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Is this the real Tillman?


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From the always great Jonah Keri at grantland.com:

Over the past two years, Chris Tillman has gone from All-Star to Guy Who Needs To Be Demoted Or Put On The DL For A Made-Up Reason. Based on this year?s 5.94 ERA and two-month-long pi?ata impression, it would appear that Tillman has experienced a sudden drop in skill and effectiveness. However, there?s one problem with that line of thinking: He was never that great in the first place.

As much as advanced stats have weaved their way into everyday baseball conversation, it?s still tough not to get seduced by the kind of surface stats Tillman put up in 2013 and 2014. Over those two seasons, he combined to go 29-13 with a 3.52 ERA. Only three AL starters (Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and C.J. Wilson) won more games during that time frame, and only Scherzer posted a higher winning percentage. Tillman?s ability to reel off wins ? he had an 11-3 record in the first half of 2013 ? earned him that All-Star nod.

Yet, in the process of earning that gaudy win total, Tillman benefited from both strong defense behind him and stellar bullpen support. According to Defensive Runs Saved, Orioles fielders saved 95 runs more than the average team in that 2013 and 2014 stretch, second in the American League behind only the slick-fielding Royals. Meanwhile, O?s relievers ranked seventh in the majors by park-adjusted metrics.2

Strip out those factors, and even with a 29-13 record, you could argue that Tillman was a below-average pitcher in both 2013 and 2014. He struck out fewer batters than league average, allowed more home runs, and, going again by fielding-independent numbers, he was actually the sixth-worst ERA-title-qualified starter in the American League. If you had to bet on one fairly high-profile starter turning into a pumpkin in 2015, Tillman would have been a pretty good pick.

This year, very little seems to have changed when it comes to Tillman?s physical skills or pitch repertoire. He still throws four-seam fastballs more than 60 percent of the time, and he still mixes in some curves, changeups, and the occasional other secondary pitch. He?s also throwing as hard as ever, actually cranking up most of his pitches by about 1 mph compared to last year.

Instead, a combination of weaker command and the expiration of that 2013-14 luck has torpedoed his numbers. Tillman has walked 28 batters in 53 innings, his highest walk rate since 2010, when he lasted just 11 big league starts and put up a 5.87 ERA. His batting average on balls in play sits at .329, up 62 points compared to last year and 52 points above his career mark. According to ESPN research, his Well-Hit Average3 has climbed to .166, up 22 points compared to 2014 levels and 18 points from his career numbers. Perhaps the biggest blow has come to Tillman?s strand rate: It?s plunged to 66.9 percent, ranking in the bottom 15 among AL starters and down sharply from both his 2014 and career levels.

All of this puts O?s manager Buck Showalter in a tough spot. Bud Norris should be ready to come off the DL any day now, but he got torched in six starts before getting felled by bronchitis. Kevin Gausman might have the best arm in the organization, but he?s on the shelf himself with a shoulder injury. Combine those factors with Tillman?s role as the de facto ace4 on a staff that?s full of no. 4 starters, and it?s tough to envision any in-organization change. By fielding-independent numbers, only Ubaldo Jimenez looks better than league average, and counting on Jimenez over the long haul is never a comforting thought.

Still, GM Dan Duquette never has been one for blockbusters, and the franchise stood pat with a similar collection of uninspiring arms over the past few seasons, so we can reasonably expect Baltimore?s starting rotation to remain roughly the same for the rest of the year. It?s an approach that?s worked in the past ? producing two playoff appearances in the previous three years ? but Tillman?s fall to reality gives the O?s a murky future.

Full article:

http://grantland.com/the-triangle/mlb-the-30-phillies-orioles-mets-royals-starting-pitching/

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I think that the article is awful in saying that everything is the same and that he has fallen back because of defense. No it is not the major difference is that he can't command stuff. When he gets ahead and pitches that way is the defense good but bad when he gets behind. The last two years he has walked 66 and 68 guys in 206 and 207 innings. This year he has walked 28 in just 53 innings. The bullpen is about the same and the defense is slightly worse but the major difference is walks and getting behind all the time.

