2015 Orioles preview: Chris Tillman

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With Opening Day just under four weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

SP Chris Tillman

Opening Day age: 26

Contract status: Under club control through the 2017 season

Minor-league options remaining: None

2014 stats: 13-6, 3.34 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 6.5 K/IP, 21 HR, 207 1/3 innings

Why to be impressed: The 2013 All-Star selection solidified his status as the ace of the staff by posting a 2.38 ERA over his final 21 starts and allowing three or fewer earned runs in 20 straight outings from June 10 through his penultimate start of the 2014 regular season. He also allowed 12 fewer home runs than the 33 he allowed in 2013.

Why to be concerned: Tillman’s strikeouts per nine innings rate dropped from 7.8 in 2013 to 6.5 last season as the big right-hander doesn’t miss as many bats as you’d like from your No. 1 starter. Opposing hitters’ .268 batting average on balls in play is a reflection of the defense behind him but also indicates a greater amount of luck compared to the major league average of roughly .300.

2015 outlook: Based on opponents’ BAbip (see above) and his 4.01 FIP (fielding independent pitching) in 2014, two stats embraced by sabermetricians, Tillman has been a benefactor of luck and the Orioles’ sparkling defense, but a 3.42 ERA over his last 500 innings of work is too big a sample to dismiss the substantial progress he’s made since his first few seasons. Tillman should be good for another 200-inning season with an ERA closer to 3.50 than 4.00.