I’ve been one of Josh Tomlin‘s biggest supporters throughout his career, but there’s no defending him now. He’s on a terrible streak and he’s costing the Indians games—everyone can agree on that right now. He’s been so bad that Mike Clevinger is likely to replace him the rotation, at least for a short period of time, while Tomlin works out his issues.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about right now.
Tomlin has been a player Indians fans love to hate for a long time, and as the team has turned into contenders and the bandwagon fans are piling on, they’re also piling on with the Tomlin hate.
But while Tomlin is the guy receiving this negative attention right now, it really isn’t about him. It’s about a misunderstanding of how pitching staffs work.
There are 30 teams in MLB and five starters on each staff, which means the league needs 150 starting pitchers at any given time. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t 150 pitchers who deserve to be pitching the majors. Not even close to 150, in fact.
So while fans complain about Tomlin and his recent implosion, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that every team is dealing with the same problems.
To get an idea of how terrible the average fifth starter is, let’s break down the top 150 starters in MLB. The table below shows the 150 pitchers with the most innings thrown as a starter, ranked by ERA. It’s a crude way of ranking them, but it gets the point across.
As you can see, fifth starters are absolutely, unequivocally horrendous.
If we split up these 150 starters equally, every team would have at least one pitcher with an ERA over 5.00, and a few would have two. And as bad as Tomlin has been lately, there are still 48 others starters with a worse ERA—FORTY EIGHT!
Again, this isn’t meant to be a defense of Tomlin. He’s terrible right now. But it’s worth looking at the big picture before panicking.
Take a glance in that fifth starter column. The Orioles have four pitchers in there. Boston as two. Toronto and Detroit each have one. Even Texas, which looks like the most complete team in the AL, has Derek Holland at 4.92 and A.J. Griffin, just one spot ahead of Tomlin. Basically every contender has serious issues with their starting rotation.
So while there are plenty of reasons to worry about the Indians every fifth day right now, you can comfort yourself by understanding that every other fan base in the AL—literally every other fan base—feels exactly the same way.