The Mystery Of Chris Tillman’s Struggles

Even before Thursday night’s terrible showing by Chris Tillman against Detroit, the Orioles starter had an ERA of 7.65 in 14 games. Bad starts have become the Achilles heel for the 29 year old pitcher, the struggle a difficult pill to swallow as it has become consistent for the man who has been considered the ace of the staff. With his record sitting at a dismal 1-6 (with a 3.53 run support per game), Tillman has struggled finding the strike zone and has a real knack for giving up the long ball.

This hasn’t always been the case, as Orioles’ fans are well aware. Just last year, Tillman had a 3.77 ERA in 30 games and struck out 140 in a 172 innings pitched (0.81 K’s an inning). Last year he gave up only 19 home runs all season, less than one for every nine innings. Compare that to this year where he has given up 14 homeruns in 64 innings, an average of one in every 4 1/2 innings. The numbers are straight forward but not pretty.

That’s a lot of statistics, which, in baseball, tell the tale but don’t necessarily get you the full story. How do you explain the sudden drop off in success? In Spring Training, Tillman quickly found himself on the DL after hurting his shoulder. The injury led to him missing more time than first expected and he didn’t start a game in 2017 until May 7th against the White Sox. After his struggles began, many speculated that he wasn’t ready to come off the DL but he had convinced the team that he was ready to go. Could it be that he is still pitching injured? One would like to think that, given the Orioles reputation around the league for being sticklers on physicals, and the fact that they are a professional major league sports team that employs some of the industry’s best sports medicine doctors, Tillman didn’t finagle his way back and risk endangering his health by pitching while not at 100%.

More realistically, his injury has had an indirect relation to the failures that he has faced this season. According to Fangraphs, Tillman’s strike zone stats are dismal. Of his pitches that he throws in the strike zone, opposing hitters are swinging 71% of the time. Of his pitches not in the strike zone, he is getting hitters to swing only 24% of the time. Considering those stats when you are also aware that batters are hitting .352 off of you and not biting at anything you throw out of the zone, all of a sudden you have a recipe for disaster.

(Here is a link directly to the FanGraph article breaking these numbers down.)

Needless to say, Tillman’s injury has set him back, even if it’s not necessarily the conspiracy theory that he’s signing his parents name on his permission slip. It was a concern even before he got hurt when scouts noticed a drop in the velocity of his fastball, which peculiarly only got worse as he worked his way back from shoulder problems. That lack of confidence, combined with the utmost failure to find the dominance he displayed in years past has got to be a gargantuan weight on his mentality.

The Orioles organization, who made the trade for Jeremy Hellickson before the trade deadline, would be well off to look into options that would allow them to remove Tillman from the rotation and shut him down for the season. Buck Showalter stated that the team will move forward with a six man rotation to give the rotation more rest time between starts. However, if Tillman continues to give up the offensive numbers we have seen him dole out over the last three months, the coaching staff needs to come to the realization that he is hurting both himself and the team whose front office was confident could be real contenders as they drive towards the push for the playoffs.

 

It Seems To Me

It Seems To Me (formerly known as “Am I The Only One?”) is a continuing look at some interesting happenings in Baltimore Orioles baseball.

It seems to me… 

  • Adam Jones is the epitome of what a role model should be. Beyond his abilities on-the-field, Jones has displayed a level of perspicacity that is rare among pro athletes. Since the incident in Boston where he felt the direct onslaught of racial slurs yelled adam jones smileyat him from the outfield stands and from behind the dugout, he has taken the extreme high road. Last week, while the Orioles were in Kansas City, Jones donated $20k to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, a motion that gives a positive return on what could have been a disparaging blemish to Major League Baseball. In a move that will hopefully generate more publicity than the incident in Boston, Jones has become a proponent of equality in sports and continues to do so in a way that brings awareness to an issue that extends beyond the body of professional sports.

 

  • Buck Showalter has been struggling with his handling of the bullpen since Zach Britton went to the DL for the next 45-60 days. Last night we saw him remove Alec Asher, a starting pitcher in a relief role who threw over 100 pitches in his last start, after only 42 pitches. Not only was the pitch count well within reason, the decision to bring in a sixth relief pitcher for the game could easily leave the bullpen taxed for the rest of the series against Detroit. With Ubaldo Jimenez slated to start tonight, the odds increase that the pen will be needed again, putting Showalter’s decision to use almost every arm in question.

