18 October 2016

Did Chris Tillman Have A Comeback Year?

After a terrible 2015, traditional statistics suggest that Chris Tillman had a strong comeback year in 2016. He went 16-6 with a 3.77 ERA (34th out of 74 qualified starters) and threw 172 innings in 30 games started. That’s a strong record, a decent ERA and suggests that the Orioles wouldn’t have made it to the playoffs without him. However, for the fourth consecutive year, Tillman has an FIP over 4. In his best year, 2014, Tillman had an FIP of 4.01 while in his worst year he had an FIP of 4.45 and this year he had an FIP of 4.23 – pretty much right in the middle. Did Tillman have a breakthrough year, or did he roughly do the same as he’s done for the past three years straight?

Tillman’s overall stats don’t suggest a drastic change between 2016 and the rest of this four year sample. His strikeout rate at 19.2% was higher than every other year except for 2013, while his walk rate at 9.2% was the highest in the four year sample. Still, his K-BB% suggested a small improvement over 2014 and 2015 but not as good as he did in 2013. However, my model that I use to predict walk and strikeout rate seems to think that Tillman should have given up more walks and fewer strikeouts in 2016, and paints a consistent picture of decreased performance of strikeout and walk rate over the past four years. In fact, it suggests that Tillman has just about reached the end of his effective life as a major league starter. But it is unquestionable that Tillman’s increased strikeout rate was a reason for his improvement in 2016.

Tillmans’ 2016 BABIP was .283, which was better than his 2015 mark of .295 but worse than his 2013-2014 average of roughly .270. His HR% was 2.7% or roughly the same as he did in 2014 and 2015. However, it was much better than the 3.9% mark he gave up in 2013. As a result, his OPS against of .732 was better than his 2016 mark, about the same as his 2013 mark and worse than his 2014 mark. Like his FIP, this suggests small changes between each of these four seasons rather than drastic changes. It also suggests that his 2016 season was a lot closer to his 2015 season than his 2014 season.

His 2016 OPS allowed on balls put into play was .838 or roughly the equivalent of his rate in 2013 (.869) and 2015 (.847). His 2014 rate of .751 is the clear outlier and was sparked by his BABIP of .268. It seems pretty clear that his 2016 season was considerably closer to his 2015 numbers than his 2014 numbers. It also suggests that Tillman was successful in 2014 in part due to a low BABIP, which he hasn’t been able to replicate in 2013, 2015 or 2016.

Looking at his results with men on the base paths goes a long way to explaining Tillman’s success this season. When batters put the ball into play against him with nobody on base, they had a .898 OPS against him in 2016. This was the worst he’s done in his entire career.

However, with one man on base, batters putting the ball into play against Tillman only had a .760 OPS. That was the lowest allowed result in the four year sample. He gave up a high home run rate, but made up for it with a .233 BABIP.

Likewise, with two or more men on base, Tillman allowed batters putting the ball into play against him to put up only a .728 OPS, which is the second lowest of the four year sample. It’s reasonably close to his numbers in 2014, when opposing batters hit only .717 against him. But it’s far superior to his numbers in 2013 and 2015 when opposing batters had an OPS of roughly .870 in those situations. It would seem that part of the reason why he’s done so well is because he got a significant amount of luck with runners on the base paths. Not giving up a home run in those situations sure helped.

Indeed, in the three years that Tillman has been successful, he’s had an 81%, 76.7% and 77.2% LOB% but in 2015 he had a 68.2% LOB%. His best chance of being successful is if his defense can rally behind him and make sure that he strands a lot of runners.

Going forward, I think there are two ways to look at Tillman. The first way is to call him a proven winner because he’s gone 56-30 the past four years and has won at least ten games each season. Some may argue that the Orioles should keep him because he’s ultimately won the past three of four years and that’s all that matters. A number of teams would be interested in adding a pitcher with these stats.

The second way to look at him is to call him an overachiever that has been a bit more fortunate than his stuff suggests and is due for a collapse. If so, the Orioles certainly shouldn’t extend him and should even consider trading him this offseason. There is limited talent available via free agency this offseason and the Orioles may be able to convince a team to significantly overpay for a pitcher with a strong track record.

