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.

 

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It Seems To Me…

“It Seems To Me” is a reoccurring blog discussing current topics taking place in the world of Baltimore Orioles baseball.

It seems to me…

…That the fact that Dan Duquette has flip-flopped between buying and selling at the deadline means that neither he nor Peter Angelos have a real game plan. And that is a frightening thing as a fan. You expect the owner and GM to be confident in which direction they want to take by assessing, realistically, how good the team is this year and whether they want to make moves to improve the chances of current success or build for the future. As of right now, just mere hours from the deadline, nobody is sure what the team is going to do.

…That the acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson was not a sure sign that the Orioles are in buying mode going into the deadline. There have been talks circulating regarding how many more innings the team will allow Dylan Bundy to pitch this season, we have seen the struggles continue for Chris Tillman, and Ubaldo Jimenez and Wade Miley are far from cutting as permanent fixtures in the starting rotation. Getting Hellickson, who led the Phillies in innings pitched last season, may have been strictly as an insurance policy of sorts, giving the Orioles the option of removing one or more of their starters from the rotation for the rest of the season.

…that, despite your thoughts on the motive to acquire Hellickson, the Orioles overpaid. Dan Duquette traded a left handed pitching prospect, Hyun-Soo Kim, and international money to Philadelphia for a mediocre two month rental. If you’re upset over trading Kim, the picture is blurry; The value of pitching prospects has been more than exposed this season, especially left handed ones, and Duqette’s unfathomable refusal to utilize the international market on prospects is beyond reason. For those who are avid Dan Duqette haters, this trade has summarized exactly how he has ridden the coattails of Andy MacPhail and taken a decent farm system and run it into the ground, all while keeping this team ill-prepared for future success.

…if the Orioles are not able to trade Britton by the deadline this year, it isn’t the end of the world. Britton and Brach are both under team control for another season; While this extra year adds value to both players, it is Britton who could still be worth just as much in the off-season or next year if he continues to dominate hitters. On the other hand, Brach has shown signs of being a little overvalued, and so the value added to him by having a full year of team control still on his contract leaves almost no question that the Orioles should try to get the biggest haul they can for him now and not later.

… that Major League Baseball’s addition of a second Wild Card team several years ago is proving to be the wrong decision. Currently, even a team like Detroit, who is sitting nine games under .500, could argue that they will be buyers at the deadline because there is a chance for them to make the playoffs. As a fan of the game, the four team format not only made a more symmetrical playoff picture, but it allowed for teams to honestly assess their position and make moves accordingly. Watching the Orioles truly believe that they still have a chance, when most people know full well that even if they were to make the second wild card and win the play-in game, a series matchup against Boston or Houston would end terribly, is frustrating. It could very well cost the team a chance to compete for years to come if Duqette and Angelos do not jump on the opportunity to obtain top prospects in a down year. However, I guess some could take a survival of the fittest mentality and argue that Baltimore doesn’t deserve it if they can’t see the writing on the wall.

…Pedro Alvarez does not deserve a spot on the 25 man roster until the rosters are expanded on September 1st. There has been a decent outcry on social media to bring Alvarez up and play him at 3rd with Manny at SS while Hardy and Flaherty are on the DL. To this I ask, have you seen Alvarez’s defensive statistics? The man should not be allowed to sit near a glove in the dugout, much less put one on and play a defensive position for a major league ballclub. The Orioles will not solve any problems by calling Alvarez up from Norfolk.

…that to call this trade deadline successful would be to see Britton, Brach, Castillo, and Smith all dealt, but only for the right packages. Based on what baseball has seen middle relievers go for so far in July, Britton and Brach should bring in nothing short of a major package each. With Joseph playing well this year and the O’s season on the brink, Castillo, who has an option on his deal, and Smith, who is on a one year deal, could be contributors to a contending team.

…that I was adamantly for trading Manny Machado at this year’s deadline for several reasons. The Orioles will be stuck in a catch-22 with Machado; Signing him will put them on the hook for upwards over $300 million dollars, handcuffing them when it comes time to sign other pieces of the puzzle or giving players like Jonathon Schoop the new deal he will eventually require. Not signing him will mean that fans will see him walk off into the sunset, clutching his new deal from some other ballclub, while the Orioles are left with nothing but a compensatory pick. Trading him now, while he still has a year left of team control, would be ideal. The package that Machado could draw would be unbelievable. Despite his low numbers this season, he not only has his reputation of being a great ball player, but he has also heated up in July. The front office should be weary not to at least put the bait out there and see what comes back; As the O’s have proven by being on the wrong side over the last few years, the trade deadline causes organizations to greatly overpay for rental pieces.

The Present And Future Of Hyun-Soo Kim

It’s kind of ironic because before the game broadcast today (5/14), Trey Mancini sat down cross-legged on the warning track behind home plate and was interviewed by a cute little girl with a ponytail. It was an interview that thorough to the point, executed by an up-and-coming professional who asked all the hard and very important questions.

“Who is your best friend on the team?”

I mean, talk about hard-hitting. You want to watch your mouth because the last thing you want to do is send any emotional ripples through the clubhouse, right? Mancini, being the young, naïve sociably-pliable guy that he is, did his job admirably and chose his words carefully, pausing ever so briefly before announcing to the world his answer.

