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Orioles extending Chris Tillman would be another step in a winning direction

With his prime years still to come, Chris Tillman should (hopefully) spend them in Baltimore with the Orioles.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Not long ago did fans coincide "pitching" and "Orioles" with "excessive drinking."

Go back as far as 2008, and the five men who led the O's in starts were Jeremy Guthrie, Daniel Cabrera, Garrett Olson, Brian Burres and Radhames Liz. Guthrie has found a new home in Kansas City, even leading the Royals to a 2-1 victory in Game 3 of last season's ALCS against the Birds, pitching a solid five innings, surrendering a lone run on three hits, two walks and two strikeouts.  However, his post-game attire didn't tread lightly with the Baltimore faithful...

Cabrera washed out in 2009 after a stint with the Diamondbacks, taking frustration and "what-ifs" with him. Burres and Olson haven't thrown a major league pitch since 2011 and 2012, respectively, though the legend of Radhames Liz still lives! To think the Orioles have expanded from these five individuals, a 29th-ranked 5.13 team ERA and a league-leading 687 BB's to what some would call an abundance of pitching.

Depending on your point-of-view, that right there is certainly worth a few rounds of Bohs.

One of the more integral reasons for such a drastic pitching turnaround has been righty Chris Tillman, who is fresh off a second-consecutive season of 200+ innings pitched. Since being acquired in the Erik Bedard trade of 2008, Tillman's development took a tad bit longer than expected, but it appears the Orioles have finally been gifted with a durable top-of-the-rotation starter.

With reports of ongoing talks between Tillman and the team regarding a possible contract extension, the question remains: should the O's follow through with such talks, or let Tillman hit the market after the 2017 season?

Well, for general manager Dan Duquette, the decision should be easy. Of course you try to lock up Tillman.

*Courtesy of Fangraphs W CG ERA IP BABIP GB% 2015 Salary
Player A 29 2 3.52 413.2 .268 39.6% $4.3 million
Player B 28 0 3.99 424.1 .317 39.0% $28 million

Above is a table featuring Tillman and one other pitcher from a list of 24 starters that have averaged at least 200 innings pitched from 2013-14. Naturally, the $4.3 million is a dead giveaway as to which one is Tillman, but have we any idea as to who Player B is?

If you guessed Justin Verlander, c'mon down and claim your Orioles cap presented by DAP!

Though Verlander has been dealing with a multitude of health issues, the caliber of pitcher he is shows the realm that Tillman has been in the past two seasons, and at a significantly cheaper cost. The most inspiring piece of information is that Tillman is just starting to hit his stride, and at 26 (will turn 27 April 15th), his best years are still ahead of him. While someone like Verlander is trending downwards, Tillman's stock is soaring in the opposite direction.

Tillman will probably never be a dominating strikeout type starter, but his ability to effectively pitch to contact is somewhat refreshing. In the past two seasons, his fly ball and line drive percentages have lowered, while his ground ball rate has steadily climbed. Notably, he's learning to avoid the home run (or not give them up as often) allowing 21 a year ago compared to 33 in 2013.

And when the Orioles needed him most, he delivered.

Tillman shook off a testy first-half to last season by becoming the rudder to the O's playoff sails. His second-half 2.33 ERA and 1.01 WHIP were both within the top-15 of all starters with at least 80 IP post All-Star break, as his consistent presence on the mound helped fuel the O's into the AL East crown. Amazingly enough, if you look at Tillman's numbers, none are really all that impressive. However, his .267 BABiP and 76.7% LOB rate from 2014 prove that he knows how to keep hitters off balance (a likely result of using his loopy curveball more frequently).

Somehow, someway, Tillman knows how to avoid the barrel of the bat.

BABiP Leaders, 2013-14
Pitcher IP BABiP
Clayton Kershaw 434.1 .263
R.A. Dickey 440.1 .264
Chris Tillman 413.2 .268
Madison Bumgarner 418.2 .275
Julio Teheran 406.2 .277

So, here we have a soon-to-be 27-year-old, durable right hander that is entering what are typically a player's most productive years. He's shown he can pitch at hitter-friendly Camden Yards (career 3.72 ERA, 1.25 WHIP), he's been effective down the stretch and he has yet to spend any significant time on the disabled list. What's not to love?

The figure of money becomes more intriguing, given Tillman's only been a full time major leaguer for just over two seasons. An extension similar to Atlanta's Julio Teheran would be a dream---6-years, $32.4 million---but Tillman isn't 24 and doesn't have the plus stuff that Teheran has shown. A more likely scenario is a deal somewhere from four to five years with a $60-$70 million figure. That keeps him in the $12-$14 million per-year range, money that parallels Rick Porcello and Francisco Liriano.

Of course the futures of 1B Chris Davis and C Matt Wieters are probably a more pressing issue, but Tillman represents a pitching piece the Orioles haven't had in years. A give-me-the-ball-every-fifth-day type of guy that you know is going to keep his team in games.

If you really think about it, he's the perfect representation of the new Oriole Way. He's quiet, unassuming, knows his role, executes and doesn't seem to care that he's underrated.

If the Orioles want to show that winning is in fact in the franchise's immediate future, the front office will have to reward Tillman for what he's been and should continue to be.

At the very least, it'll be some serious shade thrown in the direction of the Mariners.