03 February 2017

Chris Tillman Is Not Underrated

Yesterday, Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com wrote a post about Chris Tillman that included this cool fun fact right in the headline: "Orioles have won 64 percent of Chris Tillman’s starts since 2012." Hey, that's interesting, if you still care about pitcher wins. Some people do, and that's fine.

Baseball fans and analysts, though, are way past the point of putting much emphasis on pitcher wins. Many good starting pitchers collect plenty of wins, but starters are also reliant on their teammates to score runs and the bullpen behind them to shut the door. Anyway, the war over pitcher wins has already been fought and won by the sabermetric community (basically acknowledged by Melewski), so let's move along.

Later in the post, Melewski sums things up this way:
At a time when pitcher wins are valued less than ever (and probably rightfully so), can we deny that stellar win-loss percentage with Tillman on the mound? He probably flies under the national radar, but in Baltimore, we have seen that his starts consistently outperform the team as a whole.
I'm not sure what he means by denying how much Tillman has won, but it's definitely possible to put too much emphasis on it. And instead of focusing on how much Tillman has won, we can do a better job of comparing his performance to other starting pitchers.

Since 2013, which includes the four seasons in which Tillman has thrown at least 100 innings, here's how he ranks against 76 qualified American League starters:
  • t-37th in ERA
  • 56th in FIP
  • 51st in K/9
  • 64th in BB/9
  • t-45th in HR/9
  • 9th in IP
  • t-3rd in wins
Those are the numbers that a sturdy, but perfectly decent starting pitcher would accumulate.  So if you think Tillman "flies under the national radar," then you're probably just talking about the Orioles in general, who somehow have stockpiled the most wins (444) in the American League since 2012 (and the fourth-most overall). 

Tillman gets credit for pitching against formidable AL East lineups. He gets credit for being the team's best starting pitcher in the Buck Showalter era. And he gets credit for staying relatively healthy and throwing a bunch of innings. Those things, though, don't make him an ace, or even a great pitcher. With Kevin Gausman's rise, Tillman may not even be the best starter in the O's rotation now (and Gausman was arguably better last season). 

But Tillman is a good pitcher, and that's important. The Orioles could use more competent starting pitchers, especially since Tillman and some others are impending free agents. But stop building up Tillman to be more than he is just because the Orioles have been one of the most successful teams since Showalter and Dan Duquette joined the organization. Tillman gets credit for a slice of that success, for sure, but let's not go overboard.

26 comments:

Roger said...

Is there any way adjust a pitcher's performance for his team's offensive performance (for example the Coors effect) and not just park effects. I realize that park effects play a big role but teams who stockpile hitters can often be short on pitching but also require lesser performance from pitchers because of their average runs scored. Is it possible that Tillman's performance might look better in light of the teams ability to score? And on another team (granted, in another park) that Tillman might look like a somewhat different statistical pitcher. He consistently beats his FIP and puts up good WAR numbers. Pitcher wins do not matter but wins do. I think that's where most people get lost in the statistics. Maybe there's some way to adjust for bullpen value. Pitcher wins are likely to go up with a good bullpen performance. I dunno, seems like the inability to find a statistic to explain why the Orioles consistently beat their Pythagorean wins and why Tillman consistently beats his FIP is a hole in the overall analysis of baseball statistics. That may possibly why Tillman is seen as underrated.

Jon Shepherd said...

In 2016, Orioles won 5 more than Pythagorean win expectation would expect. In 2015, they won 2 less than PWE. I think a little too much gets placed on that. 2012 and 2014 were exceptional years and fuel most of the "this team beats the odds" perspective. Maybe there is something there, but it makes one wonder why it is not there in other years.

Pitch to win has been quite effectively shown to not be a thing. Pitchers pitch as best as they can, which is a must because any batter can take you deep.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

We've discussed plenty on this site why Tillman and others (like Miguel Gonzalez) consistently beat their FIP. Much of the research has been done by Matt P. and Jon, looking at things like performance with runners on base, pitch sequencing, location, etc. Even when not factoring in FIP, he's been good, but far from great. I don't see how that makes him underrated.

The same can be said for why the O's outperform their projections. There's some kind of formula here: hitting on undervalued/overlooked players, a very good bullpen, very good infield defense, trying to grab QO players, Rule 5 picks, freeing up money by trading comp. balance picks and international bonus slots, etc. All of these have not been successful, and I'm still leaving out some. But you're right. If you're big on thinking that Tillman is underrated, you very likely have strong feelings about how other fans and baseball writers view the Orioles. I just think Tillman gets more than a fair share of his credit.

Roger said...

Yeah, I don't really have a NEED to feel he's underrated per se, just maybe underappreciated because he is not the "ace" that we want him to be. It would be pretty exciting to have some high quality pitching to go along with even 80% of the hitting we have. Tillman is at least currently the lead in our lineup if not an actual ace. And he carries that weight pretty well. I sure would like to see some of the prospects be ready to take the place of the back end. I would like someone like Wright, Wilson, Verrett, Aquino, or Lee step up and take some innings from Jimenez and Miley (and ease the burden on Bundy). How much worse could they be? Were Wright and Wilson really any worse than Miley or 1st half Ubaldo? Would Verrett or Aquino or Lee be?

Pip said...

Pitcher starts has nothing to do with pitcher wins.
Steve was saying that the team had won 64% of Tillman's starts, not that HE had won 64% of his starts. And that is a very good thing, and pretty indicative of a good pitcher(what percentage of Jimenez/Miley/Gallardo starts did we win?)
I haven't yet read the rest of the article yet but it seems as if you are rebutting a nonexistent stance.

