Frame of Reference is Important for Josh Tomlin

Josh Tomlin made a start for the Cleveland Indians last night. It did not go well. So, with instant reactions in the age of Twitter as they are, it is now time to do something that has become a regular occurrence. Defend Josh Tomlin.

Look, I get it. It’s easy to come down on the Indians and Josh Tomlin. Nothing about him passes the eye test. At 6’1″ and 190 pounds, he doesn’t look like any other starting pitcher on the staff. Even if he is listed at the same height and weight as Trevor Bauer, Tomlin comes across as slight whereas Bauer looks more beefy. His fastball only tops out around 87 mph. He doesn’t possess the wicked sliders, curves, and change-ups of Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

For lack of a better term, Josh Tomlin is the outlier of the Indians starting pitching staff. As a result, he is regularly the face of ridicule whenever things go wrong, especially during one of his starts. I understand the ridicule. It’s easy to complain about Josh Tomlin when he’s being hit all over the yard, as he was on Tuesday night. It’s easy to call him a bum and shout from the rooftops about getting someone better, especially when the Indians make it seem as though 98 mph flame throwers grow on trees.

Here is the honest truth fans need to accept when it comes to the Indians and Josh Tomlin – He is a good pitcher and better than most realize given his role on the team.

The mistake most fans make is comparing him to Kluber, Carrasco, and Bauer. We may soon be adding Mike Clevinger to this list, especially if he keeps up what he did on Monday. The problem with these comparisons is that each of those pitchers has top of the rotation stuff. Carrasco and Bauer would be aces on almost any other team. What the Indians have in their top three starting pitchers is outside of the norm.

The proper comparison to make when assessing Josh Tomlin is not his peers on the Indians, but rather, his peers in terms of other fifth starters throughout baseball. Take a look at the list of starting rotations posted on Twitter last night by @TribeFanMcC

Starting Rotations
MLB Starting Rotations – Credit: @TribeFanMcC

As you can see, some teams don’t have the luxury of a fifth starter. For the one’s that do, none are nearly as competent and reliable as Tomlin has proven to be over the years or they are aging veterans who are run down, broken versions of their former selves.

Why is this important? It’s important because in the scope of his role on this team, the Indians could be doing far worse than Josh Tomlin. That’s a fact. For those who have argued that the Indians should cut Tomlin or designate him for assignment, I assure you… teams would be fighting each other with switch blades in a back alley somewhere trying to sign him.

For a pitcher with Tomlin’s limited arsenal, games like Tuesday night are going to happen. Whereas pitcher like Kluber, Carrasco, and Bauer can overcome control issues or a bad strike zone with their talent and ability alone, Tomlin can’t.

Against the Angels, Tomlin struggled with his command and a somewhat tight strike zone early. That’s not a good combination. To be successful, Josh Tomlin has to be able to locate his fastball, work the outside edges of the strike zone, and keep hitters off-balance with an occasional off-speed pitch. This causes week contact. It keeps hitters from sitting on a single area of the strike zone. It forces them to protect and swing at pitches they don’t want to swing at once they’re behind in the count. It’s very much a chess game and when he’s on, Tomlin is masterful at this approach.

On Tuesday night, none of that happened. Tomlin got behind in a lot of counts and had no choice but to venture further into the strike zone. Instead of guessing, hitters could sit on his 87 mph fastball and wait for it to come over the plate. To add to his misery, his breaking pitches lacked their usual crisp snap and instead had a looping break that was easy to identify and punish. It happens.

The bottom line in all of this is simple. Fans need to relax. We are five games in to a 162 game marathon. Every one of our pitchers is going to have a clunker. It’s unavoidable. The unfortunate part for Josh Tomlin is his clunkers look worse than most others. And despite his history of success and reliability, fans choose to only focus in on the bad. But trust me, whatever you might think or might want to happen, Josh Tomlin is not going anywhere.