StrategyAugust 17, 2009

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Recent MLB Call-Ups: Chris Tillman

By Bryan L. Schubert

Hello Cafe members and welcome to the first installment of Recent MLB Call-Ups, this series will highlight one recent minor-leaguers call to the big club. Whether you are looking for a guy with a long-term keeper potential for a dynasty league, or looking for help getting a jump on all the owners in your league scouring the waiver wire for a player to help contribute during your playoff run, I am here to provide the analysis to determine if the guy you have your eye on is worth that pickup. As a note, you can still reach the Cafe with any fantasy questions you have at

Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles, Age 21

One of the Baltimore Orioles top pitching prospects, Chris Tillman made the fourth start of his young career Friday, which was at home against Jered Weaver and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (incidentally, Tillman is from Anaheim). While his first three starts leave something to be desired, posting a 5.19 ERA with a 1.44 WHIP and five home runs over 17.1 innings, and the Orioles offense have bailed him out for three no-decisions, he has the potential to be a staple at the top of the Baltimore rotation for years to come.

The Orioles acquired Tillman, a second round pick of the Seattle Mariners in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, from the M’s in the trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle. While still needing to limit his walks and focus on his control, Tillman was very impressive in 28 starts (11-4, 2.70 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 154 Ks in 135.2 innings) for the Double-A Bowie Baysox during the ‘08 season, before debuting the ‘09 season at Triple-A Norfolk. While the big league club’s rotation struggled, Tillman, while his record does not reflect his performance, was continuing to impress at the next level and seemed to have conquered his control issues, only allowing 2.42 BB/9, as opposed to his 4.31 BB/9 rate in Double-A.

Chris Tillman – Norfolk Tides (Triple-A) 2009 Statistics


The continued struggles of the Orioles rotation and an injury to starter Rich Hill, sending him to the 15-day DL, prompted the call-up of Tillman to make his Major League debut against the Kansas City Royals just a few weeks ago on July 29. Tillman got roughed up, only managing 4.2 innings, allowing three earned (all by way of solo long balls) and seven total hits, while only striking out two Royals batters. The control problems he has struggled with in the past reared their head as he threw 93 pitches in short work.

Tillman did not improve in his second installment against the Detroit Tigers on the road. Going six innings, he allowed five earned runs, seven more hits including another home run, and walked three, but he did start to show signs of his potential by striking out five. In addition, he was able to better manage his pitch count (100 pitches), but his control issues still an area of concern.

His trip to the mound for his third start in Toronto against the Blue Jays was a step in the right direction. Tillman seemed to settle down a bit after allowing a two-run home run to Alex Rios in the second inning, the only runs he surrendered in the 6.2-inning outing. For the evening he allowed only four hits and three walks, with a modest four strikeouts on 110 pitches.

In his most recent start Friday, not only did Tillman collect his first win, mainly due to the 16-run offensive explosion of the Orioles chasing Weaver after only 3.2 innings, but he made improvements to his approach. He still allowed a high number of fly balls, including yet another home run, but he induced more ground balls than any previous start in his young career. Two of the three earned runs he allowed came in the first inning, getting into trouble with walks to the first two batters he faced. The Angles tacked on the third run with the home run by Bobby Abreu in the fourth. Tillman only allowed two base runners the other five innings he took to the hill. One of those was eliminated by a double play and the other was left to Matt Albers, who came on in for Tillman with two outs in the top of the seventh after a Mike Napoli single, who allowed Napoli to score on a double surrendered to Gary Matthews Jr. Tillman left having thrown 106 pitches giving up seven hits, walking only two, but only striking out three.

Chris Tillman – Baltimore Orioles 2009 Statistics


Control will remain a focus area during the development of Tillman. In his first four MLB starts, 50.6% (53.6% before Friday) of balls put into play against him have been fly balls. This is a sign that he is elevating the ball in the zone and helps to explain his 2.25 (2.60 before Friday) HR/9 rate, which is 1.20 above the league average of 1.05. His 5.25 K/9 is significantly lower than his output in Double-A (10.22 K/9) and Triple-A (9.22 K/9). However, he has shown signs of improving in just four big-league starts. Believe that once he has a stranglehold on his control, not only will the strikeouts increase exponentially, but he will cement himself in that spot Baltimore has reserved at the top end of their rotation for years to come.

Tillman has a ton of upside, so if he is a free agent in your league, and you have the roster space in lieu of a floundering starter, I would grab him if available before he starts to thread quality starts together. However, I would not use a high waiver priority on him just yet. Continue to monitor his development and have a computer handy to jump on your league waiver wire before that league rival does!

I would love to hear from you, loyal members of the Cafe, so please PM me with any comments or questions. Talk to you next time; meanwhile I will keep an eye on those transaction reports!

Bryan L. Schubert is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Bryan in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of Ninja BlackSox.
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