clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Chris Tillman's stellar run fueled by more strikes, softer contact

New, 5 comments

Don't look so mad, Tilly. You've been pitching so well the last month, and we love you for that!

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After Chris Tillman's start on June 21 in Toronto, an outing that lasted only 1.1 innings while he allowed 6 earned runs and two home runs, the Orioles' ace had the sick, twisted pleasure of enjoying a 6.22 ERA, 1.60 WHIP and a 5-7 record.

His fastball command was bad. The skyhook curveball was bad. Execution was bad. Everything was bad.

The Twittersphere general managers began pondering the possibility of a Tillman DFA, completely unshaken by the 6'5 starter's streaky nature, whether that be in the positive or negative. Since that start against the Blue Jays, Tillman has rattled off five masterful outings, and has begun to look like the pitcher that was close to earning an offseason extension with the Orioles heading into 2015.

Beginning June 28, Tillman has posted a 2-0 record to go with a 1.36 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a .200 opponent batting average.

2015 IP/Start BB/9 BABIP LOB% FIP
Before June 28 5.1 4.46 .320 61.9% 6.45
After June 28 7.0 1.31 .238 90.5% 2.10

As is obvious by the table, Tillman has profoundly turned his game around since the end of June, as he's gone deeper into games, walked fewer batters, forced hitters to earn their way onto the basepaths and when he does get into trouble, he's leaving scoring opportunities on the table. Sounds a lot like the Tillman of old. The big fella has lowered his 6.22 ERA and 1.64 WHIP to 4.37 and 1.30, respectively, and in the six starts since the June 28, the Orioles have gone 4-2 in those outings, despite averaging only 3.2 runs per game.

Recently, Tillman has been one of the biggest reasons the Orioles are now 51-49 and only a game behind the Twins for the second Wild Card spot, but as is with many of those wondering, how is it he could be so bad and suddenly revive to a dominating force?

2015 (Batted Ball) GB% FB% LD% Soft% Hard%
1st Half 41.1% 38.3% 20.6% 18.7% 25.6%
July 50.7% 31.0% 18.3% 18.1% 18.1%

With a defense as solid as the Orioles, a spike in ground balls is a major plus, and add in the fact that opponents aren't hitting the baseball with much authority, the likelihood of batted balls turning into outs skyrockets. The frequency of fly balls and line drives have plummeted, a sign of the baseball avoiding the barrel of the bat. The numbers are encouraging, as is the continuation in pitch selection over the past month.

2015 (Pitch Selection) Fastball Cutter Curveball Changeup
Season Averages 65.7% 6.7% 15.1% 12.5%
July 65.5% 5.8% 14.4% 14.4%

Yes, there isn't much of a disparity between Tillman's first-half utilization of his pitches to his very successful month, but that's because he never really needed to change his attack, he just needed throw more strikes. Pitching coach Dave Wallace and bullpen coach Dom Chiti, I would assume, know that Tillman's issues weren't sheer stuff, but the willingness, and the ability to attack the strike zone. My two favorite pitches in baseball are a well-located fastball and the changeup to the play off of the heat and, Tillman has been the benefactor of a slight uptick in using the changeup.

Tillman struggled to work to a disappointing 62.2 strike percentage in the first half of the year, but so far this second-half, we've seen a more aggressive pitcher, as he's thrown 73.3% of his pitches for strikes. It's hard enough to hit a baseball, but when you're mixing pitches in the zone, especially with the kind of movement and depth that Tillman has with his stuff, you're going to see the kind of success that the presumed No. 1 of the Orioles' staff has displayed. More strikes with all of your pitches creates doubts, and unconfident hitter is a fish out of water.

2015 (Swing%) F-Strike% O-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Swing% Z-Contact%
2015 Averages 57.7% 26.4% 71.3% 70.0% 88.1%
July 70.3% 29.7% 68.3% 75.5% 85.4%

Firstly, the biggest number that jumps out at you is the climb in first pitch strikes. Compared to his season averages, Tillman has been able to get ahead in the count early, which is the most important pitch in any at-bat. Going up 0-1 sets up the hitter for an abundance of options, and it also allows for a pitcher to throw quality pitches out of the zone. Tillman has had more batters swing outside of the zone with less success at putting the ball in play, a hint to his setting up of hitters when ahead in the count. Even in the strikezone hitters are having more difficulty handling Tillman, because he's throwing more strikes. Even watching him last night, there were a lot of fastballs on the corners, while his curveball didn't end up in the dirt or near the letters (though some did, because it's Chris Tillman), but around the knees and just far enough out of the zone to frustrate hitters.

We're not seeing a pitcher that's getting behind in the count and forcing very hittable 90-92 MPH heat in fastball counts, but instead someone who's taking control of the strike zone, forcing the opposition to guess, instead of react.

Our tanned, muscular and always-pampered favorite beat reporter Roch Kubatko spoke to Buck Showalter last night after Tillman's most recent gem in which the ace tossed 8.2 scoreless innings, allowing only four hits with two strikeouts while walking none. Showalter said the following:

"Work days, everything that goes on with him and Wally (Dave Wallace) and Dom (Chiti) and Brady (Anderson). I guess I get out of their way. I've seen the results when you do. The confidence that a guy that's still young but has gone through some ups and downs, has some confidence and some stuff about what he's capable of doing. As long as he's feeling fine physically, he knows he can."

We know he can too, he just so happened to turn it on a little bit later than expected, and you know what? It's always better late than never...

Mr. Tillman, what do you say to the doubters, haters, non-believers, DFA hopefuls and fake-trade makers?

Perfect.