Josh Tomlin: the Cleveland Indians’ fifth starter is such an anomaly that it’s nearly impossible to say how long his success will last. With a propensity for the long ball but a 100 percent left-on-base rate to go with it, Tomlin is putting up impressive numbers using a somewhat risky strategy.
In just over 55 innings, Tomlin has been impressive. His 6-2 record over eight starts is incredible, as is his 2.43 ERA. The 4.38 FIP that accompanies it is a bit less exciting, but that’s to be expected from a starter who allows 1.78 home runs per nine innings.
In contrast to 11 home runs, Tomlin has walked just six of the 208 batters he’s faced. That gives him a 2.9 percent walk rate, compared to a league average of 7.6 percent. To put it in even more perspective, three of those walks came in his last start, with the other three occurring in his first seven starts combined. Tomlin is also striking out 25 percent of batters, well over the 20.3 percent average.
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But how long can this success last? Tomlin has never been a 2.43 ERA kind of pitcher. He’s more of a mid-fours kind of arm, with a fastball that ranges from the high 80s to very low 90s. He challenges hitters, sure, but he’s hardly a guy who is known for raw talent.
What is possible is that the Tribe’s improved defense is benefiting the entire pitching staff, and Tomlin was fortunate enough to return to the majors after the roster was revamped. An outfield with Michael Brantley, Abraham Almonte and Lonnie Chisenhall is hard to rate statistically this late in the year. Defensive stats usually take a full season to normalize, and neither Almonte or Chisenhall has enough outfield playing time to analyze their defense accurately. However, it would seem that a flyball pitcher would need a strong outfield defense in order to produce numbers similar to the ones Tomlin has posted this year.
Tomlin has also been particularly tough against left-handers. His opponents have been almost evenly split — 101 lefties compared to 107 right-handers. Yet, nine of the 11 home runs he’s allowed have come off of the bat of righties, and they’re hitting .238 compared to left-handed hitters, who are batting .111. Tomlin’s career splits have always held to this reverse-platoon pattern, but it’s more pronounced this season. Typically, left-handers hit about .020 points worse, but their power numbers are fairly similar to right-handed batters. This year, those differences are much larger.
Tomlin’s .175 BABIP suggests he’ll eventually come back to earth, but until then, he’s pitched so well that right-hander Trevor Bauer is out of a rotation job. Bauer’s recent struggles combined with the success of Tomlin and Cody Anderson made the move necessary, but it still came as a bit of a shock considering Bauer’s status with the team. That just goes to show how good Tomlin has been.
Can the Tribe’s 30-year-old starter keep it up for the remainder of the season? That remains to be seen, but this is certainly the best he has pitched in his entire career, and if he can continue, it will give him a strong chance at making the rotation out of Spring Training next season.