Two of the most irritating catchphrases around Baltimore sports are “Joe Flacco isn’t an elite quarterback” and “Chris Tillman isn’t an ace.”
I’m not here to opine on Flacco and the Ravens’ difficulties, but I am here to defend Tillman.
Over the last five seasons, Tillman is 65-33, a winning percentage of .663.
How good is that? Jim Palmer’s lifetime winning percentage was .638, and in his 10 years with the Orioles, Mike Mussina’s was .645.
Tillman, who had an erratic first three seasons with the Orioles, still has a lifetime .600 percentage, in his time here. That trails only Mussina, Palmer, Mike Cuellar and Dave McNally among pitchers with at least as many wins as Tillman.
He’s climbing up on the Orioles’ all-time lists. With 72 wins, Tillman is 13th in franchise history, just one behind the immortal Sidney Ponson. With a decent season, Tillman will pass Ponson, Scott Erickson and Mike Boddicker, who each have 79 wins as an Oriole.
To be sure, Tillman’s ERA is much higher than many of those ahead of him, but at 4.13, it’s still far better than Ponson, Erickson and Dennis Martinez.
It’s not far off two other Orioles greats, Scott McGregor (3.99) and Mike Flanagan (3.89).
Tillman isn’t an Oriole great, but he’s at least an Oriole very good.
As for the ace talk, Tillman won 16 games, tying him with Justin Verlander and Seattle’s Hisashi Iwakuma for sixth place. Only Rick Porcello (22), J.A. Happ (21), Corey Kluber (18), David Price and Chris Sale (17) had more.
All those pitchers ahead of Tillman on the win list had lower ERAs except for Price, as did Verlander, Aaron Sanchez, who led the American League in ERA (3.00) and Masahiro Tanaka.
No one will argue that Tillman is in the class of Verlander, Kluber or for this year, Porcello, but had he not been shut down for three weeks late in the season, he could have gotten some votes for the Cy Young Award.
Tillman completed at least six innings in 17 of his 30 starts, and in his third straight Opening Day start, left after two perfect innings only because of a lengthy rain delay.
By the Orioles’ 68th game, Tillman had won his 10th game and was a sparkling 10-1 with a 3.11 ERA and seemingly on his way for Cy Young and All-Star Game consideration.
But instead of becoming the Orioles’ first 20-game winner since Boddicker in 1984, Tillman had two bad starts where he allowed 10 runs in 9 2/3 innings, and was passed over for the All-Star Game.
Tillman was a late add for the 2013 game, but didn’t pitch.
Following those starts, Tillman pitched four brilliant games, throwing seven innings each time and allowing a total of four runs and just 14 hits.
While that 14-2 record looked great on July 21, it was obvious his shoulder was bothering him and won just two of his final nine starts.
Overall, a 16-6 record and 3.77 ERA wasn’t bad and earned him the start in the wild-card game.
Tillman’s WAR of 4.1 was the second highest of his career, behind only the 4.4 of 2013, the other time he won 16 games.
Always available at his locker after a game, win or lose, Tillman is admired for never making excuses for his own performance or blaming the offensive shortcomings of his teammates.
A year from now, Tillman will be a free agent, and another year like this one, and he’ll be a highly sought after one, probably out of the Orioles’ price range.
At the Oct. 6 season-ending press conference, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette remarked that he had made two runs at signing Tillman to an extension and that he would try again this offseason.
It will be difficult because the Orioles haven’t signed one of their own pitchers to a five-year contract since Erickson’s five-year $32 extension in 1998.
Tillman is the best Orioles starter since Mussina, who the Orioles famously lost to the New York Yankees. (Mussina signed a six-year, $88.5 million deal in 2000).
It would be in the Orioles’ best interest if they locked Tillman up for the long term because it’s likely a year from now his price will be much higher than it is now.
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