Results tagged ‘ Chris Tillman ’
Has he turned the corner?
He did, yes, but that’s not to say that he won’t turn another corner or end up in a blind alley. After three years of struggling in the major leagues, he even struggled in AAA in 2011. He started 2012 with the Tides and didn’t pitch particularly well at first; but gradually regained his effectiveness. When he was recalled to Baltimore this time, he continued to pitch well and was a key contributor to the Orioles’ postseason drive, although he didn’t pitch in the postseason itself.
The official line is that Tillman regained fastball velocity and consequently found a weapon against left-handed batters. While that may certainly be part of the reason, I also think that reduced expectations and success-driven confidence played a part. By the end of April, Tillman had been all but written off as a former prospect. Without being expected to be a savior, Tillman may have relaxed and stopped worrying about failure. Called up almost out of desperation, he pitched well and once he realized that he could get major-league hitters out, stayed relaxed.
Tillman has been durable; he hasn’t suffered an injury. There isn’t any reason to think that Tillman can’t continue pitching well; but there are certainly many more instances of pitchers coming up with one fluke season and then reverting to previous form.
It was bound to happen. After I was fortunate enough to score a string of several very-good-to-outstanding baseball games, I got to work the Father’s Day match between Norfolk and Toledo. It was a sloppy, poorly-played game, a game that taxes the datacaster’s abilities both because the game action is not very compelling and because the goings-on in the press box can be very compelling. Fortunately for Tides fans, Toledo contributed most of the poor play.
Tides starter Chris Tillman wasn’t very sharp, as 32 of the 88 pitches in his six innings missed the strike zone. But he was effective, as he gave up one run on three hits and struck out eight. Toledo baserunning mistakes helped Tillman out some, as Tillman picked one runner off first and a second was caught stealing after he got a miserable jump. I still don’t see Tillman pitch and think “Wow, this guy’s too good for AAA” but I must say he’s been pitching well.
The originally-scheduled Toledo starting pitcher was called up to Detroit, so Detroit promoted a relief pitcher from AA to be the first pitcher in a “bullpen day.” A bullpen day is when the team doesn’t have a normal starting pitcher available, so the team hopes to have four pitchers go two or three innings each and nurse the team through the game. The Mud Hens starting pitcher did quite well the first time through the order, but as soon as the leadoff batter game up for the second time he fell apart; with two outs in the third, the Tides got a walk, a hit batsman, and another walk. In came the next pitcher, who got Miguel Tejada to line out to right field.
The Tides took advantage of the sloppiness in the fifth. Blake Davis placed a bunt perfectly for a single. Then, Caleb Joseph struck out on a pitch in the dirt. Davis raced for second, but Joseph’s backswing hit catcher Rob Brantly, killing the ball and forcing Davis to remain at first. Then, on a 2-2 pitch, Xavier Avery was hit by a pitch. Nate McLouth singled in Davis with the tying run. Then Lew Ford smote a hard fly to deep right-center field. Avery scored easily, and Ford rounded second thinking “triple.” But McLouth, who should have scored easily, was held up at third; Ford stopped suddenly and retreated to second, which fortunately wasn’t covered. The Toledo pitching coach came out and ordered Miguel Tejada intentionally walked. With the bases loaded, Joe Mahoney hit a medium-speed grounder back to the pitcher. He threw home to force McLouth and Brantly threw a perfect strike to try to double up Mahoney. The throw was too perfect, as it was right on line and struck Mahoney as he was approaching the bag. I’m not sure that Mahoney wouldn’t have beaten a throw that didn’t hit him; but the ball bounded behind first as Ford scored and Tejada moved to third. Although catcher Brantly didn’t make a wild throw, he was charged with an error. A fourth run scored on a single.
But the really bad inning was the bottom of the eighth. With one out and a runner on first, the Toledo third baseman tried and failed to backhand a fairly sharp grounder hit by Avery. McLouth hit a slowish grounder to short; the shortstop thought about forcing Avery at second, decided against it, and dropped the ball as he was starting to throw it. That brought in pitcher #4, who evidently hadn’t warmed up enough. His first eight pitches — four to Ford, four to Tejada — missed the strike zone. Both batters walked and two runs scored. Believe me, the inning was much worse to watch than it was to read about. Fortunately for me, he recovered enough to retire the next two batters and not require runs to be scored as earned to the pitcher, but unearned to the team.
