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Josh Tomlin could be a good part of the Indians' starting rotation in 2015 (really)

He's been written of by most Tribe fans (more than once, in fact), but there's evidence he can be a helpful part of the team in 2015.

Jason Miller

Josh Tomlin was removed from the starting rotation in early August, after giving up at least 4 runs (and at least 1 home run) in five consecutive starts He made one other start when the team needed an extra starter due to a doubleheader, but otherwise finished out the season in the bullpen, with most of his appearances coming in low-leverage situations. Given the tone of comments here at Let's Go Tribe during September, I'd say most Indians fans had given up on him being a viable starter in 2014, and given the tone of comments about him in the month and a half since the season ended, I'd say most Indians fans don't view him as a candidate to help the rotation in the future either.

So, allow me to say something I expect to receive a lot of disagreement: I don't think Tomlin was that bad, and I still like him as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

June 28 is when Tomlin pitched the best game by an Indians pitcher all year, the best game by any American League pitcher. At that point he had a 3.78 ERA and a 3.84 FIP, and he was averaging 6.43 innings per start. Those figures are all better than the American League average for starters.

The ugly five-game stretch followed immediately on the heals of that (and also included a brief stint in Triple-A), and was enough to get him bounced to the bullpen. In the one start he made during the rest of the season, he pitched 5.1 shutout innings. A team with pitching problems almost certainly would have continued to let him start, but other than Trevor Bauer the Tribe rotation was going like gangbusters by that point, so it made sense to keep him in the 'pen.

Including his starts and his relief appearances, after that incredible performance against Seattle Tomlin's ERA was 6.35. His strikeout and walk rates were basically unchanged though, as was his velocity. What changed was his BABIP and his HR/FB rate. Through the end of June his BABIP was .277 and his HR/FB was 12.8%. Both of those figures were pretty close to his career figures. From July on his BABIP was .382 and his HR/FB was 20.0%.

There are 189 pitchers who tossed 600+ inning over the last decade. The highest BABIP allowed by any of them was .324; the highest HR/FB allowed by any of them was 14.6%. The only things that were much different from the Josh Tomlin who pitched like a solid #3 or 4 starter in the first half and the Josh Tomlin who fell out of the rotation are things that moved dramatically beyond the outer edge of established norms.

It's possible that Tomlin's pitches were just so bad that it was like batting practice, but I don't think his career-high strikeout rate (which, as I said, he maintained through both halves of his season) really screams out "This guy can't get Major League hitters out."

FIP is more predictive than ERA, and Tomlin's FIP was 4.39 during the second half of the season, when little seemed to be going right. His FIP for the full season was 4.01. There's also xFIP, which is similar to FIP, except that it adjusts a player's home run total to what might be expected, given their batted-ball profile. Tomlin's xFIP for the ugly half of his season was 3.02. For the full season it was 3.16, which is better than Salazar, and almost a full run better than Bauer.

I'm not arguing that Tomlin is as good as that xFIP looks, but I am arguing that he's better than his ERA looks, and better than most Indians fans seem to think. Given the way Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and T.J. House pitched in the second half, I'm fine with all of them being ahead of Tomlin going into spring training; given Bauer's pedigree and occasional glimpses of fulfilled potential, I understand that he's likely to be in the rotation too. Concerns about the Tribe's pitching depth have been overstated though. Zach McAllister and Tomlin are both good enough to be a back-of-the-rotation starter, and they're both certainly good enough to 6th or 7th on the depth chart.

If Bauer can't get over the hump, or House can't repeat his strong rookie campaign, the Indians are still positioned to have a strong starting rotation.