Jon Shepherd said...

Jimenez was 55% over past two years and Gausman was 45%. That was in a tweet I put out.

I imagone that the two track very similarly. I would not think it much of a hang up using either as a surrogate.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

The implication doesn't change, but thanks for taking the time to reply to an article you haven't finished reading yet.

Pip said...

That made me laugh, and I do appreciate and even agree with the sentiment, it was a hurried reply,
But after I read the article I think my point remains valid.
As always, I really appreciate you guys and enjoy your articles. And I do read them all the way through.

Jon Shepherd said...

I am unsure why people think team wins would be more representative of a pitcher's ability than pitcher wins. That idea really confuses me.

Matt Bennet said...

What do we think of an extension? On one hand, I think it seems pretty risky to extend a pitcher who doesn't have impressive peripherals and flyball tendencies(1.2 HR/9) on the wrong side of 30. On the other hand, it seems as though Joe Gunkel is the only young pitcher in the system close to making an impact. Maybe Chris Lee? Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson have not been good and look nothing more than #5 starters at this point.

Pip said...

It would seem that a bad team will hinder a good pitcher. A good team, however, can't help a bad pitcher, but will help a good one.
I realize that winning is a team effort and not the sole indicator of pitcher quality, but the quality of the pitcher should certainly affect team wins.

Anonymous said...

This seems to be written with an unnecessarily "I'm smarter than you", arrogant tone. I would've enjoyed reading it much more had the tone been different. Just some constructive criticism

Jon Shepherd said...

I do not understand your first paragraph. A good team certainly will help a bad pitcher get wins because a good team can prevent runs from being scored or provide great run support. If you are talking only about bullpens, a good bullpen will certainly help a bad pitcher.

Jon Shepherd said...

Welcome to the site.

Jon Shepherd said...

Tillman will earn a solid mid rotation contract. Something like 4/60 or 5/75.

Pip said...

A bad pitcher will be pulled from the game with his team down. Even if his team rallies to win, that does not benefit him, but his presence makes their job more difficult.
A good pitcher is easily let down by a bad team. As an example, I remember 1978 Jon Matlack went 15-12 for the Rangers with a 2+ ERA, because the Rangers never scored for him.
A bullpen can only minimize damage.
I'm not trying to paint Tillman as an Ace at all.
The point I'm trying to make, and I'm sorry I'm being cumbersome, is that even though pitcher wins might not mean much, team wins in pitcher starts do, and Tillman's 64% team win % means, probably, that he is a better pitcher than Jiminez at 55% team wins and Miley/Gallardo at whatever.
That's all I was trying to say.

Jacob W Smith said...

Really? Matlack? I thought the law was that if you wanted to talk about pitchers being let down by their teams you brought up '87 Nolan Ryan (led the league in ERA and Ks and went 8-16).

Jon Shepherd said...

You can also find pitchers with terrible ERAs and great team wins numbers.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Appreciate the comment, and I can take criticism. The feeling for me is more frustration that wins and winning percentage are still be used as a major argument in favor of a pitcher. Maybe I should have explained that more.

Pip said...

I remember Matt Keogh or Rick Langford had an apalling Record of unsuccess with the As. I think one or the other went 0-22 and 79 or 80 I think.
I mention Jon Matlack because I was a fan of the Rangers at the time, and because he pitched incredibly well all that season and had nothing to show for it.

John Morgan said...

Tillman seems more consistent than other "good" pitchers. It seems that he strings along many quality starts in a row, which may contribute to the team's high winning percentage in his starts. Basically, you know what you're going to get in a Tillman start and that may provide a competitive advantage. Compare that to Ubaldo, who may be brilliant or stink the joint up on any given night. I'd rather see the three runs, 6 IP line each time out, even though it never adds up to an amazing stat line at the end of the season. This is especially so for Baltimore, which can usually be relied upon to put four or five runs on the board and close a game with solid relief pitching. So, here's the test of my theory: does Tillman's performance vary less than other starters of his ability? Does consistency of performance correlate with team winning percentage? OK, Matt and Jon, off you go and find out.

Jon Shepherd said...

Use our search feature, I wrote that post three or four years ago.

Roger said...

Honestly, I think a quality start should be 7IP.

Jon Shepherd said...

To be honest, if you go 6 IP with 3 or fewer runs scored, you almost always pitch a 7th inning. Guys are not hitting 6 and 3 exactly. I believe average ERA for a quality start is about 1.50.

Matt P said...

You probably wouldn't want a 6 IP, 3 ER start each time out. Such a pitcher would have a 4.50 ERA, also known as bad, and his team would win 48.4% of his starts presuming an average offense. That's a 78-79 win team. A 6 IP, 3 ER outing isn't good despite the common wisdom. I mean, are you happy with starters that have a 4.50 ERA?

A starter going 5 innings and allowing 2 runs each start would have a 3.60 ERA (also known as above average). His team would win 57.8% of his starts (roughly a 93-94 win pace) and would presumably have a very tired bullpen.

I wrote a quality start post for this site nearly three years ago. Fewer runs allowed is more important than innings pitched. If you go five innings and allow zero runs, then that should be a quality start.

Jon Shepherd said...

Yes, I remember the article. I thought your solution was unneeded.

You are stuck on framing it as an ERA issue as the red line. I think you miss what happens later or wind up creating a rather convoluted formula by having to move the goal line.

Overall, I think a lot of thinking about QS might be too much thinking about QS.