When the Indians announced that they were removing Carlos Carrasco from the rotation, I thought it was to make room for Trevor Bauer at the major league level. He’s been fantastic at Triple-A Columbus, and he had a solid spot start with the Indians this year. I always figured Tomlin was next on the depth chart after him – if someone should get injured, or perhaps if the Tribe lost patience with Danny Salazar. Instead, we’ll be seeing Tomlin matchup against Samuel Deduno on Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins. Is this the correct decision, or should the Indians have gone with Bauer on Tuesday night? I think there are positives and negatives with either choice, but I’ll try to weigh all of those in order to make a decision.
When you compare Triple-A stats from the two, this is what you’ve seen so far:
Josh Tomlin – 2.06 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 28 strikeouts, 9 walks, 3 home runs in 35 innings pitched
Trevor Bauer – 1.10 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 31 strikeouts, 9 walks, 1 home run in 32.2 innings pitched (his line from the April 9 game in Cleveland is very similar – 1.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 6 innings pitched)
So Bauer has a slightly better minor league line, but Tomlin’s isn’t exactly anything to sneeze at. Looking just at these, I’d be comfortable with either pitcher although I’d acknowledge that Bauer has much better stuff than Tomlin. It’s when you start to look at some of the other statistics, that I start to fully lean Bauer.
First, a bit of observational insight into Tomlin. One thing I’ve always liked about Josh Tomlin is the fact that he has good pitch placement and is pretty tough to rattle. He appears to have the same demeanor and approach whether the bases are empty and there are two outs, or if the bases are loaded and there are no outs. While this isn’t something you can necessarily quantify, it’s a good quality in a pitcher. The antithesis is Nick Hagadone; when he gets in trouble on the mound, he gets a look on his face similar to the one my dog gets when the UPS truck rumbles down the street. (Sheer terror) So it’s definitely a positive when Tomlin can stare down a bad situation and continue to hit his marks.
There was one thing I happened to notice about Tomlin this spring in Arizona, though. He threw a lot of strikes and had a lot of success – his numbers were good at the end of spring training. However, when I saw him in person, it seemed like every pitch was just clobbered. Often right to someone for an out, but the amount of hard contact I saw was enough to make me nervous. And even though he threw a lot of strikes and often got ahead of hitters, every so often he would serve one up right in the center of the plate…and it would be launched. I guess an occupational hazard for a guy who doesn’t throw excessively hard, yet throws a lot of pitches in the zone.
So I decided to look at the BABIP for both Tomlin and Bauer at Columbus. Was one significantly more lucky than the other when it came to balls in play (or the beneficiary of good defense)? And the answer is yes – Tomlin’s BABIP is .211 (.279 in Triple-A last year), while Bauer’s is .286 (.307 in Columbus last year). Bauer earned his statistics so far with a BABIP close to what would be considered league-average (.290-.310). There’s more chance of a regression with Tomlin, especially when you consider the amount of errors the Tribe’s major league defense has made so far this year.
Let’s go next to left-on-base percentage. This is the amount of baserunners that the pitcher happens to strand on base. League average LOB % is around 70-72%; so if a pitcher is significantly higher than that, it means that he’s likely stranding an inordinate amount of runners and that his luck will likely run out soon (meaning that their ERA could take a jump in the near future). If it’s lower than that, their ERA may be artificially high, and is due to come down some. Josh Tomlin’s LOB % is 85.8% (for reference, it was 71.4% last season in Columbus, exactly average). Trevor Bauer’s is 91.8% at Columbus, and was 71.4 % for his game in Cleveland this year (for reference, it was 71.6 % in Columbus in 2013). So basically both of these guys have been extremely fortunate when it comes to players left on base. Both are likely due for a regression and a slight jump in ERA.
When you look at Bauer and Tomlin’s FIP (fielder independent pitching) it gives you an idea of what their ERA probably should have looked like if not for luck, good defense, etc. Tomlin’s FIP is 3.66, while Bauer’s is 2.70 (both figures are their Triple-A stats).
Going with all that I’ve mentioned, my choice would have been Bauer for Tuesday night, despite the fact that he’s had a bit of good luck as well. I’m sure the Indians have their reasons – perhaps they wanted him to have more time in Columbus, or perhaps they wanted to reward Tomlin for his hard work coming back from Tommy John surgery. And to be honest, both Bauer and Tomlin would make me nervous – Bauer, because of his past struggles (and fear they’ll suddenly make an ugly return) and Tomlin, simply because often, his stuff is very hittable.
Does that mean I think Tomlin will have a terrible game on Tuesday? Not necessarily. One start is an extremely small sample size, and his luck from Triple-A could certainly continue. Plus he had success out of the bullpen in limited action toward the end of last season with the Tribe. With the Indians’ recent defensive struggles, the hard-hit contact I saw this spring (which honestly, could have improved since I haven’t seen Tomlin at Columbus), and the fact that Tomlin doesn’t really have dynamic stuff, I am a bit nervous for Tomlin’s start. However, it can’t be worse than Carrasco would have been, right?