 

  • That Chris Davis is living up to his $164 million dollar potential thus far. I’ve Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Oriolesdiscussed this earlier in the season, but seeing as we are more than halfway through May and he continues to post a .384 obp and has batted almost .500 in his last seven games, it deserves recognition. Last night, Davis single-handedly won the game for the Orioles by becoming only the second player in franchise history to hit two homeruns in extra innings in the same game. Both dingers put the Orioles ahead. Maybe the “C” that stands for “Crush” should also stand for “Clutch”.

 

  • That the Orioles should have looked more into trading Britton during the off-season. It wouldn’t have been a popular move, especially right now as the bullpen struggles to find itself and not having Britton as the reason is an idea that seems to be gaining momentum. Four straight loses by one run before last night’s extra inning marathon victory tells a different story. A 3-2 loss and a 4-3 loss on consecutive nights in Kansas City wasn’t necessarily the bullpen’s fault (although they gave up the runs); An offense like the Orioles should be able to generate enough runs to win low scoring, close games. A trade of Britton would have brought in a plethora of young talent and also would have allowed the organization to demand a major league ready arm to either replace him in the pen or put another reliable starter in the rotation. As it goes, Britton is now hurt and his value has dropped faster than Jose Bautista after a Rougned Odor right. Oh well. Hindsight is 20/20.

 

  • Everyone should have a friend like Wayne Kirby. Recently, there was an article posted about him on Pressbox and it was a wonderful read. I’ll leave the link here for whoever wants to enjoy it and also learn a little more about the Orioles’ loved first base coach.

Am I The Only One?

Another season in the books. Afterwards, was I the only one who…

…Thought the reaction from Adam Jones toward the Toronto stands after a beer can came flying at Hyun-Soo Kim’s head was entirely justified? Adam is a leader of the team who has been questioned throughout the year by some of the Baltimore fanbase for swinging at bad pitches and starting the year off slow enough for Buck to permanently move him to the lead-off spot. But, as one would probably assume, on-the-field play isn’t the entire spectrum when it comes to the chemistry of a baseball team, and Jones displayed some of the hidden emotion with his very angry defense of his teammate. There is little as impressive in professional sports than to see human emotion displayed by the leaders of a team, and AJ has a knack for doing it at the right times. Kudos to his gut reaction and sticking up for his teammate.

…Thinks that if the Orioles are not able to sign Mark Trumbo, who had his best major league season this year and led the majors in homeruns, that Pedro Alvarez would be a good second option? Odds are, if Trumbo were to be brought back, it would be a role in which he found himself playing DH much more often than he did in 2016. Alvarez, a left-handed hitter, already fills that role. With the power he has displayed throughout his career, it could easily be beneficial for him to see more consistent playing time and opportunity to put up the big power numbers he showed off during his days in Pittsburgh. He will most definitely come cheaper than Trumbo, for good reason, but if the Orioles are concerned about money due to their upcoming contract discussions with Manny Machado, Chris Tillman, and Kevin Gausman, cheaper may have to be the path they choose.

…Thinks the lack of attendance this season was a bit embarrassing? It seems to me, according to a lot of social media outlets at least, that Orioles’ fans pride themselves on being able to fill the stadium better than a lot of teams. Most notably, I remember discussions during the O’s dark years about how Camden Yards was consistently more filled than a place like Tropicana Field, home to a perennial playoff Tampa Bay Rays team. However, now that the shoe is on the other foot, Camden Yards sat half full almost every night, allowing Boston and New York fans to take over when their teams were in town. “Fenway Park South” is the nickname for OPACY, and that is not a compliment to any sort of historical milestone. Baltimore is a blue collar football town, for sure, but surely O’s fans can do a better job of filling the seats when their team is in the running for a playoff spot.

…Thinks that not making any attempt to sign David Price last off-season was one of the best moves the front office made? Price, who is pitching for Boston, lost again in the playoffs last night. He has a 2-8 record and a 5.54 ERA in playoff games in his career, putting him up near the top of the most unreliable pitchers in the playoffs in the modern era. Don’t get me wrong- he’s a good pitcher, as his 3.21 career ERA shows, but when you want your ace to win the big game, it’s got to be frustrating to watch him go out there and throw a dud time and time again. Maybe him and Clayton Kershaw should join a support group together.

