Second Thoughts Game #103: Cleveland 4, Kansas City 6
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 @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.