Josh Tomlin Is Having the Worst Pitching Season in Major League History

Earlier this year, when my Clevelanders were facing the North Siders of Chicago, Josh Tomlin was facing off against noted walker Tyler Chatwood. I wondered aloud whether Tomlin would allow more homers, or Chatwood would allow more walks. Of course, this was mostly a joke. Walks are more common than homers, and so Chatwood, the worst (best?) walker in baseball, would walk more than Tomlin would allow home runs. Naturally, I made a comical bet with a Cubs fan friend of mine, and in the end, I scraped by: Chatwood would allow five walks, while Tomlin allowed a mere four dingers. How could it even have been that close?

Now I’m not here to trash Tomlin, or Josh as his family may call him. In fact, I feel for him. We humans have times of joy and times of suffering. And hey, Josh Tomlin is a very good pitcher, all things considered. He throws harder and more accurately than literally anyone I know personally. Even for an MLB pitcher, Tomlin has always been accurate. The problem is his opponents’ bats have been even more accurate.

There has been a trend going around in which people determine whether or not certain facts are “fun.” Some say a fact is fun if it limits the amount of qualifiers. Others believe it’s a fun fact if the reader cannot help but say wow in response. I think a notable omission is the consideration whom the fact is fun for. The following is fun for batters facing Josh Tomlin:

There have been 25,185 pitcher seasons since 1901 (min. 40IP).  Tomlin’s 2018 FIP is currently 8.26, which puts him in…25,185th place. Do you prefer league-adjusted stats? Tomlin’s FIP- is 199, 99% worse than average, and also the worst of all time. Maybe you think it’s unfair to use FIP, or even FIP- historically. After all, as you know, home runs are being hit at an all-time pace over the last 3+ years, so it’s not fair to look at Tomlin’s home run allowance on a historical level.

Let’s just look at this year. If you sort the FanGraphs leaderboards by HR/9, and set the minimum innings pitched to 40IP, you’ll find Tomlin right there at the top with 3.88. Without context, we can already surmise that this is an astronomical number. The average MLB pitcher is walking 3.28 batters per 9 innings–Tomlin is allowing .6 more homers per nine than the average pitcher walks per nine! But I think my favorite way of looking at this is the Jeff Sullivan special. Sitting in second in HR/9 is Wilmer Font with 2.45. The difference between Tomlin and Font is the same as the difference between Font and 128th worst Jon Lester. Josh Tomlin has been unthinkably bad at limiting home runs–he’s fourth in home runs allowed, and every single pitcher in the top ten has thrown double the amount of innings.

Even when he was a successful pitcher, Josh Tomlin had a home run problem. But he was able to make up for that by limiting walks with Kershawian skill, and miss just enough bats to scrape by some successful seasons. In 2018, his velocity has held steady, as have his contact and swing percentages. He’s walking a few more, and striking out a few less, but for whatever reason, when batters make contact this year, they aren’t missing. His barrel rate is 13%, and his Statcast xStats are even higher than his actual stats. Pitch values show that his secondary offerings have taken a major turn for the worse, but I don’t see why that’s the case. Maybe there are things we have yet to understand about baseball. More likely, maybe there are things I have yet to understand about baseball.

Tomlin is having the most terrible season of all of the terrible seasons. Maybe there’s some regression there, but even with positive movement, it’s certainly a mean to which one doesn’t hope to regress. The last piece of this regards his employers, the Baseball Club of Cleveland. The Indians are looking to make a run at the postseason this year, a run which many have considered to be all but a guarantee, considering the shambles of the AL Central. Perhaps Tomlin gets opportunities because it’s a foregone conclusion that Cleveland makes the playoffs safely, and the front office would rather not have a more instrumental piece of the Indians bullpen pitch in low-leverage situations, lest they become injured. But, one would think there is value in finding new arms, so that when the calendar reads October, Cleveland has more options out of the bullpen.

Even if this is not the case, it seems to this author that marching Tomlin out there makes manager Terry Francona look clueless, the front office careless, and Tomlin helpless. But most of all, the fans of the ball club deserve better.

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Clinical Research Coordinator at University of Cincinnati, but never will surrender my Cleveland Baseball fandom.

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It is the chaw in his cheek.


So how does his ERA rank historically? It is, after all, a better analyzer of past performance than FIP. (If you don’t like ERA, then at least use SIERA.) I can’t imagine it’s much better considering that his major issue is home runs, but is it still the absolute worst historically among qualified starting pitchers so far?

Meanwhile, FIP is a better predictor of future performance, so we shouldn’t expect Tomlin to turn it around anytime soon.