In his most recent article, Roch Kubatko from MASN, discussed how the Orioles and Tillman have mutual interest in a contract extension. Tillman is in his first year in arbitration and MLB Trade Rumors has suggested a jump up to 5.4 million this year, which would be a record. That being said, Matt Swartz (who does the projections for MLBTR) has said that estimate may be a little high. Either way, we are looking at Tillman getting into the 4.5+ million range. He isn’t a FA until after the 2017 season. That means, barring injury or a big drop in production, Tillman is likely going to make somewhere in the area of 25-30 million dollars over the next 3 years.
(Discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
The Orioles could want to extend him just through his arbitration years. That would allow them to have him more cost controlled and it would give Tillman some security. Obviously, we have no idea what they could be looking at in terms of years, so for the sake of discussion, I am going to assume they want to eat up some of the free agency years and not just the 3 years of arbitration.
The question is, should the Orioles be looking to extend Tillman? Is he a guy you feel comfortable giving a 4-6 year deal to?
After being a guy who would show flashes of being a solid starter but mostly just got clobbered at a young age, Tillman started to turn things around in the second half of the 2012 season. We saw an uptick in his velocity(from just over 89 MPH to over 92) and his command and control got better. Now, he has seen that velocity drop back down the last 2 seasons but it is still higher now than it was in his early years as an Oriole.
The last two seasons has seen Tillman become the most durable and dependable pitcher on the staff. He threw 206.1 IP in 2013 and 207.1 IP in 2014. He started 33 and 34 games in those 2 seasons. He has won 29 games and had a sub 3.75 ERA in each of those seasons. His BB rate has also been a sub 3 the last 2 seasons, which is a lot better than his early seasons with the club. In 2013, his K rate was very solid albeit not great. In 2014, it was well below average. He got more grounders in 2014 vs. the last few years but he is still giving up a lot of homers. However, since he is a fly ball pitcher, the BABIP against him isn’t that high, so he isn’t giving up less than a hit per IP, which is always a number you like to see even if some of that is out of his control and is a little fluky.
If you choose to dig deeper into the saber stats, you see a pitcher who is outperforming his peripherals. His FIP has been at least a half a run higher than his ERA the last few years. His xFIP was pretty close to his ERA in 2013 but it was significantly higher in 2014. His swinging strike % is below average and his strike % is also slightly below average but not by much.
Baseball Reference had his WAR in 2013 at 4.4. FanGraphs had it under 2. In this past season, they basically had it at the same number. So, the question is, what is Tillman worth?
For me, I wouldn’t have much of an issue giving him a 3-year deal for the 25-30 million he is likely to make. The question is, are you prepared to pay him 15-20 million a year in his free agency years? Tillman turns 27 in April, which means his first free agency year will have him at 30 years old. That isn’t too old and you would expect him to still be a solid pitcher at that age.
Getting back to the question at hand and that is, what is he worth? Well, to me that depends on a few things. The first thing is, will the velocity continue to drop? Tillman has always been a guy that starts games off slow and we see his velocity get better as the game goes on. He will have some games where he is throwing 88-91 and some games where he is touching the mid 90s. Many of us fans scratch our heads from start to start because we just don’t know what Tillman will show up. I have commented several times that if I were an opposing team’s fan, I would wonder how we don’t light Tillman up every time we see him. His stuff doesn’t wow you but he is effective and, as mentioned, very durable (albeit in a small sample size so far in his career). I don’t think I see Tillman as a guy who will be back in the upper 80s in terms of velocity. He is a big strong guy and his mechanics are better now than they used to be. He has had a few nagging injuries and pitched through them. That could effect his average velocity if things linger for a while, like they did with his groin injury in 2014.
The second question you have to ask is will he continue to outperform his peripherals? I know that many of you don’t care about that that and that’s fine but I don’t see how you can ignore it either. But I do understand that what matters are his “actual” stats. Let’s take a look at some of those “actual” stats and see how Tillman performs.
As I stated, the K rates have been below average to average and his HR rates have been very high. His walk rate was 60th in MLB in 2014. None of those numbers are all that great but none of them, outside of the HR rate, are horrible either. His ERA was 31st, which is solid when you look at all pitchers. To go along with that, his ERA+ was 110 in 2013 and 114 in 2014. Those are solid numbers.
Again, Tillman isn’t a guy that wows you and if the Orioles decided that trading him was better for the team than extending him, I wouldn’t disagree with them. On the other hand, if they decided that giving him a 4-5 year deal was better, I am not sure I disagree with that either.
I am not a big fan of guys with below average K rates but your whole staff isn’t likely going to have average or above average K rates and I understand that. Having a guy that gives you 200 IP and a 4.00 ERA or better does have value. His ERA has been above league average the last few years and even if that number is outperforming his FIP by a decent margin, we still see guys that outperform peripherals on a regular basis and Tillman may be one of those guys. Another thing Tillman does well is control the running game and that obviously has some value as well.
If it were up to me, I would give him a 4-year extension with a team option(maybe even a vesting option depending on IP). I would prefer to not guarantee the 5th year but that isn’t necessarily a Tillman thing. I am not usually excited about 5 year deals for most pitchers.
I think a 4-year deal for around 42 million with an 18 million dollar team option makes sense. The deal could be structured like this:
2019: 18.0 M(option)
That could be a total value of 5/60 and that is a very fair contract for the Orioles and it allows Tillman to go to free agency at an age where he could get another lucrative 4-7 year deal, provided he stays healthy and produces well.
I will admit that when I sat down to write this article, my assumption was going to be that I wouldn’t sign him to a 4+ year deal. However, after looking at things, I think he would be a “safe” sign. That being said, if some team wants to call up and offer up some nice package of good young talent, I wouldn’t have an issue dealing him either.
Rob has interviewed guests from outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, FOX Sports, Baseball Prospectus, Athlon, Sporting News, MLB Network, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Info Solutions, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Sports on Earth, Grantland, NFL Network, FanGraphs, Football Outsiders, ProFootballFocus, etc. etc. The Baltimore native lives in Perry Hall with his Wife Lindsay, and two young sons. He has appeared as a guest on 105.7 The Fan, Q1370, and WNST 1570. Co-Host of The Warehouse: https://anchor.fm/the-warehouse Co-Host of Sports Tonight: https://anchor.fm/sports-tonight