26 June 2015

Why Chris Tillman Has Struggled: Part 3

(This post doesn't include stats from Sunday's game).

In the previous parts of this series, I noted that Tillman was struggling because he’s giving up too many walks with no one on base primarily because he was struggling to throw strikes with his changeup and his fastball against right handed batters and partly because he’s having terrible luck with men on base.  He’s giving up the same amount of production with men on base as he has in previous years but he’s getting hit harder when there are multiple men on base then when there is only one runner on base.

This next chart (data courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information) shows how effective each pitch has been so far this year compared to 2012 through 2014.

The chart shows that Tillman is throwing more fastballs this year with the bases empty than he has in previous years but batters are swinging less often and getting more balls called. Batters are missing more fastballs with no one on base in 2015 than they did from 2012 to 2014. The difference is even more pronounced when looking at this performance against right handed batters with the bases empty. Batters are chasing his fastball at a high rate but they’re also deciding to swing less frequently. His problem has been that right-handed batters simply aren’t hitting his fastball foul.

Meanwhile, he’s only throwing a third of his changeups for strikes as opposed to over half in previous year. Opposing batters have figured this out and therefore are only swinging at about a third of his changeups opposed to nearly sixty percent in previous years. In addition, they’re also missing at about half the rate as they did previously. It seems that Tillman has also realized he’s having problems with his changeup in these situations because he’s throwing it less often down from 13.8% from 2012 to 2014 to only 11% in 2015.

Tillman is also having problems with this pitch even with men on base. The pitch is in the strike zone as often as it has been in past years as measured by his InZone% but batters are chasing and missing the pitch less frequently this year than in past years resulting in the pitch causing more balls and fewer strikes. This signifies to me that his changeup is broken and therefore the Orioles’ pitching coach should be working with Tillman to fix that pitch.

Tillman is also having problems throwing his curveball for a strike with the bases empty as it used to be in the strike zone 37% of the time from 2012 to 2014 but only 26% of the time this year. He’s having no problems throwing it for strikes with runners on base. Opposing batters have put seventeen curveballs into play and have hit six singles and three doubles good for a .529 BABIP.  He’s also struggling with the pitch when the bases aren’t empty as opposing batters have a .467 BABIP against it with men on base and a .324 BABIP against it with men on scoring position. In previous years, opposing batters had a .208 BABIP against it with no one on base and a .240 BABIP against it with runners in scoring position. He may be having fewer problems throwing his curveball for a strike than throwing his changeup for a strike but it appears that his curveball has regressed this year as well as his changeup.

Tillman’s only saving grace has been his cutter. He’s throwing it for fewer balls than he has in previous years. The problem is that batters are more likely to hit it than they have previously regardless of whether men are on base.  So far, this hasn’t been problematic but it is worrisome.

It’s possible to determine how many balls Tillman’s lack of control has cost him for each pitch. The next chart shows the percentage of balls he’s thrown each pitch with the bases empty, how many more balls that it has resulted in him throwing compared to his 2012 and 2014 average and whether the difference is statistically significant.

Basically, the statistics show that he’s throwing significantly more changeups for balls, significantly more fastballs for balls and significantly more cutters for strikes. Despite only throwing 70 changeups with the bases empty, he’s already thrown 18 fewer for balls than would be expected. Needless to say, it’s not surprising that he’s giving up more walks.

Tillman’s problems this year are that he’s giving up more walks than normal with the bases empty and he’s giving up hits at inopportune times. His pitches also aren’t as sharp as they’ve been in the past. The good news that this is something that’s probably fixable because it’s not like his stuff has degraded but rather his control has struggled. The challenge for the Orioles’ pitching staff is finding out what is causing those problems so that he can get back to being the productive pitcher that he was earlier in his career.

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