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Second Thoughts Game #103: Cleveland 4, Kansas City 6

Second Thoughts Game #103: Cleveland 4, Kansas City 6
Carlos Santana watches one of his homers sail over the fence on Friday night. (Photo: AP)
July 26, 2014
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Before 2014, Josh Tomlin’s pitching repertoire was defined more by the absence of traits than their presence. This phrase should not be interpreted as a pejorative, merely a statement of fact.

Of the 465 pitchers who had thrown at least 300 innings between 2004 and 2013, Tomlin ranked 405th in strikeout-per-plate appearance (.132) and 452nd in walks per PA (.046). It should elicit no controversy to note, nor is it denigrating to Tomlin to say, that his game relative to MLB average  was defined, predominantly, by what was not present.

The same could not be said about Tomlin’s 2014 season. The walks have dipped to the lowest rate of his career (.030 BB/PA), but the strikeouts have arrived with a relative vengeance. Tomlin is not challenging for the league lead in strikeouts, but his strikeout rate is firmly above league average, at .212 K/PA entering Friday’s contest relative to a .203 K/PA league average; this fact is yet more impressive considering that starters average a lower strikeout rate than relievers. Combining his quite-good strikeout proficiency with his near-elite walk prevention, his K%-BB% was 17th-best in the game of the 124 pitchers with 80+ IP on the season. Viewed from the perspective of strikeouts and walks, Tomlin is a genuine asset to the club.

But for one statistic, Josh Tomlin’s year has been quite good. But for his home run rate, Tomlin would be the #2 starter on the team. But for that same statistic, of course, Danny Salazar would never have been sent to AAA.

Tomlin, entering Friday, had the sixth-highest Home Runs per 9 IP rate of all pitchers with 80+ IP. In terms of in-game execution, it’s not hard to see the primary driver of the HR rate: relative to the league average, Josh Tomlin works higher in the zone. This connection is not inherently a condemnation of working high in the zone; more home runs will be surrendered, but fly balls have a much lower aggregate Batting Average if not a home run than ground balls, with the most beneficial outcome being the infield fly ball.

Tomlin’s Infield Fly Ball Rate (9.0% of all fly balls, 9.4% being league average), however, is far eclipsed by  typical breed of effective flyball pitchers, falling well short of either Jered Weaver (13.0% career) and Chris Young (15.2% career). In contrast, Tomlin’s HR/FB ratio has been higher-than-average over the course of his career and anomalously so in 2014 at an anomalous clip of 16.5%.

Josh Tomlin’s strength entering the year was his ability to prevent walks. In 2014, he added an above-average strikeout ability. Much as Corey Kluber in 2013, Josh Tomlin’s strikeout and walk numbers indicate that he should be posting the numbers of a #2 starter, whereas his batted ball outcomes, also like Kluber in 2013, sharply undersell these abilities. Whereas Kluber’s batted ball struggles in 2013 centered around a largely unrepeatable stat – a high line drive rate – Tomlin’s struggles in 2014 are more ambiguous.

On one hand, HR/FB rate is extremely volatile, so in the sense that his unduly high HR/9 rate is unlikely to remain at the sixth highest rate in the majors, Tomlin’s batted ball struggles are likely to regress. However, on the other hand, IFFB% is the most stable batted ball category, so Tomlin’s low career IFFB% is likely to remain low barring a dramatic shift in pitching philosophy.

Tomlin’s HR/9 total is likely to decrease, certainly, but given that Tomlin remains a fly ball pitcher, it will remain higher than the league average. Because his IFFB% is unlikely to rise to the rate of the most seasoned fly ball pitchers in the league, Tomlin’s flyball tendency is likely to remain a net detriment in the long run. Unlike Kluber, Tomlin’s batted ball problems are not merely one regression away.

John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimmHe can also be reached by e-mail at

User Comments

July 26, 2014 - 5:18 PM EDT
Well I do think Francona and Shaponetti look at the standings and think, what the heck we're only 71/2 back w 60 to play and we have proven we can beat the Tigers. In other words they think they can win it (ha ha) and are not going to dismantle the starting team. I don't know that I agree with that but they aren't asking me. For them to really compete they need a DH that can hit .260 -.280 and a 4-5 tool outfielder. I don't think they need Cabrera on the field. They certainly don't need Swisher, Murphy, Raburn on offense or defense, and they have enough starters if Salazar sticks and plenty of relief pitchers on the team and in Triple A so they don't need Masterson and Axford. I think the Indians can afford to lose all these guys and still be as competitive or more competitive than they are right now, depending on who they bring up and how well they do, and what if anything they can get in trade. I predict there will be deals but I don't think the Tribe will be categorized as either buyers or sellers. I think they're somewhere walking the wire in between.
Canadian Joe
July 26, 2014 - 3:04 PM EDT
This team is teetering on the brink. Have sat back the last few weeks to see if anything significant happens to re-kindle my feelings. Sad to say, the offence is really struggling, now that Brantley and Lonnie have cooled off. Only Santana has picked up, but that has only been for a short period thus far. Time to move some dead wood. There is enough of it on the roster.
Starting pitching has been sporadic at best. Short of Kluber and Bauer, there are holes. Relief pitching is showing signs of wear and tear. Being used far too much.
And finally there is the defense! What can I say but BRUTAL !!!! Raeburn's play the other nite epitimizes this teams weaknesses on D. We need players that can play one position well, not a bunch of players that can play 2 or 3 but not play them well.
There is too much wrong with this team at present to think they can get real hot and contend. Bring up some young guys and let them play.
July 26, 2014 - 2:44 PM EDT
Agreed they should be willing to part with ACab, losing him doesn't hurt this lineup and he's gone anyway after this yr.


Who wants him? Seattle, Miami, St.L, Wash, Oak all teams rumored looking for MIF help.

If I'm the Tribe I pay his salary to get a better return, same with Masterson and Axford.

July 26, 2014 - 2:34 PM EDT
It looks like the hot rumors today is there are many teams inquiring on Cabrera. If there is that interest the Indians must pull that trigger to trade him. Maybe the Indians could package Masterson with Cabrera to increase in what the Indians could get back in return.

Just want to throw this out there, Santana is heating up, and there other playoff contention teams looking for a big bat. Should the Indians consider in trading Santana.
July 26, 2014 - 11:50 AM EDT
The baffling thing about Tomlin is how the big flies seem to come in bunches. . he'll pitch 4 shutout innings and give up 2- 3 big flies/ extra base hits all of a sudden. This is still a game you have to win after Santana turns around 2 100MPH fastballs, and Yan Gomes tags and scores on a pop-up to even the score. Too many holes in the offense. I don't think Swisher should be out there any more period. And I think, regrettably, they should try to move Kipnis. I was a huge Kipnis supporter in 2011 and 2012, but I am now convinced that whatever he was taking when he moved from Columbus to the bigs had a lot to do with his superior performance. His tools offensively and defensively are average- what we see now is who he is. But there are teams out there that are desperate for second base help and may look at the 2011-2012 performance while still fresh and give up a high end prospect or two for Kipnis now. I think w a new short-stop next year, now is the time to change second basemen. I wouldn't be opposed to giving JRam a shot. He's a little rough around the edges, but hey with more reps at this level, he could become the next Altuve, who knows. Axford threw Butler a meatball, and he didn't miss it. I think Francona went to the well once too many times w the gopher king.
July 26, 2014 - 11:48 AM EDT
Sell !!!!

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