Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman has been getting rocked ever since he got back from the DL, so what’s wrong?
Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman has been getting absolutely rocked ever since he came back from the DL. So far, in 30.1 innings, he has an ERA of 8.01 with a 5.93 K/9, and a 2.08 WHIP.
His latest game against the New York Yankees was the worst of it, as he only pitched 1.1 innings and got rocked for three home runs, contributing to a total of nine earned runs. For perspective, that’s an ERA of 60.75 for that game.
In fact, if you look at just about every stat that Tillman’s got, it looks bad. His chase rate is at a career low, his fastball velocity is down to a six-year low, his zone rate is at a career low, and his BB/9 is at a career high.
Even if you look at his FIP and xFIP, they look better, but they’re still bad at 6.66 and 5.79 respectively. So this all begs the question, what’s going on with Chris Tillman?
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If your first thought is “I bet he’s still hurt,” then you’re not alone, and I tend to agree. Tillman says that he’s perfectly fine, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years as a sports fan, it’s that you never trust the players when it comes to their health.
Looking at Tillman’s pitching repertoire, it’s not hard to see where some of the problems lie.
Not only is Tillman throwing his fastball less (significantly less, as in a career-low 43.2% of the time), but it’s a much worse fastball. Now, the two could be related (his fastball is bad so he throws it less), but it’s a problem.
Tillman’s out pitch is a huge looping knuckle curveball, but he’s even lost four inches of vertical movement on that pitch, and without a solid fastball to set it up, Tillman’s dead in the water.
The best working theory was pointed out by Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs, and there he argues that Tillman’s shoulder, which is what landed him on the DL, is causing this mess of a season he’s had so far.
The evidence Sullivan gives is pretty noticeable, and I’m convinced that this is the issue as well. Just take a look at the photo comparisons of Tillman pitching in 2016 versus 2017 (credit to Sullivan for the pictures):
If you look at his arm on the follow through and his leg, you can see the different angle, the pitching motion is totally different. If you look at the angles before he throws the ball, you can really see it:
And if you don’t believe your eyes, you can believe the data. According to Brooks Baseball, Tillman’s vertical release point has changed significantly for every single pitch he throws.
Some pitchers drop their arms and it works, but it doesn’t work for everyone, and in Tillman’s case, I’m not entirely sure it’s intentional. Generally speaking, dropping your arm like that is often a sign of a shoulder issue, which, again, was the source of Tillman’s recent DL stint.
Tillman needs to get healthy. He says he’s feeling fine, and if that’s truly the case, then his mechanics need to be worked on, but looking at the data, it seems clear to me that his injury is effecting his mechanics.
If he’s able to get his fastball velocity back up, get his arm release back to where it’s been his whole career, and get that huge vertical movement back into his fastball, then we might see Tillman start to get back to normal.
But until then, I think he needs to either be on the DL or just not pitching, because throwing him out there every fifth game is starting to be a recipe for disaster.