Chris Tillman, starting pitcher
Why has he been so ineffective in the major leagues? Will he be stuck as a 4-A guy?
From April through July of 2009, Chris Tillman was the biggest star among the Orioles’ pitching prospects. He was a 21-year-old dominating AAA and there wasn’t any reason why he wouldn’t be a star. Since then, he’s been terrible in the majors and less impressive in the minors, and there’s beginning to be some question as to whether he’ll ever make it.
In the majors in 2009, he was getting hammered — 15 home runs in 65 innings. In the majors in 2010, he’s cut his home run rate — 5 in 40 innings — but his control has gone to pot; a 28-22 BB/K ratio. I’m guessing that in 2009, he tried to pitch the way he had in Norfolk and failed; in 2010, his second chance so to speak, he became a nibbler, trying to make perfect pitches.
Most observers pencilled him in to the 2010 Orioles rotation, but he was optioned to Norfolk at the end of spring training. He didn’t pitch badly in Norfolk, but aside from a couple of outstanding games (including a no-hitter) he wasn’t nearly as dominant as in 2009. I can see three possible explanations for his decreased effectiveness:
- He physically matured and his body doesn’t work the same way at 22 that it did at 21. That one year is around 4% of his entire life, and physical changes may be just enough to throw him off.
- Emotionally, he didn’t react well to his first real failure. Yes, he pitched poorly at 19 in 2008 at High Desert, but that’s High Desert; no one pitches well there; his major league experience in 2009 was his first real failure. He may have reacted to that by vowing to throw perfect pitches.
- Dumb luck.
There are a lot of pitchers who overcame failure on their way to success or even stardom – Burt Hooton and Dave Stewart come to mind. Perhaps the most optimistic parallel for Tillman is Curt Schilling, who pitched even worse in the big leagues at 21 and 22 (albeit in fewer innings.) At 23, Schilling pitched effectively as a middle reliever/emergency starter in the majors; he was traded at 24 and struggled; he was traded again and eventually morphed into the Curt Schilling we remember. I think Tillman should become a good major-league pitcher; he may need (1) a year in a low-pressure role and/or (2) a trade.