…believes that speaking of starting pitching, the Orioles should be hands off again this off-season when it comes to free agent starters? There are two guys on the market that are worth any value as a player who could improve the rotation. Rich Hill, who is 37, is undeserving of any long-term contract, and has battled hand issues during the entire second half of the season. Hill, who has played in Baltimore before, resurrected his career this season by pitching lights out ball in Oakland before being traded to the Dodgers at the deadline. The other name is Doug Fister. Fister, who is younger, would be more attractive if the market wasn’t going to drive his asking price through the roof. The conversation will always revert back to money because the Orioles have a limit and they also have forthcoming contracts. Overpaying for a guy like Fister would be a mistake. It will be better for the Orioles to continue to rely on Tillman and Gausman, let Bundy work back up to a full season workload, and find their 4th and 5th starter in Spring Training.

…feels a little bit bad for Ubaldo Jimenez? Let’s be real here. The guy pitched some insanely good baseball for the last two months. A ton of people were calling for him to start the game against Toronto in the playoffs. Buck’s decision to bring him in during the 11th inning was not a black mark on Jimenez, despite him giving up two singles and a homerun to end the game. Buck should have known his player better; Ubaldo, more often than not, begins his game shaky. Hitters are batting .331 off of him with seven homeruns, 28 RBIs, and 27 walks in his first 15 pitches of the game. On top of that, he has a 6+ ERA against Toronto this year in 21 innings pitched. Jimenez has proven in the media that he cares about this team. He has shed tears on TV for God sake. And before you make that horrid “well, he makes millions of dollars” argument, tell me the last time the amount of money you made affected how much you cared about the effort you put into wanting to do something well. Maybe it’s time we give the guy some slack- without his stellar performance in the stretch toward playoff time, this team wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play in the wildcard game.

The Britton Debacle

You can blame Buck Showalter all you want about his decision not to bring in Zach Britton in the 11th inning of Tuesday’s loss to the Blue Jays. It’s the easy thing to do, to say the least. We watched in anguish as Ubaldo Jimenez was chosen by Buck to come in as a relief pitcher, and then almost as quickly as it took him to walk from the bullpen, give up two singles and a homerun to end the game. And so the question bares asking- Why not Bitton?

“Nobody has been pitching better for us than Ubaldo, too, so there are a lot of different ways to look at it,” Showalter stated. This is a true statement. It is also something that many opponents of Buck’s decision seem to forget.

Ubaldo Jimenez had a rough first half of the season, there is no doubt about that. But, he improved himself so much in the last two months that there was a fairly large outcry from a portion of the fanbase that he should have been the starter for the game against Toronto. It seemed as if everyone was jumping on the Jimenez bandwagon, and with good reason. He found command of his fast ball. He was pitching great baseball. He was limiting damage to keep his team in the game and he was becoming the dominant pitcher that he showed he could be in his years in Colorado.

So when the decision arose for Buck to decide who to bring into the game in the 11th to hold the lead yet again, he went with the hot hand, not the closer. Showalter made it apparent after the game that he decided this because he needed to keep Britton in case the Orioles’ offense, the real culprit for the loss, ever decided to score a run and put their team on top. But as fate would have it, Showalter would never have the opportunity to get his All-Star lefty in the game and he and Jimenez took the fall.

It’s easy to look back and criticize Showalter’s decision not to bring in the best closer in the game. However, it’s a much harder task to understand that Buck saw that the situation didn’t call for his closer. He needed a stopper. Someone that he has been able to rely on lately to get the job done resolutely and permanently. And so, he brought in his hottest starting pitcher to face the middle of the Blue Jays lineup and everything imploded.

In fact, one might argue that Buck’s decision to pinch hit for Hyun-Soo Kim with Nolan Reimold, who proceeded to strike out on three pitches, all out of the strike zone (it took him 25 seconds from first pitch to final swing-and-miss), was the final nail in the coffin. With other options on the bench, most notably 22 home run guy Pedro Alvarez, it seemed as if Buck could have made a better decision by forgetting the statistical matchups and sending Alvarez up there to hack away. He couldn’t have done any worse than Reimold did.

But, let’s put all that behind us and try to understand one thing. There is no fairness in demanding Buck Showalter be fired from his job because he made a decision that did not work out. There is a reason behind Buck’s continued success wherever he goes as a manager, and he is especially well known for his ability to play matchups and make in-game decisions that generally work to his favor. To banish the guy to the same realm as Lee Mazzilli, Ray Miller, Mike Hargrove, Sam Perlozzo, Juan Samuel, and Dave Trembley is utterly disappointing and a bit unnerving considering that is the same kind of mindset Peter Angelos ran the team with for so long and that drove potential managerial candidates away from the Orioles’ organization in the first place. There are no possible manager hires out there that would be smarter and better equipped than Buck Showalter has been since he began his career in Baltimore in 2011.

