Josh Tomlin is, and always has been, the Indians’ starting pitching canary-in-the-coal-mine. When things are going well, Tomlin is nowhere to be found outside of Columbus, but when things are going poorly, he’s making me miserable every five days.
You can talk all you want about Corey Kluber’s cyborg-like domination of the opposition, or Cookie being our “B” Ace, or Salazar’s fastball (I don’t really want to talk about Salazar today), or even about Trevor Bauer and how he’s valuable as a starter because he’s capable of eating innings — what you cannot do, however, is talk about Josh Tomlin like he’s a good pitcher, or an effective pitcher, or a person who is worthy of a roster spot on a major league team, let alone a team that was in the World Series last fall and has goals of getting back there again. The starting rotation for the Cleveland Indians cannot be their strength so long as they continue to trot out Josh Tomlin every five days.
Let’s not mince words – Josh Tomlin is not a major league player.
Josh Tomlin is a curse upon my psyche that just won’t go away. 2017 marks Tomlin’s eighth season as a member of the Indians. For eight seasons, Manny Acta’s “Little Cowboy” has thrown at least a pitch in a game for the Cleveland Indians. 2016 was a pivotal moment — if Tomlin could have channeled the spirit of Greg Maddux and won Game 6, I would be the proud owner of a curse-busting, $250 authentic Josh Tomlin World Series jersey. Unfortunately, the Cubs lineup saw Tomlin for a second time and reminded him (and us!) that he is not a good pitcher, and now I can freely hate him again.
To be fair, for most of his career, Tomlin has been a merely sub-par pitcher. Not good, not horrific, and not really someone you could project to be good. He gave up a lot of home runs (solo home runs!), he didn’t walk anyone, and he was a great teammate.
This season, however, age and ineptitude has caught up to him. Tomlin is only 32, so in theory he has only just begun the downswing of his career arc… but the sad truth is that any decline in Tomlin’s ability would render him one of the worst pitchers in baseball, which is exactly what we’ve seen in 2017.
How bad has Tomlin been? Let’s dig in.
When I go to Baseball Reference and sort starting pitchers by ERA, Josh Tomlin is dead last in ERA. To be fair, Trevor Bauer is just a few places ahead, but that’s another discussion for another day. Josh Tomlin, purely by ERA, is the worst starting pitcher in baseball. (Note: Except maybe Bartolo Colon, who has been awful this year and is probably done. Do you really want to argue “Hey, don’t lie about Tomlin, he’s not as bad as that 44-year old fat guy who has been better than Tomlin for the last 5 years!”?)
But that’s just by ERA, so, I mean, come on Adam, stop being so mean to poor little Josh Tomlin.
Oh, I can go deeper.
Tomlin has made 15 starts in 2017, and he has pitched 81.1 innings in 15 starts. That’s 244 outs. That’s basically 5.1 innings per start. For a fifth starter, this is actually okay. At the bottom of the rotation, Fivin’ and Divin’ is totally fine. The problem is that, unless Tomlin is having one of his rare “on” days, where he inexplicably goes 7-8 innings without allowing a run, he’s awful. In May, Tomlin had a 7-inning, an 8-inning, and a 9-inning game where he allowed only one run. Those starts were great!
Outside of those starts, however, the numbers are ugly. In fact, they’re grotesque. Outside of those three games in May, Tomlin has an 8.16 ERA. He is already the worst in the American League with a 6.09 ERA, but if you take just those three May starts out, Tomlin is more than 2.00 ERA behind the second worst AL starter, which is, of course, Josh Tomlin.
Tomlin isn’t eating innings – it is common knowledge that unless he is on his A+ pitching game, he gets yanked as soon as the opposition lineup faces him twice. The Indians were going to have a bullpen game in the second game of the double header on Saturday (they didn’t, because of Friday night’s postponement), but that’s essentially what they’ve been doing every 5th day with Tomlin in the rotation.
Am I unfairly hating on Tomlin? I don’t think so. It is a little bit strange to throw out his three good starts (they are part of his body of work, after all), but those games just feel like flukes to me. Tomlin is currently striking out 6.1 batters per nine innings (3rd highest in his career) and walking 1.0 batters per nine innings (best in his career) and he’s still, by Earned Run Average, the worst starter in all of baseball. What if he regresses to career norms in both of those areas?
The obvious question to follow this thesis is: if not Tomlin, then whom?
Salazar, whenever he’s healthy, or ready, or practiced, or whatever the Indians are doing with him. I sincerely don’t know if he’s actually hurt, or if the team is trying to tweak his mechanics, or trying to exorcise his demons. All I know is that Salazar got yanked from the rotation for being better than Josh Tomlin. Salazar has a 5.40 ERA, which is a full half-run better than Tomlin, and everyone seems to agree that Salazar has essentially been a dumpster fire this season.
When Salazar returns to the rotation, the rotation should look like this:
There is no exception to this. You can’t demote Clevinger in favor of Tomlin. He’s striking out 10.3 batters per nine innings, he’s got a 3.56 ERA, and he’s just looked like a decent 5th starter. I’m not a big fan of Clevinger, but a contending team could do much worse for a fifth starter (they could be stuck with Josh Tomlin, for instance).
Right now, the Indians have to roll with Josh Tomlin. I know he’s a great teammate, and a great person, but he should be retiring as soon as Danny Salazar can return to the lineup. He would be a great addition to the Indians postgame show alongside Jensen Lewis and Al Pawlowski.