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Indians Indians Archive The B-List: 8/5
Written by Steve Buffum

Steve Buffum

One bad pitch separated Josh Tomlin from a 2-0 victory (assuming Perez would have been brought in instead of Herrmann) from the actual 6-2 defeat.  In today’s B-List, Buff looks at what three starts might have told us about Tomlin’s future, the all-filling lineup, how much fun it is to lose a game in which you both out-hit and out-walk the opposition, and generally wonders how many of these guys are likely to be part of the next interesting ball club.

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Indians (46-63) 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 2 7 1
Red Sox (62-47) 0 0 0 4 0 0 0 2 X 6 6 0

tomlinW: Matsuzaka (8-3) L: Tomlin (1-1)  S: Penisbon (26) 

I know we lost and he’s a rookie and all, but I can’t help thinking that of last night’s starters, I’d rather have ours. 

1) Now with 50% more data! 

Let’s get the obvious things out of the way: 

a) Three starts is not even close to a significant sample 
b) I am not qualified to make good judgements about a pitcher’s mechanics or the innate qualities of his pitches 
c) I had not actually processed the name “Tomlin” as someone in the system until he was called up, bleeping over him as Random Arm Johnson, so for me, he largely “appeared out of nowhere,” when this is clearly not true 

Further, let me say that Tomlin was obviously excellent for two long stretches last night.  He carried a perfect game into the 4th inning, retiring the first 10 hitters in a row.  And after the grand slam by Adrian Beltre, he allowed only two more baserunners out of the next 12, and each hit a single.  Combining the stretches would be (one out shy of) a 7-inning 2-hit shutout … in only 76 pitches!  With all of yesterday’s caveats about the depleted nature of the Boston offense applied, that’s a tremendous performance, multiplied by at least 5 because of the “rookie on the road in Fenway against a very slow-working opponent” factor.


I’ve seen others (including the Indians’ coaches) talk about how impressive it was that Tomlin pitched so brilliantly after the grand slam: it is true that if I’ve noticed one thing about Tomlin thus far, it is that he is exceptionally poised for a young pitcher.  (Arguably, the “young pitcher” designation is superfluous: he was more poised than, say, Jake Westbrook.)  That would good, but it’s been talked about enough. 

Instead, let’s talk about fly balls. 

At the extreme edges of flyball/groundball pitchers, it is generally accepted that: 

Fly balls are more likely to be outs, but more likely to be home runs 
Ground balls are less likely to be outs, but FAR less likely to be home runs 

Replace “home runs” with “extra base hits” and you have a less-confident saying, but it makes a fair amount of sense.  The only way to ground a homer is something like a ball down the line that takes a funny hop off the wall.  On the other hand, there aren’t too many “seeing-eye fly balls.”  Groundball pitchers succeed by depressing SLG; flyball pitchers suceed by suppressing AVG (hence OBP). 

It is perfectly possible to be a successful flyball pitcher.  Generally speaking, though, the successful flyball pitcher has a high K rate.  This is because the more times he allows the opponent to hit the ball, the more opportunities for home runs he is allowing.  Where the groundball pitcher can give up a couple of singles through the hole between short and third and still get out of the inning unscathed, flyball HITS are generally more dangerous things (doubles off the wall or homers over it). 

In the first inning, Josh Tomlin got three fly ball outs to the outfield. 

In the second inning, Josh Tomlin got two fly ball outs to the outfield (and one ground ball). 

6 of the first 7 hitters against Timlin lifted the ball to be caught by an outfielder. 

Now, of these 6, only Lowell’s was hit with any authority.  A 250-foot fly ball is one of the easier outs in baseball given the speed of the average outfielder.  Tomlin was never in any “trouble,” and he got two of the first three hitters behind 0-2 in the count, so he was making them hit “his pitch.” 

On the flip side, of the 11 air outs Tomlin allowed, only 1 could be termed a “pop up.”  The rest were pretty honest balls to the outfield. 

Now, you could say that Beltre hit his home run because Tomlin missed with his pitch, and that much is indisputible.  He elevated a pitch and left it over the plate and Beltre is a good hitter having a high-end season.  Had Tomlin executed his “regular” pitch there (with two outs), he’d strand all three baserunners and be on his way to 7 shutout innings, possibly 8.  (He ended with only 93 pitches as it was.) 

On the other hand, the margin of error for a flyball pitcher is not infinite.  Every pitcher makes at least one mistake per game (I’d venture on average a pitcher is fortunate if he makes fewer that 10 pitches that are significantly far off from where he intended).  Had Tomlin made this mistake to the leadoff hitter in the 6th inning instead of with the bases loaded, the result may have been different as well and the conclusion not so jarring.  It was the worst possible outcome in a single-mistake game. 

So here’s the issue: it looks like Tomlin is actually a flyball pitcher, possibly extreme.  He gets a lot of outs with it, and is sporting a preposterous 0.78 WHIP.  Results count.  His results have been great.  And he’s struck out 5 hitters in each of his past two outings, 10 in 12 1/3 IP.  (It’s 12 in 19 1/3 overall.)  I would be wary about him being able to hold left-handed hitters to their current .088 AVG, but his minor-league results and current performances suggest he can be successful this way. 

The question becomes: is the increased chance of an out (from a fly ball) worth the increased chance of a home run?  Right now, the answer is yes.  Over the next N years?  I would like that to be so, but I have to stop short of “confident” and way short of “convinced.” 

2) While I’m on the topic 

It’s called “relief pitching,” Frank.  You’re supposed to provide RELIEF.  It’s not called “exacerbation pitching.” 

3) The reverse doughnut order 

Jordan Brown was the only one of the 3-through-7 hitters who only reached base one time (on a single).  Every other hitter in this stretch either got a pair of hits (Choo, Nix, Valbuena (!)) or a pair of walks (LaPorta).  With two of the hits being for extra bases (Choo a homer, Valbuena (!) a double), this is a very productive stretch of hitters.  The fact that they turned this into only 2 runs was a bit discouraging, and due largely to the 2-for-12 hitting the team did with RISP and the double play Nix grounded into.  (In his defense, Nix had one of the two hits with RISP.) 

The 1, 2, 8, and 9 hitters combined for one walk and 15 outs.  (Pinch-hitter Shelley Duncan walked in place of 9-man Tofu Lou Marson.) 

4) Special mention 

… goes to LEADOFF man Trevor Crowe, who set the table with a Size Five Collar, including the game-ending whiff with the bases loaded. 

5) And yet … 

… I would still rather have Crowe lead off than Mike Brantley, who has been called back up to plague my bile ducts. 

6) Smash-Soo Choo! 

Hitting a home run to left field in Fenway is not an extraordinary feat: the wall is high, but close to the plate.  Hit it high. 

Hitting a home run down the right-field line in Fenway is not very special: it’s called the Pesky Pole because even Johnny Pesky, who was 3’9” and 65 lb, hit home runs there. 

But hitting a home run to “the triangle” in dead center field is a heckuva home run, requiring at least a 415-foot blast. 

Choo’s shot off Daisuke Matsuzaka in the first inning cleared that mark by about 40 feet. 

7) Nice wheels! 

Jayson Nix stole his first base as an Indian, and Tofu Lou stole his FIFTH. 

8) Glove man 

On the other hand, Marson allowed the rally in the 8th to start by allowing Jacoby Ellsbury (“Now with extra Fail!”) to reach base on catcher’s interference. 

Hey, Lou!  Interfere with Beltre, the guy slugging .570, not Ellsbury, hitting like 570 slugs!

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