After a few rough outings Josh Tomlin has, at least temporarily, been demoted to the bullpen once again.
I’ve been frustrated with the Indians handling of Josh Tomlin throughout the season, and Joe Posnanski wrote a great piece on Hardball Talk yesterday explaining the theory behind my frustrations.
Posnanski’s piece deals with the Tigers trading away Doug Fister – admittedly a far more talented pitcher than Tomlin – but the theory behind it is the same: teams are afraid of pitchers who don’t light up the radar gun.
It’s somewhat understandable, because it’s hard to explain the success of guys like Fister and Tomlin. And it’s easy to point to their lack of speed when they go through a rough patch like the one Tomlin is in right now.
But when you look at the numbers from Tomlin’s recent struggles (for the statistics below, I’ll refer to his last nine starts) it’s hard to place much of the blame on his shoulders for a few key reasons:
The defense has let him down.
The impact of the Indians defense on Tomlin is tough to quantify, especially since it’s hurt all their pitchers. But no Tribe pitcher has surrendered a higher percentage of unearned runs than Tomlin.
During his rough nine game stretch, Tomlin has allowed six unearned runs.
How much that’s hurt his performance is impossible to quantify, but it has certainly caused him to work harder and throw more pitches.
A pitcher like Tomlin relies on rhythm. His motion is repeated exactly the same every single time, which leads to his deception and ability to get away with less than dominant stuff. But as fatigue sets in, it’s harder to repeat a delivery with the same effectiveness.
This is why pitchers like Greg Maddux, who win with a Tomlin-like approach are so rare and so impressive. Typically, the Josh Tomlin approach is limited to the 4th and 5th starters, and even they are rare. In recent Indians history Jeremy Sowers and Paul Byrd are probably the best examples.
Those who pitched before – at any level – understand the impact of quick innings. The drain experienced from three 10-pitch innings is not equivalent to one 30-pitch inning. So when the defense continually lets you down it can have a significant impact on the results – especially in a sample size as small as Tomlin’s last six weeks.
The ball is flying out of the park.
|Thru June 16||.262||13.3%||5.33|
|Since June 17||.342||19.2%||12.00|
While pitchers definitely have control over home runs, and Tomlin’s rate has always been a little higher than most, a pitcher’s home run to fly ball ratio should remain relatively steady over an extended period of time.
Entering this season Tomlin had a home run to fly ball rate of 11 percent (roughly one in every 10 fly balls left the yard). And through his first seven starts that number remained relatively steady at 13 percent. Over his last nine starts, however, that number has skyrocketed to 19.2 percent.
One in every five fly balls is leaving the part for Tomlin-the second highest rate in the majors during that time span, and an obviously unsustainable rate for his opposing hitters.
Those 10 home runs have accounted for 18 of the 31 runs Tomlin has allowed in his last nine starts, indicating that a significant chuck of his performance has been influenced by what we can assume to be a few lucky swings.
If Tomlin were a power pitcher struggling with velocity (Verlander, for example) or a sinkerballer struggling with command (Charles Nagy late in his career, for example) this rise in home run rate would be cause for concern.
But in Tomlin’s case nothing has changed about his approach. He’s still showing the same command as always (50 strikeouts against four walks over his last nine starts), so it’s safe to attribute this rise in home runs to an unlucky stretch.
Over the course of a season, you have to expect a pitcher like Tomlin to give up some long balls. This season they just happened to get all clustered together.
So what’s next?
I hope the Indians give Tomlin another extended look in the rotation. Pitchers with his tools tend to not fair as well in the bullpen, so I’m fearful that they’re essentially throwing in the towel on his career by sending him to the pen. As a guy capable of consistently pitching deep into games, he still has value as a back of the rotation guy, even if his ceiling is no higher than a Paul Byrd type guy.