Chris Tillman: Was His 2012 Campaign A Fluke Or A Sign Of Things To Come?

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Friday January 18th, 2013

Chris Tillman went 9-3, with a 2.93 ERA in 15 GS during the 2013.  His return helped sparked the Orioles on a 2nd half run to a Wild Card Spot in the AL

Chris Tillman went 9-3, with a 2.93 ERA in 15 GS during the 2013. His return helped sparked the Orioles on a 2nd half run to a Wild Card Spot in the AL.

Jake Dal Porto (Baseball Writer) 

Here’s an unsung hero behind the Baltimore Orioles’ magical 2012 season: Chris Tillman. No, he’s far from a household name, nor does he deserve to be, yet. However, if his 2012 campaign, where he posted a 2.93 ERA, is a sign of what’s to come, then some of the Orioles’ shortcomings on the starting pitching spectrum will be solved.

First thing’s first; you may be too reluctant to put credibility into Tillman, yet. I would agree that his stunningly good 2012 season basically came out of Left Field, as in his first three year’s in the big leagues, he compiled a mere 5.58 ERA and a BB/Per 9 IP rate of exactly four.

So yes, 2012 was an impressive season from the 24-Year-Old Right-Hander, but with his success came a sense of suspicion and bewilderment. Yeah, not the type of reaction a pitcher wants when he crafts a career-year.

Chris Tillman and his Pitching Mechanics:

Tillman started his 1st 3 years at a combined record of 8-15 with a mid 5 ERA.

Tillman started his 1st 3 years at a combined record of 8-15 with a mid 5 ERA.

So what fueled Tillman’s emergence?

A lot of things, to be exact. First and foremost, was his noticeable faster fastball. His average fastball speed was 92.4 Miles Per Hour (MPH), nearly a three MPH increase on his 2011 total. He topped out occasionally in the high 90’s, to boot.

It should be noted that Tillman’s fastball did sit in the 92 MPH range in his first couple years in the Major Leagues. This low to mid 90’s territory isn’t exactly unfamiliar to him, but his MPH average quickly declined into the high 80’s for a roughly two-year stretch before he found his groove again this past season.

Perhaps some mechanical issues hindered him from achieving his full velocity during that two-year stretch, as he was and still is extremely young. It would be irrational to think that age would be a factor in his slower velocity. Regardless of the reason, the word “inconsistent” comes to mind again.

Whatever Tillman did to his fastball, it surely worked, though. Hitters hit just .230 off of the pitch, when it was slapped around constantly in Tillman’s first three years in the Majors. Take note: In 2009, opposing hitters had an OPS of 1.046 off his fastball, in 2010 they hit 1.026 and in 2011 they had a slightly less yet still very high OPS of .944. This past season, however, opposing hitters’ OPS off Tillman’s fastball sunk down to .714.

Did the increased velocity on his fastball really create that much of a difference?

It obviously did. Below is a screenshot of Tillman’s 2011 Pitch/FX and the Batting Average of the certain locations.

Picture Courtesy of Baseball Prospectus

Picture Courtesy of Baseball Prospectus

Most notably is the fact that hitters crushed him on pitches on the inside half of the plate, and of course over the heart of the plate. An 89 MPH fastball left Tillman more vulnerable to hitters pulling inside pitches because he it doesn’t have as much pop.

Now, here’s his 2012 chart with the same factors implied.

Picture Courtesy of Baseball Prospectus

Picture Courtesy of Baseball Prospectus

What should be fairly noticeable is how much better he was at limiting hits on the inside half of the play. This indirectly sets up him up to get hitters out by the way of the strike (6.9 Strikeouts Per Nine Innings in 2012) because he can command both areas of the plate. Hitters simply couldn’t turn his fastballs around as easily as they did a year ago. So, the upswing in his fastball velocity certainly benefitted Tillman in this regard.

However, opposing hitters had a line drive percentage of 17.5 off the pitch, which is actually higher than his 2011 total of 15.7 percent. This would suggest that he was mildly unlucky in 2011, but very lucky in 2012.

So, we turn to BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) to determine whether Tillman’s successful 2012 season involved more luck than the average pitcher receives.

Well, yes, Tillman did have more than a few rolls and bounces go his way in 2012. His incredibly low BABIP of .221 is way below the mean (which benefits him), and is a significantly improved mark compared to his 2011 BABIP of .348. The one number that factors in luck and produces what his ERA should look like when only things in his control are consider, is the always trustworthy FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage). This, to no surprise, justifies his beneficial BABIP, as his FIP was 4.25. Meaning, his ERA should’ve been much higher than it actually was. It also suggest that his 2012 performance may be hard to repeat.

To put things into perspective, Tillman’s 2011 FIP was 3.99. So, based solely on this specific stat, Tillman should’ve been better in 2011 if his ERA wasn’t skewed by factors he couldn’t control.

However, Tillman shouldn’t be overlooked just because his misleading ERAs—both for the better or worse of his personal sake—imply that he’s been terrible. As aforementioned, he’s only 21-Years-Old, and has plenty of time to develop. He just has to cut down on his walks, and he may shape up to be something more than he is currently expected to be.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Tillman has never thrown more than 86 IP in his 1st 4 years.  How many IP will the Orioles projected #1 Starter pitch in 2013?  –  Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

*** The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com or their partners.***

Jake Dal Porto is a Baseball Writer with MLB reports and a student from the Bay Area. Jake’s favorite sports moment was when the Giants won the World Series back in 2010. He loves to use sabermetrics in his work. He thinks they are the best way to show a player’s real success compared to the basic stats such as ERA, RBIs, and Wins. Jake also enjoys interacting and debating with his readers. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @TheJakeMan24

Jake Dal Porto

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About Jake Dal Porto

Jake Dal Porto is a student from the Bay Area. He has followed Bay Area sports for years, and enjoys writing about the various Bay Area teams. He is an assistant editor at Golden Gate Sports, and the editor of Blue Man Hoop. If you need to contact Jake, email him: jakedalporto@gmail.com

Posted on January 18, 2013, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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