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.

 

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.

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.

What Wade Miley Brings To The Table

On Monday, the Orioles traded Angel Miranda, an older minor league pitcher, to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for the left-handed throwing Wade Miley. Miley, a starting pitcher who is 7-8 and has a 4.98 ERA on the season, brings a new set of questions to Baltimore. Mainly, people are asking why? The Orioles are looking to fight for the playoffs, and a player with those kind of stats does nothing to comfort anybody’s doubts that the team will continue to play well enough to achieve such a goal.

However, there is more to the picture. As with most trades during the trade deadline, the Orioles not only filled a need, but they did it on the cheap. There was no way Baltimore would have been able to afford to go out and acquire one of the glitzy starting pitchers being shopped around. And let’s face it- even if they did have the minor league talent to offer up for a glamour piece like Rich Hill or Matt Moore, it’s hard to think that giving away prospects would be worth obtaining a starter for just a few months. Instead, GM Dan Duquette stuck to his restrictions and shopped within his budget.

So why did Duquette pull the trigger on this trade? What makes Wade Miley worth it? While Miley does not bring knockdown numbers, he does bring several things the Orioles have not been getting from their starting pitchers all season long.

He is a lefty. That is something Baltimore knew they needed in their rotation. Opposing managers stack the lineup depending on pitching matchups and left-handed pitchers limit their options.

He is a veteran. Miley has been in the majors since 2011 and brings experience.

He was a cheap trade. While the Orioles did pick up the remainder of his contract, he is under team control through next year with a team option for 2018 as well. This means he’s not a rental player.

Therefore, he is an option. The Orioles have the ability to create competition again. Miley will be in camp next Spring Training, competing with whoever the O’s decide to bring in during the off-season. It also allows the Orioles to move Ubaldo Jimenez back to the bullpen.

He is hot. Over the month of July, Miley has had a 3.45 ERA and in the five games he’s started. Over those five games he has gone at least six innings in four of them.

Statistically, he is better than most of what the Orioles have currently. Only Chris Tillman has a better ERA this season, and only Tillman and Kevin Gausman have more strikeouts.

The hope is that Miley will keep the team in the game through allowing limited runs and going deeper into ballgames. He will provide stability as the Orioles #4 starter. Will he make the difference? Let’s hope so. But I think we can all sleep better knowing that, this trade deadline, the O’s went with a low-risk move by acquiring a starting pitcher with the things they need while giving away next to nothing to get him.

Birdbrain Thoughts Of The Week

Should We Believe In The Hyun-Soo Kim Rumors?

Rumors, rumors, rumors, that’s all they are, according to the Baltimore Orioles. As @Britt_Ghiroli reported yesterday, the Orioles released a statement denying the rumor that the team was looking to release Kim from his two year deal after only three weeks into Spring Training.

FoxSports.com broke the official news that the O’s were apparently unhappy with Kim’s lack of production this spring after bringing him over from South Korea and giving him a two year / 7 million dollar deal. Expectations were high for the left fielder as the Orioles believed he was a viable answer to the void that the team faced all last year at that position. He has also proved to be a capable candidate for the leadoff spot in the lineup as his ability to get on base is very impressive.

However, thus far, the production has not translated from the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) to the MLB. In limited plate appearances, Kim is batting .182 and began his Spring Training going hitless in his first 23 plate appearances.

Regardless, however those numbers translate, one thing to keep in mind is that we are talking about Spring Training. There have been plenty of reasons over the years to give enough reason to make a strong statement that Spring Training numbers don’t mean much. Kim has readily admitted that he has not lost confidence in himself, and that his struggles are merely a matter of facing pitchers he has never seen before.

“I just have to face new pitchers without knowing what kind of pitches they have, just going in, not knowing who they are really. That’s the only thing.”

(http://m.orioles.mlb.com/news/article/169293362/baltimore-orioles-hyun-soo-kim-report

One would hope that the Orioles statement is true, and that they have not given up on the South Korean native. They gave up little to sign him and other than Joey Rickard, a Rule 5 draft pick that has been having a great spring, there is little in the way of front runners for a starting left field position. However, roster spots are at a premium due to Rickard’s Rule 5 requirement (any player taken in a Rule 5 draft must remain with the major league team throughout the season) and Dylan Bundy, who is out of minor league options (Bundy was drafted in 2011 with the 4th overall pick and was given a major league contract immediately- he has reached the year in his contract where he is no longer eligible to spend time in the minor leagues).

Chris Tillman Named Opening Day Starter.

What is a surprise to few, Tillman was named by the O’s to be their Opening Day starter on April 4th against the Minnesota Twins. It will be the third year in a row that Tillman has taken the mound on Opening Day for Baltimore. He had the worst year of his career in 2015, posting a record of 11-11 and gave up an average of five runs per nine innings (4.99 ERA). But, optimism will have to set in, and Orioles’ fans will hope Tillman can return to his 2014 form where he saw a 3.34 ERA, a 13-8 record, and an appearance in the All-Star Game. Time will only tell, but one thing is for sure, and that is that the Orioles’ offensive firepower will most likely get him run support which, hopefully, give him the comfort he needs to trust his stuff and return to one of the American League’s best starters.

Jonathon Schoop Is Poised For A Breakout.

Schoop saw limited playing time last season due to injury, appearing in only 86 games. But he took full advantage and provided pop with his bat and was able to get on base. He belted 15 homeruns in 321 plate appearances (a homerun in every 21.4 at-bats) and posted a .279 average. The O’s organization can only expect things to get better for the 24 year old second baseman, who also brings defensive prowess with huge range and a strong arm. With power bats being added to the lineup in the form of Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez, and Chris Davis back in the fold, Schoop should have plenty of opportunities to be overlooked by opposing pitching, giving him ample chances to make them pay.

The old “Spring Training doesn’t matter” adage could apply here, but, for what its worth, Schoop has been tearing the cover off the ball so far this March. He is batting .358 in 53 plate appearances with three homeruns. The potential for Schoop to put up big numbers is being displayed so far, and we will hope that it continues throughout 2016.

As always, Let’s Go O’s!