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4.8 BB/9. Last 3 years it was 3 or less. When you're walking more batters at an over > 60% rate, you're going to get in trouble. SO/9 rate has mostly remained in the 7 per 9. He is allowing more hits. But I think the hits are up because he gets deep into counts and batters are sitting fastball.

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Yeah that is my point he acts like we should have expected because his defense was so good and that for some reason he could predict him walking 2 more batters per 9 innings. If he was walking the same rate and the amount of hard hit balls was similar then you could say yeah it was luck the previous years.

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Made up reason for DL? The guy has been dealing with a back issue. I'd maybe DL Tillman. But the option is there to give him some rest and treatment. Then 5 days before he's eligible to return to the DL let him throw 3-4 innings in Bowie or Frederick. Whichever team is home. Low stress and confident boosting innings. In the mean time Norris and Wright make 2-3 starts. Plus Gausman is hopefully back starting in Norfolk. The re-evaluate the staff. Most likely keeping Norris and adding Tillman.

Factors that may help Tillman:

1. The return of MW. He has a career ERA of 3.90 when throwing to MW as opposed to a 4.68 ERA with Joseph catching.

2. April and May have historically been his 2 worst ERA months in his career by alot. 4.96 and 4.68 respectively.

3. The guy is a FB pitcher, give him Lough in the OF.

My prediction is that the combo of pitching to a weak hitting Cleveland team, MW coming back, and pitching in a ballpark with a big OF will help Tillman in his next start.

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This is it. It is all about command. He had it for the most part over the last few years so far this year he hasn't. It has resulted in a lot of walks and a lot of meatballs in hitter counts (mostly FB but also a decent number of CU).

I like Keri's stuff a lot typically but this looks like a conclusion he wanted to draw before Tillman struggled and he has now found a way to do it. You could definitely argue that Tillman got a bit lucky last year, but he wouldn't have been "below average" if his luck was equal. He has been a bit unlucky this year, but he wouldn't be average or above average even if his luck had been fine. He has been pretty bad in big spots in a lot of his starts.

Exactly. Was the defense predicted to have been worse than last year or the pen supposed to have fallen off a cliff save Britton and two-week Brad Brach (ok, maybe it was longer but that game tonight made me mad)? Then I don't get how Tillman was supposed to turn into this pumpkin. Another thing, since he really hasn't had command issues since 2011 how was that foreseeable?

Short answer, it wasn't and neither was any of the rest of it. Tillman needs to throw more strikes and he'll have more success. If he commands it in the zone there will be even more. Pitching 101.

I like Keri too, but this piece seems like a pat on the back. His own.

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This is it. It is all about command. He had it for the most part over the last few years so far this year he hasn't. It has resulted in a lot of walks and a lot of meatballs in hitter counts (mostly FB but also a decent number of CU).

I like Keri's stuff a lot typically but this looks like a conclusion he wanted to draw before Tillman struggled and he has now found a way to do it. You could definitely argue that Tillman got a bit lucky last year, but he wouldn't have been "below average" if his luck was equal. He has been a bit unlucky this year, but he wouldn't be average or above average even if his luck had been fine. He has been pretty bad in big spots in a lot of his starts.

When he says "is this the real Tillman" what does he mean? The real Tillman walks more batters and plays in front of a defense that's been messed up with injuries and stuff like Delmon playing the field? The real Tillman gives up a higher average on balls in play? This "real" word is a loaded term. The real Tillman would appear very different playing 50% of his games in Colorado, or with the Padres defense behind him. And the real anybody has periods where their command is off, or really on, or they're a little banged up. The Tillman we're seeing now is a pretty fair MLB pitcher who's lost some command and isn't pitching with the support he might have seen over the last 2.5 seasons. It's all real, 2012 and 2013 and 2014 were real.

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