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What’s Wrong with Chris Tillman?

November 1, 2010 BY ALEX EISENBERG 2 Comments

Ever since Chris Tillman arrived to the Majors a little under two years ago, the ride has been pretty turbulent, with more downs than ups. I think the low point in Tillman’s young career came on June 15th in a start against the San Francisco Giants. Tillman was trying to piggyback off what was a solid outing against the Yankees, but he came out throwing soft balls with no movement, belt high in the 87 – 90 mph range. That’s not going to cut it at the Major League level. Not surprisingly, he was rocked and left after just two innings of work.

The Tillman we saw in that start stood in stark contrast to the Tillman we saw in 2009. When Tillman first reached the Majors, the young right hander would sit register between 91 and 94 mph, touching 96. In 2010, Tillman has worked in the 89 – 92 range, touching 93 at times. You look at his numbers, and it’s clear he wasn’t as dominant as he was a year ago. So what’s changed?

I’ll show you two clips. On the left is Tillman hitting 96 in his first Major League start and on the right is Tillman throwing a 90 mph fastball in that June start against the Giants.

*Credit to MLB Advanced Media

Some things to notice:

1. The height of the knee when the graphics start their loop. You can see Tillman in 2010 is further along in his delivery than he was in 2009. Since the deliveries are synchronized to release, we can conclude that Tillman is moving at a faster pace in 2009 than he was in 2010. Tillman’s 2010 tempo was around 32 or 33 frames, which is painfully slow. His tempo in 2009 was around 28 frames. Tempo is often associated with one’s velocity.

2. The second thing I notice is how Tillman employs a bit more of a turn with his hips at the pinnacle of his leg lift in 2009. The turn can add a little more torque to one’s delivery. He’s also a little more compact — in a more athletic position.

3. In 2010, Tillman seemed to have a longer pause once he reached his “balance point”. The leg hovered for a couple more frames than the 2009 version. Any pause in one’s delivery can bleed energy and cost a pitcher velocity.

4. Next, I want you take a look at the hand break of each version — where he first takes the ball out of his glove. Tillman breaks his hands a full two frames later in 2009 than he did in 2010. Now, you can generate velocity with both an early and a later hand break. The timing just has to be right. However, often times a pitcher can speed up the arm by breaking the hands later because the arm is covering the same distance in less time. You’re speeding up the arm and eliminating any hitches in your arm action.

In Tillman’s case, he broke his hands later and he broke his hands aggressively. In 2010, Tillman came out of his hand break early and he did so rather soft. There is a solid correlation between pitchers who break their hands hard and velocity. Check out Ubaldo Jimenez or Roy Oswalt or Justin Verlander if you are looking for examples.

5. When releasing that 90 mph fastball you see in the above graphic, Tillman almost looks like he’s guiding the ball into home plate. That is a big no-no since you sacrifice both velocity and life. And while you may be able to throw strikes by guiding the ball, you’ll still have issues commanding your fastball. The above graphic of Tillman in 2009 shows a pitcher throwing with the necessary intent you need to generate premium velocity. However, he’s not overthrow the ball either.

The question that needs to be asked is why did Tillman start doing what he did. I have no particular inside information here, but my theory is that Tillman was told to slow down in order to improve his command. In the start against San Francisco, he took it to a new level, but in reality, he’s had a slower tempo and delivery all season. And I think the notion that he needed to sacrifice stuff for command really penetrated itself into Tillman’s mindset. As a result, he seemed to be consciously trying to slow down his delivery rather than letting everything come natural.

If possible, I’d like to see him get back to his original tempo. I’d like him to clear his head and just pitch. You can command your stuff if you are consistently repeating your delivery. You can’t consistently repeat your delivery when you have all these disruptive and distractive thoughts in your head. So continue to focus on repetition, but drop the idea about sacrificing stuff for command because I’m not sure Tillman’s stuff is good enough to be sacrificed.

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  • Drew.Osborne said:

    It makes me wonder if he’s changed his workouts? Is he no longer long tossing? Is he doing to much distance work rather than explosive work? It might have more to do with conditioning/arm work/workout than his mechanics.`

  • Alex Eisenberg (author) said:

    Long tossing is something I’ve wondered about too. A lot of the home runs he gives up — and this was true last year as well — were on pitches that seemed to die as they approached home plate. There was a lack of life on those pitches that made them hittable and I think long tossing is something that would help with that.