With an almost maxed-out budget, I’d lean towards the second route. I question whether Tillman can be effective and the Orioles already have six starters. Tillman is almost definitely one of the best starters that the Orioles have, but if he regresses then he won’t be able to help the club much. For a small market club, paying big bucks to Jimenez, Miley and Gallardo have consequences. The Orioles will need to find a way to save money somewhere if they’re going to fill their holes at corner outfield and catcher and trading away one of their six starters would help.

I don’t think that Tillman really improved much from 2015 to 2016 and suspect that his comeback year in 2016 is largely due to luck. Given the Orioles crowded rotation situation and their lack of resources, I’d look into trading Tillman to the Royals. The Royals need another starter and will have a number of high-profile players become free agents next year. Given their situation, they should be willing to trade prospects for the best starting pitcher they can get and I suspect that they’d be interested in adding a pitcher with Tillman’s traditional statistics.


Roger said...

What most of us saw last year was the pitcher Tillman was before his late season injury. He had a couple of awful starts in Aug/Sept that dragged his whole profile down. By just analyzing raw seasonal stats and not adjusting for injury, you are selling Tillman short. Besides you don't win championships by trading from an area of weakness (SP) to bolster an area of strength (positional). Caleb/Pena will be fine at catcher until Sisco is ready. And a Gallardo and cash for Jay Bruce trade with the Mets would solve the RF problem. After all, last year, all it took to get Trumbo was a foul-mouthed backup catcher. With all their injuries, don't you think the Mets would want more depth at SP? With Mancini at DH and shed of Gallardo, Trumbo, and Alvarez, the payroll should look much better. Also, Walker needs to get his chance to play next year. With Walker, Rickard, and Mancini as RH and Kim, Bruce, and Bourn as LH you end up with a lot of flexibility (of course, you might not be able to have all at once on the roster).

Pip said...

Would the royals be interested? Their window is closed, Alex Gordon was bad, their pitching was bad, the bullpen was missing the best piece and the offense was nil. They probably don't want Tillman( though I'd love to get Lorenzo Cain)
But what about Seattle? Taijuan Walker just had surgery, and Felix and Iwakuma are older and declining. Outside of James Paxton, they got nobody(Miranda was effective in 6 starts, but everyone seems to think he's terrible)
But with all their woes, Seattle still won 87 games.
How about Tillman for Leonys Martin and a solid prospect?
Depending on the prospect, that would put Martin and his excellent glove in center and move Jones to RF, while Kim/Rickard platooned in LF(assuming Rickard's D improves to average) or keep Bourn, move Jones to LF and platoon Kim/bench Rickard.
Martin doesn't hit as well as we would like but he's not terrible and it might be an overall upgrade, and the season sure emphasized how important OF defense is. Playing Trumbo in RF and subjecting us to his constant terrible D cost the division. Even an average RF would have made the difference.

tony2302 said...

Jones is a center fielder and would not take moving very well. this teams starting pitching is terrible. Tillman is the closest thing they have to a #1. Gausman and/or Bundy are not #1 material at this time. you can't trade him away for position players without having pitching. the mistake they made was not signing Trumbo to a two-year deal. then they would have trade bait for a pitcher or a Lorenzo Cain. constantly taking the safe way of one-year contracts is starting to come back to haunt the Orioles. Nelson Cruz comes to mind. and yes i know Trumbo came in a trade,but they had time to work out a deal for another year with an option for him and they would not be in this situation. a farm system with little to trade and little to promote.

Jon Shepherd said...

Cruz wanted a one year deal. Trumbo was an arbitration case and was considered a potential non-tender.

Matt Perez said...

I don't think that the Mets would be willing to trade Bruce for Gallardo. Gallardo is largely worthless but the Mets were willing to extend Bruce showing the Mets value Bruce. In any event, the Mets have a number of decent pitching prospects and are likely to resign Colon and hope that some of their pitchers come back healthy.

You build winning teams by flipping overvalued pieces of talent for undervalued pieces of talent. If you can get a good deal for Tillman, then you should consider trading him. And honestly, the Orioles payroll situation looks miserable pretty much anyway you slice it. I'm more pessimistic on payroll than most here. If Tillman flops, then his past performance won't matter.

