The Orioles fell behind early again during Tuesday’s Spring Training action, with Chris Tillman allowing two runs on five hits in less than two innings of work. With all the usual caveats in mind regarding the importance of not taking exhibition baseball too seriously, the pattern we’re seeing could become a familiar one come the regular season based on past performance.
Two of the O’s core starters – Tillman and Yovani Gallardo – tend to struggle at the outset of their starts. Tillman’s difficulties settling into a groove are well documented among the Baltimore faithful; meanwhile, the newly acquired Gallardo has struggled the most in the first inning throughout his career.
Looking at both pitchers’ career splits, tOPS+ (find a basic primer here) provides us with a look at how the three starters have done in the early innings relative to their overall performances. For pitchers it’s better to have a tOPS+ score of less than 100 (whereas the situation is reversed for batters) while a score of 100 would mean that their performance in that inning is equivalent their overall totals. The patterns that emerge in this category are reflected in ERA for both pitchers as well.
Tillman: Aside from the rare ninth-inning appearances he has made (five total in his career), Tillman’s worst tOPS+ scores come in the first two innings: 125 and 130, respectively. Those struggles are reflected in more traditional stat categories including ERA (5.21 in the first inning, 4.99 in the second inning). The early innings are not kind to Chris Tillman.
Gallardo: Gallardo’s tOPS+ numbers don’t vary as wildly as Tillman’s do early in the game, but he still tends to struggle the most right out of the gate. Gallardo has his worst overall tOPS+ – 118 – in the first inning. Again, these struggles are reflected in more traditional stat categories as Gallardo has a career 4.72 ERA in the first inning compared to his career 3.66 ERA overall.
Ubaldo Jimenez is by no means a strong starter early in games, but there’s a less pronounced first-inning effect with him. Kevin Gausman, meanwhile, has too short of a track record as a starter to provide any meaningful insight at this point.
This team may find itself attempting to dig out of holes fairly often in 2016 unless guys like Tillman and Gallardo can, ahem, get into the groove.