Tides starter Chris Tillman was the winning pitcher in last night’s 8-5 Tides win over struggling Durham. A superficial look at his pitching line — 5 1/3 innings pitched, 8 hits, 4 runs (all earned), 2 walks, 7 strikeouts, and 1 home run allowed — makes it seem as though Tillman struggled and was bailed out by his teammates’ offense. Yes, he struck out seven, but he gave up a home run and allowed nine other baserunners in less than six innings. In fact, although his line could have been a little bit worse, he really did pitch better than his final numbers because three of the runs he gave up were fluky.
First, the bad news — Tillman could and probably should have given up a fifth run. In the sixth inning, Tillman walked Juan Miranda. Miranda advanced to second on a ground out, after which Oscar Villareal relieved him. Villareal wild-pitched Miranda to third while walking Kyle Hudson. Will Rhymes then hit a sharp ground ball down the first-base line. Tides first baseman Joe Mahoney speared the grounder, stepped on first to retire Miranda, and then threw home where Luis Exposito tagged Miranda out. Mahoney showed good presence of mind there, as the more expected play would be to throw to second. But Kyle Hudson is much faster than Miranda, and likely would have beaten the throw. By throwing home, Mahoney prevented a fifth run from being charged to Tillman.
On the other hand, the three runs Tillman gave up in the fourth inning were hardly his fault. Leslie Anderson led off the inning by lifting a fly to right field that right field Jai Miller either didn’t see or completely misplayed; that normally routine fly ball fell untouched for a double. Anderson scored on two groundouts; with 5-1 lead at the time, it made perfect sense to let Anderson advance. Then, speedy Kyle Hudson beat out an infield grounder, and Will Rhymes stroked a hard fliner about 320 feet down the right-field line. Unfortunately for Tillman and the Tides, the right-field fence is 318 feet down the right-field foul line, and so Rhymes’ hit — which would either have curled foul or maybe hit the wall if the outfield wall were at a more normal distance — went for a two-run home run.
I’m sure many fans who weren’t at the game will look at Tillman’s line above and conclude that he’s still the same old struggling Chris Tillman. But if his line had been 5 1/3 innings pitched, 6 hits, 2 runs (both earned), 2 walks, and seven strikeouts — a more appropriate summary of how Tillman actually pitched — they’d think differently. His actual game score was 42 — below standard. His projected game score would have been 54 — above standard.
The Orioles optioned Chris Tillman to Norfolk, where he’ll join Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken in the Tides’ starting rotation. Although Tillman pitched reasonably well in spring training, it was more of a case where he was pitching well compared to how he had pitched in the majors over the past three seasons, rather than truly pitching well. He’s still only 23, and getting regular work in the rotation will be better for him than inconsistent work as a long man. I’m hoping that he’ll adjust and return to what he was three seasons ago.
Also, the Tides and the Orioles will play an exhibition game Wednesday at Harbor Park. Brian Matusz and Jason Berken will pitch, although it’s not clear who’ll pitch for whom and even if they’ll pitch on different teams. Expect the position players to play five or six innings, but don’t expect the pitchers — especially the relief pitchers — to pitch much if at all.
Yesterday, the Orioles optioned three players to Norfolk, reassigned five others to the minor-league camp, and essentially placed two other players on the disabled list. With just over a week to go before the Tides’ season opener, I can make some guesses about who will be on the Tides when they play at Charlotte on April 5.
The Orioles optioned pitchers Brad Bergesen and Jason Berken to Norfolk, and announced that both will be used as starting pitchers. I expected both to be with the Tides, and Bergesen to be a starter. I am surprised that Berken will be used as a starter, as his only major league success was as a relief pitcher. This tells me that Berken isn’t really in the Orioles future plans, and that they’re just hoping that lightning will strike.
The Orioles also sent Dontrelle Willis and Armando Gallaraga to minor-league camp. I’d be surprised if Gallaraga is in the organization and not with the Tides, and in the Tides’ starting rotation. He has 518 innings of major-league experience and hasn’t been below AAA since 2007. Willis, on the other hand, is being groomed as a left-handed spot reliever. The Orioles may want to stash him at Bowie so he can be more easily available for a quick call-up.
John Hester was sent to minor-league camp, which can’t have been much of a surprise after going 0-for-14 in spring games. I’d have to say he’s headed for Norfolk. Even if Caleb Joseph is heading for Norfolk, there’s still a need for another catcher. Taylor Teagarden is recovering from injury and Ronny Paulino is the only other backup catcher in camp, so there won’t be another catcher coming down. That means Hester should be here.
