I’ve always been amazed by pitchers like Josh Tomlin.
As his career progresses it’s become clear that his ceiling is probably as a back-of-the-rotation starter, but I’m still in awe whenever he pitches. How does a guy with such mediocre stuff continue to get major league hitters out?
Greg Maddux is the ultimate example of this type of baffling pitcher. Paul Byrd is probably a more reaslitic comparison for Tomlin. Cliff Lee is somewhere in between.
The success of these types of pitchers perfectly demonstrates the power of strikes.
Especially in today’s game, when hitters are taught to be patient and selective from a young age, pitchers can gain a significant advantage by simply putting the ball over the plate on a regular basis.
It’s just a theory, and one that’s tough to support with stats, but I truly believe many of today’s hitters are more uncomfortable facing a pitcher that throws soft strikes than one that may be a little more overpowering but gives them a few extra pitches with which to work. They go up to the plate knowing the pitcher is capable of forcing them to pick out one of the first three pitches to hit, and that’s added pressure they don’t see often these days.
In today’s game, Tomlin may be the perfect example of a guy getting the most out of his limited ability simply by putting the ball in the strike zone.
The chart below shows the seven pitchers who have thrown at least 77 percent strikes with their fastball, despite an average velocity under 90.
|1. Joe Beimel (SEA)||104||11.4%||76.0%||7.7%||52.8%||60.6%||36.6%||86.9|
|2. Kevin Slowey (MIA)||263||15.9%||74.1%||7.2%||38.5%||61.6%||33.7%||89.2|
|3. Zach Duke (MIL)||137||17.1%||73.0%||5.8%||46.0%||61.3%||28.3%||89.2|
|4. R. A. Dickey (TOR)||118||6.3%||72.9%||2.5%||56.5%||69.5%||22.2%||82.1|
|5. Huston Street (SD)||154||32.0%||72.1%||11.7%||19.5%||44.8%||35.3%||89.2|
|6. Josh Tomlin (CLE)||103||7.7%||71.8%||1.9%||50.0%||57.3%||15.9%||88.4|
|7. Pat Neshek (STL)||117||37.0%||71.8%||17.1%||23.7%||65.8%||22.5%||89.8|
|8. Cliff Lee (PHI)||458||20.8%||71.4%||5.5%||47.6%||60.9%||21.2%||89.7|
So far this season, Tomlin has thrown 103 fastballs at an average velocity of 88.4, with 77 of those fastballs resulting in strikes. Only two of those 77 strikes have been the result of a batter swining and missing at the pitch.
Despite the fact that hitters know the fastball is coming in certain counts, and they know it’s hittable, and they’re not whiffing at it, they’ve managed just three hits against the pitch. Is there luck involved in that stat? Of course. His .048 BABIP against fastballs is not even remotely sustainable.
But Tomlin has proven to be an exception to the BABIP rule in his career, producing a surprisingly low BABIP against his fastball over a large sample size. Since 2010, Tomlin is among 471 pitchers who have thrown at least 1,000 fastballs. Only 22 of those pitchers produced a lower BABIP than Tomlin. When that stats are to that extreme with that significant of a sample size, you can throw out the fluke argument – Tomlin has a repleatable skill, which he continues to demonstrate.
It’s tough to say exactly how Tomlin makes this work, and perhaps that’s why the Indians were so reluctant to insert him into the starting rotation this year. But I think it’s time for us to embrace Tomlin. He’s one of those mysterious pitchers that just finds ways to frustrate hitters.
All stats courtesy ESPN Stats & Information