Aug 5, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (right) watches as manager Terry Francona (left) takes the ball from starting pitcher Josh Tomlin (43) during a pitching change in the fifth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
The most exciting fan site GM simulation of the year has come and gone, and Wahoo’s on First was, in our opinion, wildly successful. Throughout the series of moves we made, the “Indians” managed to grab a high-upside rotation candidate, acquire and elite bullpen piece, and land an awesome power bat to the lineup. But in order to get all of this done, some pieces needed to be moved to make room on the roster and within the payroll.
Enter Josh Tomlin. Tomlin just enjoyed his first full season back in the big leagues after undergoing Tommy John surgery and needing large chunks of 2012 and 2013 to recover. After being called up to replace the struggling Danny Salazar early in the season, it seemed as though the Little Cowboy had reinvented himself as a pitcher. During the 11 starts he made in May and June, Tomlin posted a 3.78 ERA, which his 3.77 FIP proved to be just about indicative of his skill. His 8.11 K/9 and 1.26 BB/9 rates were both respectable, but his .277 BABIP suggested he was a bit lucky. His characteristically high 12.8% HR/Fly Ball ratio wasn’t exactly encouraging, either. But with a slightly above-average performance in front of a well-below-average defense, there was reason to believe Tomlin might stick as a fourth or fifth starter. He was, at least, keeping the Indians in the game with almost every start, despite giving up what the fan community so lovingly described as his “nightly dinger”. Then he blew us all away with an ace-caliber performance against Seattle on June 28th. On that special night, he tossed a one-hitter while striking out 11 and allowing no runs or walks. Kyle Seager‘s single led to the only baserunner of the night for the Mariners, and Tomlin otherwise breezed through a lineup that included Seager and Robinson Cano. Although his pitches were all averaging under 90 MPH that night, his curveball was averaging over a foot of downward movement, while his fastball was rising about 8 inches. His arm slot was slightly different than usual that night, which may have been part of the reason for his success. The fact is, he was downright filthy.
While nobody expected him to repeat his breakout performance on a nightly basis, nobody expected him to plummet the way he did. In case you missed it, Tomlin was awful for his next five starts. He averaged 5.1 innings and over four earned runs per start from the beginning of July through the fifth of August, leading to a disgraceful 7.09 ERA. His 2.87 xFIP (a stat used to normalize Fielder-Independent Pitching by assuming a league-average HR/FB ratio) suggested that such a number was likely ballooned by his catastrophic 26.9% HR/FB ratio. The result of this was an 0-3 record and a demotion to the bullpen. Tomlin did make a solid spot start against Arizona, but it’s hard to be excited about a five-inning shutout performance against one of the worst teams in baseball.
Tomlin is projected to earn $1.7 million after arbitration this year. While that might not seem like much, the Indians already owe $15 million to Nick Swisher and $13.5 million to Michael Bourn in 2015. On top of that, the Indians owe Carlos Santana, David Murphy and Michael Brantley an average of about $6 million apiece, and have salary commitments to Scott Atchison, Yan Gomes, Jason Kipnis, Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn that combine for just over $12.1 million. They’re projected to owe a total of $8.7 million to their arbitration-eligible players (including Tomlin) as well. Throw in a bunch of pre-arb players who are earning the league minimum of $501k (or just above), and the Indians are looking at around $73 million in payroll commitments already. While Tomlin is a viable sixth starter or long reliever, his projected 0.4 WAR value (via the Steamer projections) doesn’t figure to be worth nearly $2 million. The Indians will have yet another crowded battle for 5 rotation spots and 8 bullpen positions, and four of the rotation spots figure to be taken by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer. Tomlin would be competing with TJ House, Zach McAllister and Shawn Marcum (along with other potential additions… *hint hint*) for the fifth starter job, and unlike last year, he’s out of options and can’t be stashed in AAA. The other three candidates have much greater upside than Tomlin, who can barely hit 90 mph on the radar gun and faded halfway through the 2014 season.
Ultimately, the decision to non-tender Tomlin was a difficult one, but it will reduce the Tribe’s 2015 payroll commitments to about $71 million and free up a roster spot for a player who can, in theory, make better use of it.
What do you think of the decision? We encourage you to comment below, or tweet us at @wahoosonfirst