11 May 2018

Just How Bad Has Chris Tillman Been Lately?

I don't like piling on Chris Tillman. Last year's lingering shoulder problems seem to have zapped much of his ability, and it's a shame that it has come to this. But enough is enough.

The Orioles aren't a good team; I don't think anyone would dispute that. And considering the O's don't have a bunch of solid pitching prospects knocking on the door to the majors, there is some value (if you will) in having a couple of starting pitchers who will eat innings and take their lumps to work as a bridge to whatever that next group of pitchers might be. But in Tillman's case, if that bridge hasn't collapsed yet, it's in such horrible shape that no one would ever willfully cross it.

There's nothing about this that's hard to understand. Tillman simply looks like a pitcher who's done. In 93 innings last year, he posted a 7.84 ERA and 6.93 FIP. His never-high strikeout percentage also dipped to about 14%. The (misguided) thought in bringing back Tillman was that he couldn't be that bad again, but he's somehow been even worse. In 26 2/3 innings, he now has an ERA of 10.46 and a FIP over 7. That already-low K% is also now just 9.5%.

Among all pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings since the beginning of 2017, Tillman has the worst fWAR (-1.5), bWAR (-2.9), ERA (8.42), FIP (7.00), HR/9 (2.26), and strikeout minus walk percentage (1.4%). The much-maligned Ubaldo Jimenez, who has the second worst ERA on this list (6.81), is more than a run and a half better than Tillman. He's currently out of baseball. The third player on this list, Matt Harvey (6.77), lost his rotation spot with the Mets and was recently traded away to the Reds for a backup catcher.

Never a hard thrower, Tillman is sitting under 90 mph with his fastball. His command has been shaky in nearly every outing. Opposing hitters are not getting fooled, and they're teeing off. Last year, Tillman allowed a wOBA of .414 (9th highest) and an xwOBA (expected wOBA) of .406 (t-4th highest) (min. 100 PA). In 2018, Tillman's wOBA allowed has jumped to .455 (3rd highest) and his xwOBA is a ridiculous .455 (2nd highest) (min. 100 PA). Nothing about this is fluky. Everything about this is painful.

And Tillman has been so bad that he's not even able to eat innings. He isn't even averaging four innings per start in 2018, and he's now failed to go longer than two innings three times in seven outings. There's a reason why fans dread Tillman's outings.

Tillman is so obviously the worst starting pitcher in the majors, and the Orioles keep running him out there like he's about to fix things and start some major turnaround. Eventually, this discussion always turns to "If not Tillman, then who?" In almost any other case, that would matter. But Tillman is the rare exception who has been so bad that almost anyone would be better. Can the next option be someone who can pitch four or five innings and post an ERA below 8? The bar to clear is extremely low.

After yesterday's ugly start, when Tillman gave up six runs (five earned) and recorded only four outs, Buck Showalter offered the same types of cliches that he's handed out for much of the season regarding Tillman:
“We’ll look at it and if there’s an adjustment we’re ready to make and how we’re comfortable how it affects everything else,” Showalter said. “Nobody knows better than Chris and everybody involved that’s not good enough to get us where we need to. He’s had a couple decent games, but it’s just been frustrating for him and us.”
Normally, that response is fine. But if there's some adjustment Tillman has to make, it must be something major. Even though Tillman insists he's healthy, he just seems broken now, and continuing to run him out there is not helping anything. After nearly every Tillman start, Showalter has to reassure everyone that Tillman knows what he's doing isn't good enough and that he's working as hard as possible to correct the issues.

It seems so long ago that Tillman was an effective starting pitcher. Maybe if Tillman and the Orioles had been more cautious with his shoulder in 2016, things would be different now. But it's time for change. Give Mike Wright yet another opportunity to start? Try it. Miguel Castro? Sure, what could it hurt? David Hess? That would be interesting. Yefry Ramirez? OK, I guess. Jimmy Yacabonis? That's probably the line.

"Just try something" is almost always a foolish plan, but running Tillman out there over and over again is, surprisingly, worse.

Stats via FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Savant

1 comment:

ATLHiker said...

I do not understand why Buck thinks there is something to fix here or if he is just that invested in showing loyalty to his guys. You can list on one hand pitchers who went through these kinds of slumps who eventually get back to being good especially late in their careers with a loss of velocity. That list pretty much only includes people who threw hard but always had good command who learned to pitch to both sides of the plate ala Mike Mussina, or left handed pitchers who always had good deception, CC Sabathia and Jamie Moyer come to mind.

Second, even if Tillman had the skills of the above pitchers who made this adjustment, its obvious to even the casual eye that he is really struggling with at least two elements of his deliver neither of which is easy to fix. First his stride length and height are off which is leading to problems with the rotation and clearance of his hips, and second his shoulder angle is off. All of the above are why his arm slot is wrong and his command is terrible. Now if you throw 100mph ala Nolan Ryan the above is no problem, when you throw 88 its a major one.