Game 79, Orioles at Mariners
Taijuan Walker vs. Chris Tillman, 7:10pm
Well, it can’t be as bad as last night’s lackluster effort, can it? The surging Orioles come to town with a 5.5 game lead over Boston in the AL East. Led by an offense that’s hit the most HRs in baseball (the M’s are actually in 3rd place) and a solid bullpen, they’ve been able to shrug off some mediocre team defense and a starting rotation that’s average at best.
The M’s old nemesis Chris Tillman starts today, and he’s been the O’s top starting pitcher by a mile. The veteran’s 10-1 record gets some attention, but he’s improved his strikeout rate fairly significantly this year, and while his ERA’s a product of some freakishly high strand rates, the fact that his BABIP is low isn’t anomalous any more – Tillman’s consistently got low BABIPs thanks to his fly-ball and pop-up approach, an approach he’s increased this year.
While he was traditionally one of the most over-the-top, rising-fastball pitchers in the game, he’s dropped his release point in recent years, giving him less vertical rise than he had as a youngster. That may be part of the reason for an uptick in his ground ball rate, which has gone from “absolutely not” to within sight of the league average. Coming up, he was famed for his big curve, and while the pitch still has tons of spin and vertical drop, he doesn’t throw it as much as he used to. Instead, he mixed in more of a so-so change and a really intriguing cutter. Like the curve, the cutter has extreme vertical movement, dropping 9-10″ compared with his fastball despite being thrown at 87. In that spectrum from slider to fastball that define the nebulous idea of the cutter, Tillman’s definitely nearer to the slider pole.
The pitch is so good, it’s surprising to me that he hasn’t been better against righties. I suppose having 12-6 movement as opposed to horizontal break may make it more of an equal-opportunity weapon, but Tillman’s never been a guy who shuts down righties. The rising fastball and curve combo is often associated with pitchers who don’t have platoon splits, so that’d explain his career numbers, but it’ll be interesting to see if they change with his lowered release point. In fact, this year, he’s finally showing some huge splits, with a FIP a full run better vs. RHBs. Of course, that’s still not driven by more strikeouts, the way it would be for most pitchers. Instead, Tillman’s walk rate is much higher against lefties. That doesn’t seem like anything that’d be related to release point or pitch mix shifts, so it’s hard to say what’s driving it – it may just be a fluke.
1: Martin, CF
2: Smith, LF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Lee, 1B
7: Lind, DH
8: Iannetta, C
9: Marte, SS