This week’s feature showcases two starters who could round out your rotation on the cheap, with the chance of returning a nice little profit. While Chris Tillman was once considered to be a “hot prospect” a few years ago, Matt Harrison was never labeled with the same amount of hype; akin to the hot one you never really paid much attention to at the clubs.
Chris Tillman, Bal – 9-3, 2.93 ERA, 24 BB, 66 K vs. Matt Harrison, Tex – 18-11, 3.29 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 59 BB, 133 K
Chris Tillman’s major league numbers don’t exactly come across as particularly sexy numbers – entering 2012, Tillman sported a lifetime 7-15 record, with a 5.58 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 4 BB/9, 1.5 K/BB. While there was a little glimpse of promise in 2011, he entered 2012 as an afterthought in all but the deepest of leagues. Called up in early July, Tillman’s struggles at the time continued while in the International League, posting unattractive numbers, albeit in very limited innings.
Many questioned the Orioles at the time for calling up Tillman, but the O’s may have been onto something upon his call-up. His first start came just before the All-Star break in the spacious SafeCo field in Seattle, pitching 8 1/3 innings of shutout ball. Tillman’s confidence seemed to take off from there, posting encouraging numbers; a 9-3 record with a 3.24 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 6.8 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 & 2.7 K/BB.
Matt Harrison as previously mentioned never entered the majors with any hype. However, like Tillman, something clicked in 2011, posting a 14-9 record, 3.39 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 & 2.2 K/BB. He took another step forward last year, posting an 18-11 record, with a 3.29 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 2.5 K/9 & 2.3 K/BB.
When evaluating pitchers, I like to look at the following indicators; Team, strikeouts, walks, strikeout/walk ratio, xFIP, groundball rates, swinging strike percentage and consistency.
My simple equation – Texas > Baltimore or vice versa? Can Baltimore repeat last year’s success? What about Texas losing Josh Hamilton? How much of an impact is that going to have on the Texas Rangers? Is Leonys Martin ready to fill the void? I think so, and still prefer the Rangers bats over the Orioles bats which I think will equate to more wins. So if we were to break it down by winner/loser: Winner: Harrison.
Harrison’s strikeout rate dipped last year. Tillman’s strikeouts went up a tick and should reach 7+ next year. Given his minor league track record, I think it’s safer to predict Tillman’s trajectory over Harrison’s. Winner: Tillman.
Tillman’s control numbers have been all over the map in the minor leagues, but is actually showing growth over the last three years in the majors, bringing it down to a very good 2.5 BB/9. Matt Harrison’s numbers over the past three years have also shown growth, equaling Tillman’s 2.5 BB/9 last year. Given Harrison’s minor league track record along with Harrison’s ability to sustain a very good walk rate over the course of the season (Harrison threw 213 innings over Tillman’s 86 innings) gives Harrison the edge. Winner: Harrison
Both have similar command numbers over their major league careers – Tillman with a 1.8 K/BB compared to Harrison’s 1.9 K/BB. Tillman did boost his command numbers last year to a very nice 2.8 K/BB, but Harrison’s command has been steady over the last couple years, which I value more. This could very well be reversed next year if Tillman can continue to boost his strikeouts. Winner: Harrison.
Both had xFIP’s that are much higher than their ERA’s. However, Harrison’s 4.13 xFIP is much lower than Tillman’s 4.34 xFIP. Winner: Harrison.
Harrison’s 49% groundball rate is far more attractive than Tillman’s 34.5 % groundball rate. Winner: Harrison.
Swinging Strike %
For those not too familiar with this stat, “swinging strike % is how many times a batter swings and misses.” (Numbers courtesy from Fangraphs.) This number can be used as indicator to figure out whether a pitcher’s strikeout rate is for real. Harrison’s percentage has been on a slow rise the last three years. Is there room for further growth? Much of his success has come primarily from his fastball/changeup combination and if his slider can actually improve just a little, perhaps he can induce more strikeouts. Tillman’s swinging strike rate is similar to Harrison’s. While he hasn’t captured the velocity he’s had in the minors, the low 90’s velocity he had shown in his rookie year is encouraging. Combined with glimpses of his 94 mph fastball during certain outings last year as well as showing success with his curveball and changeup, perhaps another step forward can occur. Winner: Push
When it comes to pitching deeper into ballgames, Harrison’s 6 2/3 average innings edges out Tillman’s 5.73 average innings. Tillman needs to pitch deeper into games next year or he’ll continue coming out with a lot of no-decisions. Harrison is a consistent pitcher who pitches more good games than bad games. If you draft him, draft him with the realization that his bad games can be really ugly.
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While Tillman does not have the number of outings that Harrison threw last year, Tillman’s starts were more dominant and actually more reliable. Gamble that Tillman takes another step forward in this department. Winner: Tillman
When deciding who to fill out your rotation with should be dependent on how your rotation looks. If you’re in a redraft league, perhaps Harrison’s steadiness, despite throwing some ugly games is the kind of pitcher you need. He does offer some upside with a small strikeout boost, and should post numbers that won’t hurt you. If you’re the gambling type, Tillman’s potential skillset and growth he showed last year, despite being a fly ball pitcher is awfully tempting. Whoever you draft, each pitcher comes with considerable risk if you boil it down to their BABIP or strand rate.
Chris Tillman also showed that he was very lucky last year with a career low .234 BABIP, and considering he’s a fly ball pitcher, we should not expect him to be so lucky and would expect an ERA closer to 4.00. Matt Harrison’s strand rate continues to climb up, allowing him to outperform his ERA and would be weary of him being able to replicate last year’s numbers unless he can boost the strikeouts. His swinging strike % tells us that there is some upside for a strikeout boost. My only drawback with Harrison is that he’s starting to show he is what he is, while Tillman is showing signs of becoming a more consistent pitcher with good peripherals, and that just might be enough to want to draft him over Harrison.