The Royals should be absolutely interested in going for it. The Royals had an injured Moose, Cain and Gordon this year. Davis was hurt also. They went 81-81 and had bad years from a number of players. They'd likely hope that they can build a successful rotation from Duffy, Tillman, Ventura, Kennedy and Vargas with possible help from Alonte, Young and Zimmer. However, they'd have no interest in trading Cain. If they don't think they can win, they should have a firesale where they'll rebuild their farm system. Cain, Hosmer, Escobar, Davis and Duffy should bring back a ton of talent in trades.

Roger said...

Ok, trade Tillman than what do you do for a pitching staff? Who's the leader? the Ace? Maybe Tillman's not an ace but he sure was responsible for the entire spread over .500. You never did say how Tillman would be valued if you set his value prior to injury. Is he really overvalued? Why do the O's need another outfielder more than a pitcher of Tillman's value?

Maybe the O's should use a six man rotation. That seemed to work pretty well in the second half. Really, with Mancini replacing Trumbo, keeping Bourn, and Joseph/Pens at catcher, this team is competitive with no other changes. The O's should snap up Tommy Milone before someone else does.

Unknown said...

The problem with trading Tillman is that the Orioles are exactly in the position you describe for the Royals. The Orioles have a two-year window in which to contend before Manny Machado leaves. It's possible that tThe Orioles should consider trading every asset that won't help in the next two years for immediate help and let the 2020s take care of themselves.

Matt P said...

I don't believe in ignoring part of a season. If Tillman was great after his injury and poor beforehand, then people would say that he wasn't pitching fully healthy and his late season performance is representative of his abilities. Otherwise, I propose that Tillman has a good chance of going belly-up next season and won't be an ace.

The Orioles aren't going to resort to a six-man rotation (terrible for bullpens and ensures that good starters pitch less often), and I think that they're stuck with Gallardo, Jimenez and Miley. If, like Jon, you think that you can dump one of those three and their contract then maybe that calculus changes. Otherwise, I'd expect to see Bundy in the pen to allow him to build up innings.

Matt P said...

After 2018, the Orioles will suffer a lot of losses. Jones, Hardy, Britton, Tillman (2017), Manny and Brach will all be eligible for free agency.

On the other hand, the Os will still have Davis, O'Day, Schoop, Gausman, Bundy and Givens. They'll also have $100 million in excess payroll. You devote $55 million of that to Manny, Jones and Britton and you probably don't need to worry much about losing Hardy, Brach and Tillman. You do need to find a way to get better cost-controlled talent, but you can keep the core together.

After 2017, the Royals will lose Vargas, Hosmer, Morales, Davis, Cain, Moose, Hochevar, Escobar, Duffy and Dyson.

They'll still have Gordon, Kennedy, Herrera, Soria, Perez and Ventura and maybe $50 million in excess payroll. The Os will likely have a strong starting pitching core, and better relievers. I like Perez and Gordon slightly more than Davis and Schoop though, but the Os core is better.

And the Orioles are losing fewer impact pieces and have more money to keep their guys. With $50 million, the Royals can keep two or three of those ten impact free agents. Which set do you think is as valuable as Machado, Britton and Jones?

The Orioles long-term situation is far superior to the Royals.

vilnius b. said...

I really like the idea of trading Tillman to the Mariners for Leonys Martin and a prospect.
As Pip said, you could move Jones and his strong arm to RF and have Martin run down lots of balls in CF.
Plus, per an article in FanGraphs, Martin pulls most of his flyballs so his power numbers should spike in Camden Yards where the dimensions are more friendly. And with his base running skills we'd have a guy who can steal ~20 bases a year. Useful.
And it appears that Martin is arbitration eligible for the next two years, though I'm not sure about that.
Having talked about the positive aspects of such a trade we have to consider the cons too. With Tillman set to become a free agent after the 2017 season and Martin doing a good job as a CF at low cost to the team ($4,500,000 in 2016), why would they want to make such a trade unless we could manage a sign and trade deal? Yes, they need starting pitching help for the reasons Pip mentioned but that deal IMO can't be consummated unless the M's know they'll have Chris for more than one season.