Matt Antonelli was optioned to Norfolk, and Steve Tolleson and Scott Beerer were sent to minor-league camp. That makes for some interesting possibilities. Antonelli, Ryan Adams, Josh Barfield, and Josh Bell have all been second basemen or third basemen in their careers. There’s no way you can get all four players into the lineup at second, third, and DH. Even assuming that Jai Miller and Scott Beerer end up in Norfolk, that still leaves the third outfield spot uncertain. I still think L.J. Hoes will start the season in Bowie, so that might mean that either Adams or Bell will get a look as a corner outfielder. Tolleson is a career utility player who would be welcome in Norfolk, playing six games a week at five positions.
Brian Roberts was put on the Disabled List, which means that Robert Andino will start the season as the Orioles’ second baseman and that Ryan Flaherty will make the Orioles as the utility infielder. Zach Britton was also put on the Disabled List, which probably slots Brian Matusz into the Orioles rotation but doesn’t really clarify Chris Tillman’s status.
It should be clear that the pitchers on the 2012 Tides will be determined, in large part, by the pitchers who win spots on the 2012 Orioles. Going into spring training, no one had a spot in the Orioles starting rotation locked up. With two weeks left in spring training, there’s been a little bit of clarification, but there is also still a lot of uncertainty.
- Zach Britton is suffering from “arm inflammation” and is almost certainly not going to be in the rotation at the start of the season.
- Tommy Hunter, another rotation candidate, is making his first spring appearance today. There’s not going to be enough time for him to get ready to be in the rotation by the start of the year.
- Jake Arrieta has pitched more in minor-league games than in big-league spring games, but seems likely to be ready by opening day.
- Brian Matusz hasn’t pitched all that well, but he has a 16-1 K-BB ratio in fifteen innings and looks to be back in the rotation.
- Jason Hammel and Wei-Lin Chen have pitched well enough to solidify spots in the opening-day rotation.
- Alfredo Simon is still hanging around, but hurt his cause by not telling Buck Showalter that he had hurt his groin. That’s yet another reason why I wouldn’t want him around.
- Despite Zach Britton’s unavailabilty, Chris Tillman hasn’t really pitched well enough to seize a roster spot. Because he has an option year remaining, I think he’ll start the year at Norfolk.
- Brad Bergesen has been pitching out of the bullpen and not pitching very well. He’ll likely begin the season at Norfolk.
- Dana Eveland has pitched slightly worse than Brian Matusz.
Summary — we still don’t really know who’ll pitch for the Tides in 2012.
Will he ever make it? Is he still a prospect?
There probably has been no Oriole more disappointing over the last three seasons than Chris Tillman. After being acquired from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade, he pitched well at AA Bowie at age 20, and then pitched dominatingly well at AAA Norfolk at age 21 in 2009. Since then, he has pitched poorly in the major leagues and has pitched steadily worse in AAA, culminating with a 5.19 ERA at Norfolk in 2011.
There’s some hope for optimism. First, Tillman’s 2011 major-league performance, while on the surface as bad as his 2009-2010 performance, showed some improvement. His walk rate dropped from 2010′s 5.2 per nine innings to 3.6, and his strikeout rate jumped from 2010′s 5.2 to 6.7. His home runs alllowed rate dropped from 1.5 to 0.7. His first start of the season was quite good (six no-hit innings against Tampa Bay) and then, after he was sent down and brought back, his first start after being recalled was quite good.
It’s certainly possible that the Baltimore Orioles have put Tillman in a position where he can’t succeed. When he has one bad start, no matter what the circumstances, there’s immediate talk of pulling him from the rotation; they had him on a much shorter leash than, say, Alfredo Simon or Chris Jakubauskas. It’s almost impossible for a young pitcher to succeed if he believes he has to be perfect. He tries to make impossible pitches and loses all sense of how he was successful in the past. He was so ineffective at Norfolk in 2011 that he could just be completely messed up mentally.
On the other hand, pitching a baseball is a complicated activity, requiring the interaction of many mechanical actions. It’s well known that a slight injury can turn even the most successful pitcher into an ineffective tosser. I speculated last year that Tillman’s difficulties may be caused by simple physical maturation; that the particular actions and forces applied that led to his earlier success no longer do because he’s stronger, or not as strong, or more flexible, or less flexible. I’m not a scout or a biomechanics expert, so I have no way of testing that theory. But if it’s true, then that’s another argument against drafting immature (i.e. high-school) pitchers in the early rounds
I think that if Tillman does pitch well long enough to accumulate some “credit”, he’ll be a good pitcher for a fairly long time. I think it’s unlikely that he’ll do so with the Orioles, a team that won’t help him succeed; but he could blossom if he gets traded to a team that will help him succeed.
