Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Reinvigorated Chris Tillman

It's a small sample size.  Against arguably the worst hitting team in baseball (especially at their home field).  That said, Chris Tillman wowed.  Many of us were at friends houses or barbecues or picnics to celebrate the 4th of July holiday.  Chris Tillman and the birds took on Seattle and Tillman showed why he was such a prized pickup in the Erik Bedard trade years ago.

I always liked Tillman because he throws a knuckle-curve (and a nasty one at that) which was the same curveball I threw growing up.  You might remember a former Oriole pitcher that was pretty successful with that same pitch as well.  As a result, Tillman has a soft spot in my heart, and I've always been pulling for him, beyond what you typically would for any young Oriole.

We've been hearing for weeks that Tillman has been pitching well in the minors, albeit not going very deep into games.  He'd pitched to a 3.63 ERA in Norfolk but his FIP suggests he'd pitched better than that.  Tonight he went 8.1 IP with 2 Hits, 2 Runs, 2 Walks and 7 Ks.  Here's how he did it:

Pulled from Brooks Baseball

As you can see, Tillman sat in the mid 90s with his various fastballs, the 4-seamer averaging 95 MPH and the Cutter coming in at 93.  Tillman topped out at 97.2 MPH on the night, much higher than he threw last time O's fans saw him (in 2010 Tillman's FB averaged 90.2 MPH, in 2011 it was just 89.3).  The Cutter was a pitch that Tillman added to his repoirtoire in 2011, but only threw it about 5% of the time.  This trend holds here as just 7 of Tillman's 121 pitches were cutters.  The Cutter is a useful tool for him though, as you can see below:
From Brooks Baseball

This image shows the horizontal movement by speed for Tillman in the game.  The key is on the right, and you can see that 4-Seamers are green, Cutters - black, Changeups - yellow, Curves - purple.  You can see above the distinct clusters for Tillman on his 3 main pitches the 4-Seam Fastball, Curveball and Changeup.  The Cutter is clustered to the right of the 4-Seamer, with slightly less velocity, but positive movement.  This means that all of Tillman's fastballs moved to the arm side (as you would expect) except the Cutter which Tillman can use to fool hitters.  A perfect example of this is in the 4th inning where Tillman struck out Casper Wells with a well placed Cutter:
From Brooks Baseball
The 5th pitch in the AB was a perfect Cutter on the inside corner that Wells presumably expected to continue moving in off the plate.  Again, we're talking about 5% of all the pitches Tillman will throw in a game, but that's also why it's an effective tool for him.

I'm emphasizing the Cutter here because I think at the velocity he had today, Tillman really has multiple tools at his disposal to put away hitters.  I've always found Tillman's curve to be especially filthy.  For him it was a question of velocity and control.  Today Tillman showed he had velocity and he had control.  His excellent secondary offerings are what made him so intriguing just a few years ago.  It's a small sample size, against one of the worst hitting teams in baseball.  Despite that, I'm intrigued and I can't wait to see Tillman's next turn after the All-Star Break.  If this Tillman is what we'll get for the rest of the season, we may have just found our new #3 starter.

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