It is July 30th, and the Baltimore Orioles’ Opening Day starter, Chris Tillman has an 8-7 record and a 4.35 ERA. Uh oh, right? Well, not exactly.
Last night, Tillman turned in his third consecutive outstanding start following the All-Star break. In his three starts against the Detroit Tigers, Tampa Bay Rays, and Atlanta Braves, the tall right-hander has allowed just one earned run and seven hits in 23.2 innings. After walking 3.80 per nine in a first half that saw him post a 5.40 ERA, Tillman has walked just 1.52 per nine so far in the second half. His command is back, and he has been very efficient, nearly completing a shutout against the Braves on less than 100 pitches.
The 5.40 ERA Tillman posted before the All-Star break is unsightly, but it is heavily influenced by four terrible starts against the Toronto Blue Jays, a team against whom Tillman’s brand of pitching — elevated fastballs and looping curveballs — does not fly. In four starts against the Jays, Tillman has been mashed to the tune of 25 earned runs in just 15.0 innings. He’s allowed six home runs and a 1.243 OPS to Toronto this season. For his career, Tillman has a 4-9 record and 5.68 ERA in 18 starts against the Blue Jays. Simply put, they are a matchup nightmare for him.
The rest of the league, however, is a different story. Tillman has matched up pretty well against everyone else this season. Take away the shellings administered by the Blue Jays, and Tillman has a 2.74 ERA in 16 starts. That’s what the Orioles thought they had signed up for when they put Tillman atop their rotation. Outside of debacles against Toronto, there has really only been one start this season in which Tillman did not at least give the Orioles a chance to win. That came on May 31, when he allowed five earned runs in just 4.2 innings in a loss to the Rays. Tillman has not lost since.
Tillman still relies on the fly ball too heavily for outs at times and his repertoire won’t really blow anyone away. His command was very shaky at times in the first half, but those issues do seem to be behind him at this point, as he begins his typical second half surge. Over the past four years, Tillman has a 21-8 record and 2.78 ERA in 45 starts after the All-Star break. That’s exactly what you want out of the leader of your staff in the midst of a playoff fight.
Chris Tillman is never going to win a Cy Young, and some would shy away from labeling him a true ace. His pitching results do tend to defy the expectations and predictions of modern analytics, but at this point, he’s been doing it for four years running. It may finally be time to accept that Tillman is able to prevent fly balls from turning into home runs at a better than expected rate. He might not be an ace in every sense of the word, but after some rocky outings in the first half, Chris Tillman is proving once again that the Orioles can count on him to lead their rotation.