As of this writing, the Cleveland Indians are heading back home for game six of the 2016 World Series against the Chicago Cubs. With a 3-2 lead against this 103 win Cubs team, it is far too early for Cleveland to throw a ticker tape parade. While both of these teams are well deserving of the World Series title this year, the individual attention has (rightfully so) spotlighted on Terry Francona and his management of relief weapons Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. With Corey Kluber being anointed the ace of the postseason and Miller as the ALCS MVP, there is one more Indians pitcher that Francona would be lost without, and that is the unheralded starter Josh Tomlin, the very same man who will be pitching game six. Without the season ending injury of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar’s strained right forearm relegating him to only an inning of relief in the World Series, Josh Tomlin would most likely have not made the starting rotation for Cleveland in the playoffs. And yet, here are his numbers in this postseason:
15.1 IP, 1.76 ERA, 5.3 H/9, 11/4 K/BB, 0 HR Allowed
And for good measure, some September statistics:
26.2 IP, 1.69 ERA, 7.8 H/9, 10/0 K/BB, 1 HR Allowed
You will notice that these numbers are cherry picked, and they are, for a reason. Based off of these numbers, Josh Tomlin’s postseason heroics spell of a pitcher who gives enough innings for Francona to use his bullpen effectively, keeps the hits to a minimum (and in the ballpark), while making up for a middling strikeout rate with his low walk percentage. Then, we look at the pitches Tomlin uses (by usage and average velocity):
Fastball (29.25%, 88.8 mph) Sinker (7.85%, 88.4 mph) Cutter (39.4%, 86.4 mph) Curve (16.4%, 76 mph) Change (7.1%, 84.2 mph)
When hearing the description of Tomlin above, the detail in his repertoire that jumps out immediately is his low fastball velocity. When you pair that description with a fastball that sits below 90 mph, the easy comparison that we can’t help but make is to that of 2016 NL ERA leader Kyle Hendricks. Every baseball expert wants to be the one to find “the next Kyle Hendricks,” a diamond in the rough that would embellish their reputation in the industry. Considering his performance in the two most important months of the year, Tomlin’s trade value (and his affordable 5.5M owed through 2018, including a 3M 2018 team option) should be enough to cash in for a solid outfielder. He may be on the wrong side of 30, but he only has 687 IP under his belt, which would suggest low stress on his arm (especially when factoring in his modest stuff). The bottom line is that while Josh Tomlin will not fetch a first division All Star, he has trade value in arguably the most barren pitching free agent class in recent memory.
Why should a team currently one win away from the World Series sell on a starting pitcher like that? The argument that their Kluber/Carrasco/Salazar foundation makes pitching a surplus is null; the injuries to the latter two have proven that you can never have enough pitching. The truth is this: Josh Tomlin will never be this valuable again. First, let us expose the difference between Tomlin and Hendricks by looking at the latter’s repertoire:
Fastball (21.93%, 88.9 mph) Sinker (42.83%, 88.1 mph) Curve (8.13%, 76 mph) Change (27.11%, 80.7 mph)
Hendrick’s bread and butter is the sinker he uses so often (42.83%), and yet Tomlin throws his own only 7.85% of the time, with his bread and butter being the cutter (39.4%).
Now, let’s look at Tomlin’s season through August:
.285 BABIP, 147.1 IP, 35 HR Allowed (20.0 HR/FB% and 2.14 HR/9), 10.14 H/9, ERA 4.89
The BABIP is normalized, and now we see a pitcher who gives up too many hits and can’t keep the ball in the park, which are the opposite of the qualities he is being lauded for in the past two months. Eno Sarris of Fangraphs recently wrote an interesting article detailing why Tomlin gives up so many homers, and his final conclusion is that his lack of fastball velocity is to blame. To drive home the point that Josh Tomlin is getting results he never will again, let’s use statistics from his outlier September/October (postseason included) that are not cherry picked:
.223 BABIP, 42 IP, 1.6 HR/FB%
None of this is sustainable – the average BABIP is .290, closer to his .285 mark through August. The average HR/FB% is 10% – and the normally homer prone Tomlin doubled that mark through August.
Josh Tomlin has been very impressive for the Tribe since the calendar turned to September, and Indian’s fans should not dread what he brings to the mound tomorrow in the potentially clinching game six. He should be credited for his work when the games matter most, and if he is credited, he has trade value. Based on his normal tendencies and these two months being an unsustainable aberration, his value as a trade chip is worth more than his value as a member of Cleveland’s starting rotation. Indians President Chris Antonetti would do well to sell high on the stellar recent performance by Tomlin; standing pat would be like neglecting to cash a paycheck.