Learning to Appreciate Josh Tomlin

Throughout the first two months of the season, no player personified “regression candidate” more than Josh Tomlin. His ERA looked great, but nearly every peripheral suggested Tomlin was going to fall apart as the season progressed. But Tomlin has remained an effective pitcher. It hasn’t been all luck either- Tomlin’s xFIP currently sits at 3.72. Now that Tomlin’s peripherals seem to justify his performance, it’s time to take a look at how he’s been able to succeed this season.

Despite a K-rate of 5.14 and a troubling home run rate, Tomlin has continued to pitch well this season. In most cases, a quick look at BABIP would explain why Tomlin has been able to succeed this season. While his .259 BABIP is fairly low, Tomlin’s career average in the category is .266. Since we’re dealing with such a small sample, we have to remain somewhat skeptical of that data. It’s probably more than likely that Tomlin experiences a rise in his BABIP as the season progresses, but it’s nearly impossible to predict how drastically his luck will change. Over his short career, however, he’s been able to keep his BABIP relatively low.

The real reason behind Tomlin’s success appears to be his complete refusal to give up walks. Among all qualified pitchers, Tomlin’s 1.21 walk rate leads baseball. While limiting walks is great for every pitcher, it is absolutely paramount to Tomlin’s success. The formula might not come as a surprise, but Tomlin doesn’t have the best “stuff” in baseball. His fastball averages only 87.6 miles per hour — so when batters make contact, the ball goes a long way, which leads us to Tomlin’s biggest issue this season — the long ball.

Over 89.1 innings pitched this season Tomlin has already allowed 11 home runs. ZIPS ROS projection currently projects Tomlin to allow 14 additional home runs this season, so this is a legitimate issue going forward. Thankfully, Tomlin’s biggest strength is the perfect foil to his biggest weakness. Because Tomlin has been able to limit walks at such a great rate, his home runs haven’t come back to haunt him as much as they probably should. Since walk rate is something a pitcher can control, we have to respect Tomlin’s absolute refusal to hand out free passes as a legitimate change in approach. If nothing else, it looks as if Tomlin has realized his expectations as a pitcher, and has devised an effective plan to combat them.

That’s not to say we should start crowning Josh Tomlin as the next big thing. Despite his success, he still comes with some major flaws. At the same time, Mark Buehrle has carved out a nice little career using a somewhat similar approach. Buehrle’s story is exceptionally unique, however. More than likely, pitchers who don’t throw hard and can’t strike out batters find themselves out of the majors if they can’t adapt. Thankfully for Tomlin, we may have seen our first glimpse of a player willing to alter their approach to hide their flaws. Tomlin will likely never have the career of Mark Buehrle — he’ll be lucky to experience 1/4th of Buehrle’s success in the majors — but he’s turned himself into an effective starter, and that’s already more than anyone expected.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

11 Responses to “Learning to Appreciate Josh Tomlin”

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  1. Jeff says:

    Is a .259 BABIP really unsubstaniable? League-wide BABIP is down this season, hovering around the .290 range, so a BABIP of .259 is less of a radical departure from average than in previous years. Tomlin is fly-ball pitcher – with fly balls having a lower average BABIP than ground balls, it shouldn’t be surprising that his BABIP remains lower than a heavy groundball pitcher (see Carmona or Masterson on his own team). Lastly, the Indians run out an above average defensive outfield (DRS has the outfield at a collectively +8), which should help Tomlin quite a bit.

    Obviously this doesn’t make Tomlin a star or anything, but it at least suggests that, given the circumstances, he may be able to sustain at least a below average BABIP.

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  2. self says:

    just for the record, something can’t be “exceptionally unique.” Unique means one-of-a-kind so technically it shouldn’t have any modifiers.

    Other than that, interesting article

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    • Dave says:

      Never has a more perfect comment been made

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    • isavage30 says:

      oh Jesus, not this silly comment. I always see this “don’t modify unique” in the internet grammar police. Unique is clearly used in places where its meaning is not “one of a kind”, and the meaning of a word is derived from how it’s commonly used. Here’s what dictionary.com has to say on the subject:

      The earliest meanings of unique when it entered English around the beginning of the 17th century were “single, sole” and “having no equal.” By the mid-19th century unique had developed a wider meaning, “not typical, unusual,” and it is in this wider sense that it is compared: The foliage on the late-blooming plants is more unique than that on the earlier varieties. The comparison of so-called absolutes in senses that are not absolute is standard in all varieties of speech and writing.

      So, you can choose to not use modifiers for unique in your own writing if you like, but, yeah, don’t go tell someone else they “can’t” modify unique, or, actually what you’re telling them is they can’t use “unique” with this particular meaning, even though it’s a perfectly acceptable meaning for unique

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      • self says:

        Yes, and on a site like fangraphs that’s not especially formal, it doesn’t REALLY matter, although the principle still bugs me.

        However, in formal writing, “what’s in the dictionary” and “what’s considered acceptable” are two different things. Contractions and slang can both be found in the dictionary, but are not generally acceptable in formal writing.

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  3. tribe says:

    And might Tomlin actually get better? Even though his Swinging Strike % is exactly league average (8.4) and his O- and Z-Contact rates are slightly above league average, his K/9 is nearly 2K/9 below league average. if Swinging Strike % is actually a better future predictor of K/9 rate than previous K/9 rate, shouldn’t we expect Tomlin’s strikeout rate to move closer to league average?

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    • David says:

      His low k/9 probably has a lot to do with his low fastball velocity and early in the count approaches by hitters compared to 2 their strike approaches, ie trying to destroy his college fastball early in the count and mellowing down to trying to just hit the ball hard late in the count, huge hacks vs a tempered approach

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  4. woodman says:

    There’s Bronson Arroyo. And John Lannan.

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  5. Tomlin’s minor league numbers suggest that he can strike batters out, so he should improve upon his 5.1 K/9 rate. He can probably get it up to 6.5 in the next year or so. Also, he tries to get batters out early in the count, and he’s very successful at it, so he really doesn’t need to K batters all the time. Why strikeout the leadoff batter with 5 pitches when you can get him out in 2?

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  6. Bascinator says:

    A main reason for the low BABIP is that the indians play their best defensive OF when Tomlin is pitching due to his high FB rate. Right now that’s Brantley/Sizemore/Kearns (it was Brantley/Sizemore/Choo before Choo got hurt). Another thing the indians announcers mention is that Tomlin has gone at 5 IP in every start of his career thus far – pretty impressive.

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