Chris Tillman pitched 7 excellent innings today against the Seattle Mariners. It turned out that the O’s needed Tillman’s effort as Nick Markakis’ solo home run in the first inning was the difference in the ballgame. Tillman managed to go 7 innings without walking a batter, something that is exceedingly rare for him. The broadcasters on MASN noted the irony in Iwakuma walking a batter while Tillman did not given that the two pitchers are on opposite ends of the BB/9 spectrum. So how rare is this for Tillman?
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First some context. Chris Tillmans has made 24 start and thrown over 140 innings so far this season. Tillman’s 3.44 BB/9 ranks 13th among all MLB starters, and 4th most among those in the American League. The last time Tillman didn’t walk a batter was 9 starts ago when Tillman spun another 7 inning gem against Toronto. Prior to that? September 9th, 2013. Speaking of last season, Tillman only had three no-walk games. They came on 9/9/2013 as mentioned above, 8/29/2013, and 5/24/2014.
Back to today’s start, Tillman was able to pitch so well because he threw a lot of strikes. A little over 64% to be exact, with 65 of his 101 pitches being strikes. So how exactly was he able to do it?
MASN noted that Tillman was throwing more fastballs, which is partially true. Technically it’s true, but it’s incomplete because Tillman wasn’t throwing a ton more fourseam fastballs. On the season he’s been throwing about 63% fourseamers, but tonight it was just under 50%. The rest of those fastballs were cutters, of which Tillman threw 19. That’s about 15% more than he has thrown it so far this season. Below is a chart from his start today with pitch usage:
It’s possible that some of those cutters will be re-categorized into fourseamers when Brooks Baseball looks further into the data, but generally it looks like there’s an uptick in usage. It’s also likely that the slider listed above is actually a cutter, so those 7 could add to the count as well.
Regardless, you can see above that Tillman was getting 70% strikes with those two pitches, and his high usage helps him minimize walks. His curveball, a big swing and miss pitch is difficult to throw for strikes, and Tillman seemed to use it sparingly. He got 7 strikes with it, 6 of them swings.
Granted, Tillman was in a good position to have an outing like this because the Mariners are among the worst in MLB at taking walks. Still, it’s an impressive feat for the O’s Opening Day starter.
Chris Tillman doesn’t often go through full games without walking a batter, so today was truly a strange occurrence for him. If he can continue this, and the data suggests that he might be improving his control, then Tillman could be a real asset for the O’s down the stretch.