Can Chris Tillman return to form?
Chris Tillman was supposed to be the de-facto ace for the Orioles’ middling collection of starters last year. Instead, he turned in an 11-11 record with a 4.99 ERA in 31 starts. He failed to log more than 200 innings for the first time in three years, and was knocked around quite a bit on the mound. His WHIP rose from 1.23 to 1.39 year-to-year. This, sadly, is the type of demise that seemed to be in the works for Tillman.
In the three seasons prior to 2015, Tillman went 38-16 with a 3.42 ERA. His FIP, on the other hand, showed he was a much different pitcher. Tillman’s FIP while he was putting up All-Star caliber numbers in a tough division was 4.22 — much higher. Tillman’s strikeout rate has been in decline while his walk rate has risen. He does not have a true strikeout pitch, and can be vulnerable to extended at-bats. Hitters just always seem to find a way to foul off three or four pitches against him. Tillman is a fly-ball pitcher in a division where that style may not lead to the best results.
Still, there were flashes last year that showed Tillman could be a solid starting pitcher on the staff of a playoff contender. Six of his 31 starts came, unfortunately for him, against the Toronto Blue Jays. Take the 25.1 innings and 33 earned runs out of the equation, and Tillman’s ERA drops to 3.84 in 25 starts. That’s a number more in line with his career performance. Plain and simple, there is no reason Chris Tillman should take the ball against the Blue Jays six times in 2016. He just does not match up well with them, and has a 5.79 ERA against them in 20 starts. It is an exercise in futility sending him out there to pitch against the Blue Jays.
Tillman showed flashes of his typical second-half brilliance last year. He went 6-0 in June and July with a 2.96 ERA in ten starts. Injuries derailed him in August and September, and the end product was an ERA near 5.00. Tillman should be expected to bring that ERA back down closer to 3.50 if everything shakes out in his favor in 2016.