Just judging by Chris Tillman’s numbers, I suspect he has something in common with Royals pitchers like Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie: average stuff, slightly below average peripherals, but an elite defense behind him giving him good results. Everything about the righty’s pitch mix and velocities say “normal MLB pitcher” to me (data from 2013-14 combined): a 91 MPH four-seamer used 63% of the time, 76 MPH curve for 17% of his pitches, and an 83 MPH change 14% of the time. There seems to be little special about his fastball—it is actually straighter than most—but he has somehow turned it into a weapon over the last two seasons. He may have just figured out how to spot it. He was getting hitters out with the fastball up and above the zone in game one of the ALDS vs. Detroit:
He lasted five innings and yielded two runs on two solo dongs (both off his fastball) in that game. His average fastball speed jumped all the way to 94, perhaps fueled by adrenaline and a hyped home crowd. Tillman hasn’t pitched for eight days, so I’ll be curious to see his fastball speeds tonight with a fresh arm and another big game atmosphere.
Tillman’s curve has excellent 12-6 bite, and is a good ground-ball inducer, but it and the change have gotten Tillman below average results over the last two years, perhaps being used more to set up the fastball.
I’ve identified a handful of other righties that feature a similar pitch mix and velocities to Tillman. 12 pitchers that Royals hitters have faced roughly match Tillman by throwing an 89-94 MPH fastball 55%-72% of the time, a 77-81 MPH curveball 7%-25% of the time, and a 82-86 MPH change-up 4%-24% of the time over the last two years combined.* Of course not all these pitchers are equals, no doubt featuring differing qualities of movement and command. But I compiled the KC starting nine’s results against those 12 plus Tillman, and I like what I see (sorted by OPS):
Wow. I like seeing Alex and Billy at the top, the worst hitter by OPS slugging .421, and a team-wide OPS of .771. Tillman is probably a little tougher than the overall group, but I’m cautiously optimistic about the match-up. And I do mean cautious—as Royals fans know, the KC offense is capable of falling off the face of the earth and making any pitcher look like Walter Johnson for a night. That side of the offense actually showed up on May 16 this year at Kauffman Stadium against…Chris Tillman. Tillman hurled his first and, so far, only career shutout. Aoki led off the Royals half of the first inning with a double, and that was about it for offense the rest of the night:
So who knows. Anything can happen in one game. But if the Royals bats haven’t gone to sleep during this long downtime between series, I’m hopeful they can jump on Tillman for a few runs early.
Shoutout to the amazing Fangraphs.com, Baseball-Reference.com, and BrooksBaseball.net for aiding this article.
*My 12 Tillman comps are: Shelby Miller, Jarred Cosart, Charlie Morton, Paul Clemens, Randall Delgado, Anthony Varvaro, Samuel Deduno, Ian Kennedy, Michael Wacha, Scott Carroll, Kris Medlen, Edinson Volquez.