Because I have scored Norfolk Tides games professionally for five years, I’ve been rooting for ex-Tides to do well with the Baltimore Orioles for the past few seasons. Among the better Tides prospects to have been promoted to the Orioles is Chris Tillman, but unfortunately Tillman disappointed in 2009 and 2010. At the start of the 2011 season, Tillman was relegated to the #6 starter role, to be sent back to Norfolk as soon as Zach Britton could be added to the big-league team without starting his arbitration and free-agency clocks.
Tillman caught one break when Brad Bergesen, the Orioles’ projected #4 starter, got hit with a line drive. As a result, he was scheduled to start the Orioles’ third game of the season on Sunday, April 3. He caught another break when Saturday’s scheduled starter, Brian Matusz, hurt himself and was put on the Disabled List. Tillman was moved up to Saturday.
And he rose to the occasion – six no-hit innings against Tampa Bay. Now, Tillman didn’t blow the Rays away, and he left the game after six innings and 101 pitches. But he wasn’t “laboring” either; he pitched effectively and was never in serious trouble. Buck Showalter did the right thing by removing him; I think it’s a good idea to take him out on a high note, rather than possibly having him struggle in the seventh and leave on a downer.
Sometimes, all it takes for a struggling pitcher to turn it around is confidence. Confidence in his ability to really get major-league hitters out. I remember Darryl Kile getting his career started with six no-hit innings in a spot start, and Tommy Greene, on the verge of getting released, pitching four shutout innings in a sixteen-inning 1-0 game. As Bill James wrote, that got him a start, in which he pitched a no-hitter, which put him in the starting rotation.
This game may be a turning point in the career of Chris Tillman. I’m rooting for him, and I hope it is. One more anecdote:
The 2001 Chicago Cubs contended for the postseason, finishing with an 88-74 record, five games behind the Cardinals and Astros. They had a healthy five-man rotation of Jon Lieber, Jason Bere, Kerry Wood, Kevin Tapani, and Julian Tavarez, who combined to make 151 starts. Twenty-year-old Carlos Zambrano made a cameo appearance, with a 15.26 ERA in 6 games.
In 2002, the rotation collapsed with injuries and ineffectiveness. Jon Lieber, who had made 34 starts in 2001, made only 21 in 2002. Jason Bere, who made 32 starts with a 4.31 ERA in 2001, made 16 with a 5.67 ERA in 2002. Kevin Tapani, who made 29 starts in 2001, was not resigned. Carlos Zambrano was on the team, but was pitching mop-up relief. Until he made back-to-back starts against the Atlanta Braves, giving up 2 earned runs in 12 combined innings. That got him a spot in the rotation for the rest of the season, and he’s won 114 other games since.
Years ago, the Royals had a hot pitching prospect named Chris George. This can’t be the same guy, can it?
Yes, it can; and yes, it is. Chris George is a left-handed pitcher, drafted out of a Texas high school by the Royals as a 1st-2nd round sandwich pick in 1998 (as partial compensation for the loss of Jay Bell.) He shot through the minor leagues and reached AAA in his second full season. In 2001, he pitched great in his first look at AAA, and the Royals called him up. He didn’t pitch well, with a 4-8 record and a 5.59 ERA.
That was the best ERA of his major-league career. In 2002, he had a 5.87 ERA in AAA and a 5.60 in six major-league starts. In 2003, he poorly both in AAA (7.29 ERA), and with the Royals (7.11 ERA in 18 starts, with a 9-6 record, go figure). In 2004, he pitched well in AAA (3.42 ERA) but his major-league ERA increased to 7.23.
He was still only 24, but ruined his chances of a major-league career with four remarkably consistent years in AAA. From 2005 through 2008, he had ERAs of 5.63, 5.62, 5.56, and 5.85 in AAA. His 5.85 ERA in 2008 was as a relief pitcher. He pitched 12 games in Pawtucket in 2009; got released; and then got signed by the Orioles. He pitched well in five late-season starts, and was in the rotation most of 2010.
He is what he is, an innings-eating AAA roster filler.
Can he improve? Does he have a chance to pitch in the major leagues?
His control is much better now than it was before. His BB/9 ratio has gone from roughly 4.5 in the pre-2008 period to roughly 2.5 now. It wouldn’t shock me if he got an emergency start, and if he pitched well he might be able to get a few more starts. It would shock me if he did anything with them.
Chris George is, as much as anything, a cautionary tale about high-school pitchers. His career is a pretty good track for Chris Tillman’s up to this point. With this track record, I’m concerned about Zach Britton too.
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.