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Despite all the dingers, Josh Tomlin pitched effectively in 2016

Could his fantastic finish to the regular season and beginning of the playoffs be sustainable next year?

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Tomlin’s 2016 season began about two weeks after the start of the season.

No, Tito did not banish him to Columbus. Tito did not force him into the bullpen either. Instead, a ridiculous string of rain delays during the first week of the season forced the Indians to skip Tomlin in the rotation the very first time through the rotation. Instead of just rolling back to the next pitcher who had not thrown, the Indians preferred to keep Corey Kluber on his typical schedule.

When Tomin finally started on April 16th, he set the template for the rest of his season. Tomlin struck out six without allowing a walk, his only earned run coming on a solo home run.

More and more, home runs came to define Josh Tomlin’s season. At his best, Tomlin kept runners off of the bases to minimize damage from his home runs and hand over a lead to the bullpen. We saw this Tomlin at the beginning and very end of the year. At his worst, he couldn’t keep anything inside the park. This Tomlin emerged in late July and August.

At his Tomliniest, he gave up three home runs on June 26th against the Tigers and still won the game, as each was a solo shot.

Before the month of September, Tomlin only posted two starts without allowing at least one homer: April 22nd, and June 4th. This increase vulnerability to the dinger is a naturally-occurring hazard to Tomlin’s style of pitching. In 2016 he continued to pound the strike zone, once again posting the lowest walk rate in all of baseball. On July 30th, he won another decision and stood at 11-3 with a 3.43 ERA. After this, things took an unfortunate turn: five consecutive losses during August, capped by a 1.2 inning no-decision in which he allowed four runs on seven hits. He also allowed another home run, ending a streak of fifteen consecutive starts in which at least one of his pitches left the yard. It cost him his spot in the rotation for a brief time.

Tomlin returned and his final five appearances were some of the best from any Indians pitcher all year.

Sep 5 to Oct 2, 2016 5 4 26.2 21 6 5 0 10 1 0 1.69 0.216 0.214 0.33

He carried the momentum into the postseason. His first three starts all resulted in Indians wins, allowing only three total runs and no dingers. The last of these included 4.2 innings of shutout baseball at Wrigley Field in front of his father, who had recently become ill and lost the ability to walk. If you aren’t familiar with the entire story, it is absolutely worth taking the time to read Zack Meisel’s article about it.

Tomlin’s second start in the World Series did not go nearly as well, but his previous eight starts helped carry the Indians all the way to that point. It is difficult to hang any of the blame on the outcome of the World Series on Tomlin in this light.

Barring a trade, he’ll return next season as the fifth man in the Indians’ rotation, when in reality he’d play as a three or a four on most teams in the league. There are some who think his surge at the end of the year may be a permanent improvement as well. He increased the rate he threw the curveball towards the end of the season, and its emergence as an excellent pitch may give Tomlin the craftiness he needs to progress deep into his career.

For now, he’ll continue to be an excellent complementary piece on an exemplary pitching staff.