk rate is a little high, but workable with those strikeout and hit rates for sure. His 11% swinging strike rate is far and away a career-high and supports the surge in punchouts.
What’s Tillman doing to draw such strong results? Let’s take a look at the three main areas that I (and most, I think) often look to first when a pitcher is showing a big change in performance, for better or worse.
I’m fairly certain that velocity is the first check for everybody when seeing what’s up with a pitcher. Brooks has Tillman up over a full tick at 93.8 MPH – a career-best and his first time north of 93 on average since 2012. The cutter is the only other pitch where more velocity would help and while he is up, it’s negligible at just 0.6 MPH. The 87.4 MPH mark is second-best in his career behind the 87.5 he logged in 2013. His velocity increase is a tangible, positive change, but it alone certainly doesn’t explain this jump in performance.
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