23 April 2014

Tillman Has a Need for Speed

Velocity is not all: it is not movement nor control
Nor deception nor repeatability of a smooth delivery
Velocity cannot alone confuse the batter
Nor take the place of a well thrown curve
So, one may be tempted to trade velocity
For a pitch on the black or to hit the lower third
It may well be, but I do not think I would

--A horrible bastardization of an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem

The above is a poem that was originally about love. It is about how love is not an essential thing, but it is highly valued.  Similarly, I think we could think of velocity quite similarly.  A high 90s fastball is thrilling and majestic.  It is rock star.  It is bacon.  It is what adds the zero to an amateur's signing bonus. Or as William Carlos Williams once said, "So much depends on velocity." Or maybe he did not.  That said, the point is simply that a great deal of success depends on how little time a hitter has to react to a pitch as well as how little time a pitch travels through the zone where the bat can reach.

Photo by Keith Allison
Chris Tillman is someone who has dealt with velocity issues. He has always seen a great deal of success when he is able to pound the ball in the lower mid 90s.  Tillman suffered a near collapse in 2010 and 2011 where may a start he had struggled to get above 90 miles per hour.  In 2012, a revitalized Tillman helped lead the Orioles to the players with an explosive fastball.  Last year, saw a little erosion of that initial velocity, but it played well around 92 or 93.  This year, his opening day start saw him gunning around 94 mph. Since then? 91, 89, and 90 as averages. Those last two starts were two of the three lowest average velocity he has had in a game in the past two years.

Why is that velocity drop such a concern? Eno Sarris discussed things in a Sports on Earth article about pitcher aging while referencing Mike Fast's work, which was a better study than the brief one I did the year before in relation to Aroldis Chapman. Anyway, both studies found that a loss of one mile per hour of velocity was on average likely to result in about a third of a run more given up by the pitcher.  That is pretty frightening given Tillman's regression with respect to velocity.

That all said, Tillman sports a 1.71 ERA.  He has been incredibly successful and many a person wonder if he has hit ace status.  What might be ignored is that he current enjoys the highest left on base percentage of his career, which is a metric that is not associated with any perceivable skill.  Second, his home run rate is half of what we would expect it to be, indicating that he has been lucky that fly balls have not been spilling out of the park.  Third, balls thrown into the strike zone are not missing bats as they were the past two seasons.  In those years, Tillman was about to send about 14% of baseball in the strike zone past swinging bats.  In the troubling years before his recent success he was able to only get 9% by batters.  This year he is sitting at 10%.

However, nothing bad has happened yet even though several signs point to an eventual collapse.  I think the trouble with increased contact is largely related to that decrease in velocity.  Teammate Ubaldo Jimenez also suffered a major drop in velocity in the past few years from being a 97 mph burner to a 92 mph chugger. Jimenez' velocity is not the only trouble he has faced. His high maintenance mechanics often have spelled trouble for him and have certainly done so this season. Similar, with great command, control, and sequencing Tillman might also be able to have continued success.

Still, I would be more comfortable if I saw him flash more velocity on a consistent basis. He is too hittable otherwise and his extreme flyball tendencies likely means many a ball may be destined for Eutaw Street.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Last night was proof...