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The most interesting pitcher in the world

By on May 11

So many, including myself, were getting pretty down on Chris Tillman, questioning how much longer we could afford to keep him in the rotation.  An ERA over 7 will do that.  But then, in typical Chris Tillman fashion, he goes out tonight and throws 6 innings and gives up 1 ER. I know, I know, some of are you are thinking, it was just the Mariners.  It’s true, the Mariners are a pretty brutal offensive team.  But I think there’s more to the story than that.

To start, this isn’t Tillman’s only standout performance this year.  He also had a brilliant 6 inning, no hit performance in his first start of the year.  That also wasn’t Tillman’s first venture into no-hitter territory, as he is only member of the O’s young pitching corps to have thrown a no-hitter in his professional career, his coming at AAA Norfolk.  I only mention these two performances together, despite their great difference in competition level, to demonstrate one thing: the potential is still there.  For all the outings where Tillman goes out and gets his brain beat in like his last outing vs KC, he can also look absolutely filthy at times.  Particularly when he’s getting ahead in the count and dropping that nasty Uncle Charlie on batters.  Then it’s game over.

The problem is, he almost never does get ahead of hitters.  His command is by far is his greatest weakness and the biggest thing holding him back from taking the next step.  During the game broadcast on MASN tonight, they showed the numbers of when he was ahead vs behind in the count, and the split was something like batters hitting .220 as opposed to .400.  Of course, all pitchers tend to have worse numbers when they are behind in the count, because since they have to throw strikes and the batter knows it, they become much more predictable.  But the splits here in Tillman’s case are exceptionally dramatic.

There are a couple reasons why I think Tillman struggles so badly when he is behind the count.  The first reason is that is his best pitches, by far, are his offspeed pitches, with the curve being absolutely devastating when he can control it.  But when you’re behind in the count, you really have to focus on throwing strikes, which forces Tillman to abandon those pitches and go mostly to his fastball, making him much more vulnerable.  This is particularly a problem for Tillman because his other main issue is that his fastball is really a below average pitch at this point in his career.  For one, it’s a very straight pitch with little to no movement, making it easy for batters to square up on.  What makes it even worse though is that because of his control problems, Tillman also has taken some velocity off of it in order to gain more control, leaving it usually between 89-92 mph.  So since it’s straight and relatively slow, his fastball at this point is really only effective as a ‘show me’ pitch to keeps batters honest or when he can throw it after changing speeds.

For the moment then, the most effective way for Tillman to pitch, and indeed the way he pitched tonight and in his first start of the year, is by pitching ‘backwards’.  This means throwing your offspeed pitchers early in the count to get ahead instead of your fastball, which is the more traditional approach. It’s not generally considered a good way to pitch because offspeed pitchers are usually more difficult to control, making relying them to get ahead dangerous. Offspeed pitches also tend to be much easier to do damage with if they are executed poorly, such as the infamous ‘hanging curve’. Nevertheless, until his command and fastball improves, this is going to be Tillman’s M.O. for the foreseeable future.

So, to recap:

He doesn’t always pitch well, but when he does, he throws no hitters.
He doesn’t always get ahead in the count, but when he does, it’s with offspeed pitches.

And best of all:

He doesn’t always win, but when he does, it’s at the age of 23.

Stay tuned, my friends.

4 Responses to “The most interesting pitcher in the world”

  1. Adam
    Adam says:

    I think you make an excellent point that Tillman’s best pitches are his off-speed pitches, and yet, they also tend to be the ones that aren’t meant to be as finely controlled within the strike zone. Since he labors so much to throw his fastball with any velocity or much movement, when he falls behind, and the batters are looking for it, the results are unfortunate.

    He’s got another big start tonight, going against the Red Sox. Not only because he’s never pitched in Fenway before, but because I think if he has any hopes of remaining in the rotation for the rest of the season, he’s going to need to string together several good starts consecutively, to show that when he does pitch well, it isn’t some kind of fluke. With Matusz, Ducheresherehsrherehhsadhwehr, and possibly Simon coming back into the picture, it’s going to a big challenge for him to hang onto his job.

    In other news, “Uncle Charlie” is easily the most ridiculous pitch nickname in baseball. That is all.

  2. Mark
    Mark says:

    Yeah, I think even Tillman knows his time is running out. With Bergy coming around and his far greater ability to go deep in games than Tillman, barring some stellar outings I think Tillman will be out of the rotation when Matusz comes back. I could be wrong though. Hopefully, he’ll make things interesting by going out there tonight and stepping on the Red Sox’s throats. And if not that, then at least drill Kevin Youkilis. I’m a man of simple tastes.

  3. Paul O. says:

    Yes…Drill Youkilis! That’s all I can say. Tillman has inflicted me with hair loss.
    His last outing was stellar. Do it again. Please.

  4. Paul O. says:

    May 11th was the last post…

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