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Trend Spotting: The Cowboy returns and the ’14 fifth starter

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The last month of baseball, especially while the Indians remain on the fringes, has a collection of interesting storylines or players who are worth monitoring. Of course depending on your preferences this list changes, but in my view, Jose Ramirez, CC Lee and Josh Tomlin are the most compelling.

Compelling, because they are all auditioning or beginning their audition for their place on the 2014 Indians. Compelling because at least two of them could play an integral role in the fight for the second wild card.

Digressing, Ramirez has been addressed on IBI in a collection of places and ways, most impressively by Steve Orbanek in Orbiting last week.  Therefore, I will be taking a look at the forgotten soldier, Josh Tomlin. Perhaps he has not been forgotten as he very clearly will play a role eating starts over the last month of baseball left.

However, in terms of projecting the Indians 2014 rotation, Tomlin is a guy who is viewed as an outside possibility with the favorite solutions being the resigning’s of either Scott Kazmir or Ubaldo Jimenez.

The first real misconception surrounding Tomlin was that his stuff is short of what is necessary in order to have success at the big league level. Most of the criticisms surround his fastball velocity which has averaged 88.8 MPH with the Indians as well as touching 93.7. Start to start Tomlin generally fluctuates between 87-92 MPH without much vertical or horizontal movement to speak of.

However, while it is not an elite offering, Tomlin does have an above average curveball with solid x and y-axis movement. During Tomlin’s three big league seasons his curveball has racked up a 27.9% K% as well as a slash line of .179/.186/.274.  His curveball is a phenomenal weapon because he gets a lot of swings and misses as well as showing the ability to locate it and keep it out of the middle of the plate.

Lastly is the cut-fastball, which Tomlin throws at about the same frequency as his four seam fastball but with different purpose and results.  In fact the differentiation between the two is interesting as they display two different batted ball profiles. The cut-fastball has a 47.4% career groundball rate while the four seam fastball has a 54.2% fly ball rate.

The next endeavor will be taking a look at a few surface stats for his first three big league seasons to see if we can make sense of his production and what it means about projection.

Year

IP

K/9

BB/9

LOB%

FIP

2010

73

5.3

2.34

70

4.59

2011

165.1

4.84

1.14

68.5

4.27

2012

103.1

4.88

2.18

62.1

5.09

Due to the small sample and the fact that we should not overreact too heavily to his 2012 trends because of arm injury we will lean a little bit on his minor league background.

There are two really important things to understand about Tomlin’s success following the original understanding that his strikeout rate limits him to being an overachieving fifth starter.

The strikeout limitation is manifested most directly into his strand rate, being that high strikeout rates are the only sustainable way to “bear down” with runners in scoring position; which leads us to believe that while his 2012 strand rate may be low and possibly an outlier his career strand rate should reasonably sit between 66-68%.

The strand rate implications are that in order to have sufficient success at the major league level he needs to limit his WHIP in order to avoid situations with RISP.  So, we will look at the two most pieces affecting WHIP and what expectations should be in terms of sustainable rates.

Beginning with walk rate is important because it is what Tomlin probably has the most control over. In this case there are a few positive indicators, the first is that in his largest inning season Tomlin lead the league in walk rate.  Secondly, of his five minor league stops of over 70 innings, Tomlin’s BB/9 exceed 2.00 just once – granted plate discipline improves at the major league level so one can expect an increase in BB/9.

I would suggest that projecting a BB/9 at around 1.70-2.00 is a rational estimate, which with a minor uptick in strand rate suggests improvement from his 2012 performance.

The second piece would be batting average or hits against. Once again we surmise that 2012 was somewhat of an outlier, at least in terms of BABIP as in his first two big league seasons he sat at .274 and .253 respectively. His minor league BABIP was sub .275 cumulatively. In 2012 it was .309 – which may be inflated due to pitching through his arm injury before he was ultimately shut down.

Of course Tomlin pitches to contact and his success is highly reliant on luck as well as the defensive support he receives, which in terms of fly ball defense should improve when he returns.

It is entirely possible and probably to be expected that 2011 was Tomlin’s career year. Perhaps it is unfair to say that a 28 year old has already had his best performance but in all reality everything seemed to go right for Tomlin in 2011 including things he could control as well as things he couldn’t.

The reality is that an optimistic projection for Tomlin shows a pitcher who would be a step below or equal to a moderate season from Kazmir or Jimenez. It is possible so that the Indians could use Tomlin as a fifth starter in order to re-allocate the budget in order to acquire a hitter.

A few things that only interest me:

  • Ryan Raburn leads the Indians in ISO by almost a hundred points over Yan Gomes. Yes, Yan Gomes. Astounding that the gap is that large and two bench players have the leading ISO’s.
  • Ryan Raburn has an OPS of 1.048 and a wRC+ of 190 against right handed pitching.
  • Danny Salazar has the lowest opposing BABIP at .244.
  • Marc Rzepczynski since joining the Tribe: 12.2 IP, 7.11 K/9, 86.2 LOB%, 2.84 BB/9 and an ERA of 1.42.
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Author: Michael Hattery

I am a pre-law student at Clarkson University obsessed with all sports Cleveland. I am a columnist at Cleveland Sports Insiders, IBI and the managing editor of the Clarkson Integrator. As well as raconteur extraordinaire. You can follow me @MichaelHattery.

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