“Hyun-Soo Kim.”

mancini swingAnd forever into the history books goes his response. And that isn’t because it was outrageous or off-the-wall. It seems to be known that Kim is one of the most personable players in the locker room, and so it isn’t entirely unexpected that the power-hitting rookie smiles when he proclaims his admiration for his teammate. Instead, it is because Mancini and his hot bat is the obvious reason that Kim has lost playing time since the end of April.

Kim hasn’t done anything to deserve being benched as much as he has in the last few weeks. And so that is the tough part for Orioles fans to wrap their heads around. He has been a fan favorite since he proved himself worthy of getting starts, earning his worth in the eyes of Buck Showalter, about this time last year. Kim, who put himself in Buck’s dog house last season by having a terrible spring training and then demanding that he make the major league roster, despite being told he would begin the campaign in Triple-A Norfolk, has worked hard to shake that reputation. However, now that Mancini has arrived and has played well in the role that Kim previously held, it seems as if Showalter has decided that he has every reason to keep Kim on the bench.

Rumor has it that Hyun-Soo could be shopped around, although the asking price cannot be that appealing. Despite his work last season, Kim is relatively unproven, having little track record against left-handed hitters. He is older than most fans in Baltimore realize, having played professional baseball in Japan since 2007. The fact is, he is no rookie, despite his status last season in the majors. His contract is up at the end of this season, leaving him to become a free agent and putting any acquiring team in a vicarious situation if they inquire about trading for him. And it doesn’t help that the team has five guys on the bench and only six in the bullpen, leaving it up to only a matter of time before changes are made to solidify the relief help.

We are at a crossroads in Baltimore. If Mancini continues to tear apart major league pitching, we could see Kim designated for assignment sooner rather than later. Orioles’ fans will protest, and rightfully so, but in a business sense, keeping him on the roster is becoming more and more of an deterrent, almost on a daily basis. The trade-off won’t be much, as the return for Hyun-Soo will be little to none, depending on whether they can even find a suitor to take him on. However, time will tell, but don’t be surprised if Kim finds himself elsewhere, whether it is Norfolk or another major league ball club, in the near future.

How Good Does Baltimore Have To Be?

The weird thing about the Baltimore Orioles is that, despite how detestable it seems their pitching is, or how silent their bats can be during several game stretches, there is a reason they are 66-51 this year, sitting in first place of the AL East, and quietly making statements time and time again that this is their division to win. All of a sudden, it’s August 16 and the O’s have spent the majority of their season in first place of the only division in baseball that has four teams above .500.

So, exactly how good do the Orioles have to be from here on out in order to solidify their chances for the post-season? On the surface, one would have to think that they need to play lights out baseball for the next month and a half. And while that would certainly help matters, it may not have to be that difficult. Because Baltimore has kept themselves in contention all year, they have positioned themselves to be able to take advantage of some fortuitous scheduling.

Of the four teams contending to be AL East champion, a few factors remain that could easily work out in the Orioles’ favor. With a record of 39-17 at home this year, the O’s will most certainly benefit from the fact that 25 of their last 45 games are at Camden Yards, including a huge eleven game stretch from 9/15 through 9/25. Neither the Blue Jays, Red Sox, or Yankees have that advantage- in fact, all three of those teams have more road games left to play than they do games at home. Of those three. Boston has the best home record, but unfortunately for them only have 15 games at Fenway remaining on their schedule.

All three teams- Toronto, Boston, and New York- have a west coast swing still left on their schedule. Combining the travel and the time difference is a critical detriment for teams that fly out west for extended time, and because the Orioles have already made their road trips across country, it leaves them with the advantage of less travel.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for the Orioles. They have more remaining games against teams with winning records than any of their AL East opponents (35). Besides nine games against Tampa Bay and a series against Arizona, the O’s have drawn the short stick when it comes to facing better teams later in the season. Boston sees a schedule that pits them against +.500 teams 25 times, Toronto 26 times, and the Yankees 31 times.

When the end of the season does roll around, and almost for certain these four teams will be playing for first place, the schedulers took it upon themselves to revel in the idea of nail-biting, down-to-the-wire competition. The Red Sox end their season hosting the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park for a two game set while the Orioles travel to New York to face the Yankees for three games. While there is no counting out any of these teams, it certainly seems as if letting Boston and Toronto beat each other up may put destiny in the O’s own hands.

In the end, it is simple. In order to win the AL East, you need to win games. Take one look at the standings and you will see that all four of these teams have shown how capable they are of doing that. Of the four teams still in contention, Baltimore, Boston, and New York have over 30 games remaining against AL East opponents, a statistic that forewarns of the importance of getting wins. To keep consistent with their current winning percentage (.564), Baltimore needs to win 25 of the remaining 45 games on the schedule. If that were the case, they would finish with a record of 91-71, a mark that should almost be a shoe-in for a playoff spot. However, most fans would probably like to see a little more finality and impact as the season rolls toward the end, and a finish more along the lines of 30 wins would be much more comfortable for everyone.

 

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.

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!