In the opening game of the non-rivalry, non-hateful, love-and-rainbows filled ALCS between the Royals and the Orioles, Chris Tillman will be taking the mound on his home field. Jeff Sullivan, in typical Jeff Sullivan fashion, wrote a painstakingly detailed description of how Tillman keeps runners from running. In short, he has a weird motion in the stretch and weird timings that prevent runners from getting good reads on him. He also has a good pickoff move. I'll focus on the other 95% of Tillman's game.
Tillman has a pretty typical repertoire: four seam fastball, changeup, curveball, cutter. He might throw 1 sinker in the game for reasons. By and large, the four seamer is his pitch. He leans on it greater than 60% of the time. He will, naturally, lean on it more if the batter is ahead, but he won't stop using it when he gets ahead. He stays pretty close to 60% usage. He rarely throws his cutter to lefties, preferring to stay curveball and changeup. Against righties, he'll exchange some changeups for cutters. He'll use his curveball a bit more with two strikes to all hitters. That's about it. He has no tendencies to speak of otherwise. He pounds hitters with fastballs.
So our hitters might be able to sit fastball in generally any count, since his usage of the pitch hovers around 60% of the time all the time. Can they sit location? Yea, they pretty much can, at least with his fastball. Tillman will try to keep his four seamer up and away to both LHH and RHH. The higher the pitch is, the more likely a whiff becomes. Eric Hosmer likes that fastball up. Maybe this is good?
Tillman uses his curve a bit differently. I'll just show you a zone map from Brooks Baseball. The map doesn't really change based on the handedness of the hitter. This is where he locates his curveball.
That location up and in to righties and up and away to lefties. What? I don't think I understand this. So he's thrown the curveball to that particular box 80 times this year. Hitters have swung at it 3 times. Three. For his career, he's thrown it there 228 times. Hitters have swung at it 6 times. Readers, please enlighten us. Is he just trying to remain unpredictable? Is he trying to paint the corner given those other boxes below the 80 count box? I have to think his location there contributes to the ~52% ball rate on the pitch. Is there some kind of deception with the cutter or the fastball? The cutter and curveball release points are pretty close to each other, while the fastball and changeup release points are close to each other. I don't know. Hitters won't swing at that pitch. Ugh, my brain.
Moving on to the changeup. Easy button, go! Tillman will keep it low and away against lefties. He'll toss it out as a "get me over" strike every once in awhile against righties. The cutter is also easy. He'll keep it low and away against righties, and again he hardly uses it against lefties.
Tillman will throw his fastball up and away and just about everything else low and away, except for that stupid curveball cluster. He doesn't come inside much.
Given this seeming predictable nature, you'd think Tillman wouldn't be very good. Well, here you go.
Tillman is like our Jason Vargas. The peripherals aren't great, but he's propped up by defensive contributions and a favorable home run rate as well as something you'll see in the ALCS preview (FORESHADOWING! Basically, clutch). His 8.3% HR/FB is well below his career 11.2% value and seems unbecoming of a home park like Camden Yards, but he has consistently better results at home despite little difference in FIP/xFIP. He has a better BABIP and LOB% at home.
Tillman has faced the Royals once this year, and he threw a complete game shutout with 5 hits, 1 walk, and 3 strikeouts at Kauffman stadium back on May 16th. Tillman's next start was at Pittsburgh, and he gave up 8 runs in 1 inning. Tillman seems like the kind of contact managing, crafty-but-not-crafty pitcher who will limit the Royals. But we said that about a bunch of other guys, didn't we? The Royals are still here.