Josh Tomlin is Ready to Contribute Again
With less than six weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, it’s time to accept that the Indians might not make a splashy free agent signing to fill the void left by Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. Shaun Marcum was a great acquisition for a team in need of depth, and there are several legitimate rotation candidates on the team already.
Before his elbow injury, Josh Tomlin seemed as though he was headed towards being a valuable contributor to the Tribe’s pitching staff. He doesn’t have top-of-the-rotation potential, and he isn’t going to log strikeouts the way that elite pitchers might, but he forces batters to put the ball in play and limits the damage that they can do.
The 29-year-old is also reliable in terms of providing his share of innings every fifth day. Tomlin has logged a 54 percent quality start rate throughout his career, including 17 quality starts in 2011. He lasted at least five innings in each of his first 37 starts, and has only fallen short of that mark five times in his major league career.
Tomlin, who was drafted in 2006, can certainly become a viable option for the Indians this upcoming season if he returns to his old form. In 2011, his 3.2 percent walk rate was the lowest among all major league pitchers with at least 70 innings. He ended the year with a 4.03 xFIP and 1.08 WHIP through 165 innings.
Despite his success in 2011, Tomlin’s elbow was already becoming an issue. Although the team declared him healthy when he returned for spring training in 2012, he battled through the injury for most of the next season. His ERA climbed to 6.36 and his walk rate increased, although his xFIP remained somewhat stable at 4.74.
Finally, during an August game against the Boston Red Sox, Tomlin came in to relieve a struggling Corey Kluber. He gave up seven runs in just over one inning, walking two batters in the process. It was obvious that something was wrong. Shortly after that game, he was placed on the disabled list as he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Josh Tomlin’s work at the major league level has been fairly consistent with his time in the Indians’ farm system, where he had similar statistics. The only statistic that truly differs is his strikeout rate. While he struck out minor league batters at a high rate, he struggled to have the same effect during his outings with Cleveland, where his strikeout rate averages just 13.2 percent.
Because of his injury, it’s difficult to tell what really caused Tomlin to struggle after having a fairly strong 2011 campaign. In addition to lacking strikeouts, he doesn’t have great velocity – his fastball averages in the high 80s – and is prone to allowing too many home runs.
His .309 BABIP in 2012 was the highest of any point in his career, but the previous season’s .253 BABIP was also lower than his career average of .275. While it’s possible that hitters made adjustments that Tomlin couldn’t compensate for, the more likely scenario is that his elbow was the biggest factor in his regression.
If he doesn’t perform well enough to beat the competition, Josh Tomlin could still be a very useful arm in the bullpen, but the Indians should give him a legitimate opportunity to make the rotation this spring.