Chris Tillman’s Major League Debut

Chris Tillman made his much anticipated debut last night, and though he didn’t get the W like the other rookie starters have in their first games this year the O’s did put some runs up on the Royals bullpen for a 7-3 victory.  Tillman was taken out of the game with runners on the corners and two outs in the fifth, and finished with a line of 4.2 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 2 K, 3 HR. He showed some good stuff though, which we can look at thanks to the Pitch/FX data from Brooks Baseball. First, the movement graph:

It’s a little hard to differentiate the change-ups from the fastballs in that upper block, but the ones in the lower part of that area are the change-ups.  He threw a few that had some really nice tail and sink on them, and in general it was a better pitch than I would have expected given that he just started developing recently.  Tillman actually threw more change-ups (18) than curveballs (15). The hook was as good as advertised, with some big-time break on it – you don’t see many 12-6 curveballs anymore, and I’m a big fan of the pitch.  Mostly though, Tillman threw a relatively straight riding fastball from 90-96 and averaging a little over 93 mph – on TV it looked like a few of those pitches were actually cutters, but it appears that none of them really ran in on lefties quite that much. Overall I’d say (based on just the one game) that Tillman has an average to plus fastball, an average to plus change-up, and a plus-plus curveball. That’s not at all definitive, but it’s also the kind of repertoire that can lead to a good deal of success, if you can mix your pitches (which he did) and show command (which he did, sometimes). Then we have the location graph:

It doesn’t split it out by pitch type, but I think it’s pretty fair to say that most of the pitches down in the zone (or out of the zone low) are curveballs. Some of those high pitches are fastballs that he overthrew – it was pretty clear that that’s what was happening while watching the game, and that’s just understandable excitement/adrenaline.  Still, that’s a lot of pitches up in the zone.  Compare it to the graph for his mound opponent, Zach Greinke (who, in fairness, is having an awesome season):

Greinke isn’t a groundball pitcher by any stretch of the imagination, but you can see how he pounds the bottom part of the zone. Dave Trembley, in his post-game press-conference, noted that Tillman needs to work on keeping his high fastball (which should still be a good pitch for him) inside on batters instead of leaving it out over the plate. As you can see from Tillman’s location graph, most of those high fastballs are down the middle. Nobody really expects Tillman to be Brad Bergesen – he’s always been a flyball pitcher, and he’s going to continue to be a flyball pitcher – but if he can keep that high pitch out of the heart of the plate then that might help depress his home run numbers.  As he found out with those three solo shots, Camden Yards isn’t the most friendly place for a flyball pitcher. Overall, I think Tillman definitely showed yesterday why people were so excited for his debut.  The tools are there for him to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, and I’d be curious to see what he could do if he ever started adding in a real cutter (seriously, on TV some of those pitches looked nasty).