For the ALDS I wanted to take a look at who I thought was the pitching X Factor for the Orioles as we take on the Yankees. Sure, I could make a compelling case for Jason Hammel since he’s going to be the game 1 starter and could easily see 2 starts in the series. I could also make a case for someone in the bullpen who could be playing a pivotal role in keeping us in games like Darren O’Day. I could, but I won’t.
The pitcher who I think will be crucial to the Orioles success is Chris Tillman. Tillman will likely get the ball in game 4 of the series with Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez likely taking the hill for games 2 and 3 respectively. As such, Tillman will either be tasked with putting the series away or potentially forcing a game five.
If the series is on the line, why should you feel comfortable to see Chris Tillman take the mound?
It’s got nothing to do with the fastball velocity he and Rick Peterson found this year during his time in the minors. Not directly anyway. The difference between 2012 Chris Tillman and 2010 Chris Tillman is the secondary stuff he’s developed. Tillman has used his Slider to right handed batters and his Changeup to lefties to great effect. First let’s take a look at Tillman’s pitch usage to show how crucial his success with each of these pitches is.
As you can see above Tillman uses his fastball fairly consistently against both righties and lefties; the major difference coming in the “Slider” and “Change” columns. Tillman rarely if ever uses his Changeup against right handed batters but features it over 20% of the time against lefties. On the other hand, righties see Sliders 15% of the time compared to just 3% for guys hitting from the left side.
This is fairly common in terms of which types of pitches you use against batters of different handedness. What is a bit unusual is that Chris tends to use his Slider and Changeup more when the batter is ahead in the count instead of the other way around. This is almost backwards, using his offspeed stuff to set up his fastball in 2-strike counts. Why does Tillman do this? It could have something to do with how well batters have hit those two pitches.
Looking at the Changeup, specifically to left-handed batters we can see something very interesting:
You’ll notice that he primarily uses the Change on the outside part of the plate, and lefties don’t have much success at all hitting it. All of the purple areas are ones where a player hasn’t put a ball into play, and the blue areas represent True Averages (an advanced version of batting average) that are below league average.
Does the Slider/Curveball graph to righties show the same kind of trend?
You can see an almost diagonal swatch of the zone that Tillman has gone after with his breaking balls. This intuitively make sense as that is the general path that a Curveball or Slider would follow across the zone. This one has a few red spots where he’s been hit hard, but the vast majority of it is blue indicating below league average performances. Not only is it below league average but it is way below league average.
The one caveat to this sort of thing is that the small sample size in Tillman’s case makes it difficult to suggest that these are 100% accurate and telling of the ind of pitcher he can be. However, these match the scouting view of Tillman. In my mind the question was always ‘can he throw his secondary stuff for strikes and get outs with it?’.
This seems to suggest that not only is he willing to throw his secondary stuff, he’s willing to do it behind in the count because he knows he can throw it for strikes. We’ve spent a lot of time focusing on his fastball and the uptick or lack thereof in velocity this summer, but what we should have been focusing on was his ability to throw his secondary stuff for strikes and to get guys on both sides of the plate out with it.
Tillman could be playing a pivotal role in the ALDS against a Yankee lineup that will almost certainly feature quite a few lefties. Tillman’s Changeup will prove vital in those at-bats, and could be the difference between winning and losing. Then again, it’s the Yankees which means right-handed powerhouses Jeter & Rodriguez will likely play. For those guys, the Slider will be a tool Chris will lean heavily on to get outs.
Either way Tillman has the stuff to handle whatever the Yankees throw at him. If Chris Tillman takes the mound for a potential game 4 watch his secondary stuff instead of the radar gun. If he’s getting strikes with his Curveball, Changeup and Slider then the O’s have a pretty good shot at handling the Yankees.