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.

We hoped you liked reading Learning to Appreciate Josh Tomlin by Chris Cwik!

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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.

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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.