In fact, it’s embarrassing that professional media personalities have to tweet, Facebook, and write articles explaining why Buck Showalter will not, nor should be, fired from his position. There is and always will be room for error in baseball; Anyone that knows anything about the game should understand its intricacies and complex reliance on statistics that separate it (and in some opinions, make it better) than any other professional American sport.

The real culprit here for the Orioles loss to Toronto in the Wildcard game is the offense. For a team that had 253 homeruns this season (an average of 1.57 per game), they allowed themselves to fall into the same habits that were the sole reason the team slipped from atop the division to scraping to get in to the playoffs via a second wildcard spot. The Orioles couldn’t even generate a base hit after the sixth inning. Despite their bullpen providing ample opportunities by extending the game, allowing the offense to have extra innings to score the game-winning runs, the offense fell silent- a characteristic that we had become familiar with throughout the stretches of struggles that the team faced during the regular season. Four hits in eleven innings does not win playoff games. It sends you home early.

This off-season, the question hangs over our heads like it has every year since Dan Duquette took over operations of this team. What will this team look like next year? Who will they pursue in free agency? Who will they try to re-sign? Duquette has a dark cloud above him in regards to his off-season aggressiveness. In order for the Orioles to improve, it might be time to give up the ‘homerun or die’ mentality and find some on-base guys to surround the middle of their lineup. Will they attempt to bring back Mark Trumbo? Matt Wieters? There are a lot of decisions to be made in the next six months. However, one of them we can be sure is not in question- Buck Showalter will be at the head of the ship as it sails into Spring Training in March. And there is nobody else this fan base wants, regardless of whether they know it or not.

For Dylan Bundy, The Sky Is The Limit

For Dylan Bundy, it’s got to be a good feeling to have finally made it to the big leagues and showing off what the Orioles’ organization has faithfully committed to him for. After suffering through injuries since being drafted 4th overall by the O’s in 2011, Bundy has surfaced, forced his way into the starting rotation, and is out to prove that his sights are still set on becoming one of the best pitchers in the league.

Of course, it’s early. Bundy has only had four starts at the major league level, and the only reason he was even given the opportunity was because of poor performances from the backend of the Orioles’ rotation. But fate works in weird ways, as Bundy is quickly discovering, and he’s taking full advantage.

In his last two starts, Bundy drew the short stick by having to face two of the most offensive-minded teams in the majors, the Colorado Rockies and the Texas Rangers. The Rockies are third in the majors in batting average while Texas is eighth. Both teams are in the top ten in slugging percentage. To say Bundy had his work cut out for him was hardly fair. However, in the two starts, Dylan held those two offenses to a meager 3 for 40 at the plate with 15 strikeouts over 12 2/3 innings. In both games, he did not give up a hit until the 5th inning.

Bundy’s impressive outings have caused an outcry from fans for more. It is pretty well known that the plan was to limit him to 80 innings this season- a number that was determined to be easy to maintain since his role from Opening Day was to make appearances from the bullpen. Now, with his numbers being so dominant in his short time as a starter, one has to wonder if Buck Showalter will start to backtrack on his original plan and unleash the unrelenting dominance that Bundy has shown in his past few starts.

Of course, Showalter will have to consider the injuries as reason to reel in Bundy’s work. The baseball world saw first hand the damage that overexertion can cause to a pitcher coming off of major throwing arm surgery. Johan Santana, arguably one of the best starting pitchers in recent history, certainly did himself no help by staying in a game longer than he should have in order to claim a no-hitter; soon after, he reinjured his shoulder and watched his career slip away. Instances like this make it a difficult decision to determine where to draw the line between team success and a player’s health. While Showalter has not released any information regarding what he will do going forward, one should not be surprised if Bundy is held to his innings limit as a means to solidify his arm health for the future.

But for now, O’s fans should enjoy the ride. Bundy has shown the most success of any young Orioles’ grown pitching prospect since Erik Bedard. He entered the starting rotation swinging, leaving a trail of impressive destruction behind him. Regardless of how much more of Bundy we see in a starters role this season, barring any injury setbacks, Bundy has shown us that there is much to look forward to in the future when the O’s can sport a rotation in which Bundy, Chris Tillman, and Kevin Gausman get to reek havoc on the rest of the American League.