Long-time Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman is currently an MLB free-agent and is expected to sign with a club in the next few days.
However, last season, due to an ongoing shoulder injury, Tillman experienced a nightmarish season going 1-7 with a career-worst 7.84 ERA in 93 innings pitched. With his production falling, coupled with an expiring contract, the Orioles were forced to let Tillman go and test free agency.
As Orioles spring training 2018 commences, with pitchers and catchers already a few days into their workouts, Tillman remains a free agent.
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Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun reports the Orioles remain interested in bringing back Tillman:
"Mutual interest remains between the sides and Tillman is expected to make his decision on where he will pitch this season within the next 48 to 72 hours, an industry source said Friday. Tillman has had significant recent discussions with the Orioles, Minnesota Twins and two other clubs."
As Encina mentioned, the Minnesota Twins are a team that has maintained interest in Tillman throughout the past month or so. At the moment, the Twins rotation consist of Ervin Santana (out 10-12 weeks), Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Adalberto Mejia and Phil Hughes.
The Orioles finally add a notable starting pitcher by signing Andrew Cashner to a two-year deal with many incentives. Therefore, the Orioles rotation at Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Cashner, along with two spots up for grabs.
In an article by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs.com, he points out that Chris Tillman Ain’t Right after just five starts after opening last season on the disabled list.
Sullivan explains Tillman’s velocity, fastball usage, zone rate, and strike rates all decreased. Most noteworthy, five starts into last season, Tillman’s first-pitch strike was an unusual 42 percent, compared to his usual career upper 50 percent echelon.
Other issues arose last season as well. For example, the graph below illustrates Tillman’s vertical release point of his pitches over his career.
As it shows, his vertical release point plummetted last year, adding concern about his throwing shoulder. A few zoomed-in screenshots of Tillman’s vertical release point, which displays his vertical drop:
Just slightly you can tell the difference in vertical release points in the images.
Let’s examine Tillman’s slider from 2016 vs. 2017 to point out the loss of movement in his pitch.
Tillman’s 2016 Slider
Tillman’s 2017 Slider
It’s not just his slider either. According to PitcherList.com, Tillman’s four-seam fastball produced a .316 opponent batting average, .308 ISO, and 38.9 percent line drive percentage.
With other pitching options both in the free agent market and internally, is it really worth bringing Tillman back for another season? The Orioles could sign him to a minor league deal and give him time in the minors to show his shoulder is healthy enough to pitch at the MLB level in 2018.