Josh Tomlin is a pretty easy pitcher to figure out on the surface. He is not going to nibble on the edge of the zone, he throws just about everything over the plate and dares you to hit it. Being a pitcher that relentlessly throws balls in the strike zone normally means you live and die by the strikeout and the long ball. In Tomlin’s case, he lived by both and it lead to fantastic results in 2015.
Strictly from a results standpoint, Tomlin had a great season for the Cleveland Indians. His 3.02 ERA was the best in his career by a full run, and his 22.7% was a shade better than his former career best of 21.1%. Shoulder surgery in April forced Tomlin to miss the four months of the season, and he did not make a start until August 15, but he hit the ground running.
Tomlin allowed more than four runs only once in his ten starts and in seven of those starts he allowed two or fewer runs, including a shutout of the Chicago White Sox on September 20. He also gave the bullpen consistent breaks throughout the year, throwing for six or more innings in seven of his starts.
All of this is great, and there is no denying that Tomlin was impressive in 2015, but his success comes with a few caveats.
For one, the sample size is minuscule. Tomlin is historically an inning eater, but missing four months of the season means that he only threw 65.2 total in 2015. He also had a preposterous .199 BABIP and left 90.2% of runners on base. Meaning if one or two breaks did not go his way in the season his ERA could have easily been closer to his career 4.65 average. Tomlin also had a small boost from bullpen pitching. In five of his starts, he was taken out of the game with a runner on base, and only once the bullpen allowed that runner to come home.
All of this adds up to unsustainable success, and digging further into Tomlin’s stats reflects just that. His 4.43 FIP is the highest mark since he had a 4.59 FIP in his rookie season, and his HR/FB ratio remains at a less-than-ideal 15.3%.A few more of those hard-hit fly balls get over a wall, or a few more find space in the outfield and Tomlin is going to be in for a bad time, but that's just how he is. He will always teeter on the edge of being amazing or a total disaster.
Depending on how T.J. House recovers for next season, Josh Tomlin could easily see himself starting the season as the Tribe’s fourth of fifth starter, which is the perfect spot for him. He will never have a "true" 3.02 ERA, but he proved in 2015 that he can continue to eat innings and be a solid back of the rotation option.