Cleveland Indians starter Josh Tomlin has had an up-and-down 2017 campaign, but the crafty veteran continues to make adjustments.
For Cleveland Indians starter Josh Tomlin, every fifth day is a game of chess. Considering his fastball velocity rests at a lowly 88 MPH, constant adjustments need to be made against big-league hitters. Tomlin’s 2-6 record, 6.70 ERA and 1.43 WHIP may appear putrid — but I wouldn’t doubt the wily veteran’s ability to change his approach.
Despite earning the loss Monday against the Cincinnati Reds, Tomlin is showing improvement during the month of May. In four starts, he’s recorded a 4.56 ERA and 1.10 WHIP — while walking just one batter and striking out 19 in 23.2 innings.
Perhaps Tomlin is completely abandoning his fourseam fastball is to blame.
In fact, the soft-throwing righty is completely shakeing up his arsenal following a disastrous first two starts of the season. In total, Tomlin went just 6.1 innings during his first two outings — conceding 15 hits and 13 earned runs against the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago White Sox.
During the two forgettable outings, Tomlin threw his fourseam fastball 29.5 percent of the time, according to BrooksBaseball.net. The total was similar to his 2016 output of 28.87 percent fastballs. But this year, Tomlin’s fastball has been far less productive — and he knows it.
As I mentioned, Tomlin’s lack of arm talent forces him to make adjustments others don’t have to worry about. If Corey Kluber misses a spot, his superior stuff masks the mistake. For Tomlin, he needs to examine his entire approach.
(Percentages according to BrooksBaseball.net)
Since his dreadful start to the season, Tomlin has failed to throw a fourseam fastball in four of his last seven starts. Additionally, in his four quality starts, he’s thrown his fourseam just 4.64 percent of the time.
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But what about his five non-quality starts? Tomlin used his four-seam 11.34 percent of the time during those outings. The trend is only gaining steam.
During Tomlin’s respectable month of May, he’s thrown his fastball just four times in four starts. In addition to dropping the fastball from his repertoire, the 32-year-old is altering how he uses his sinker and cutter. In 2016, Tomlin threw his sinker just 8.03 percent of the time. The difference this year appears to be how he attacks hitters on the first pitch of the at-bat.
Last season against left-handed batters, Tomlin began the at-bat with his fourseam 34 percent of the time. Against right-handers, he started at-bats with the fourseam 33 percent of the time, compared to 39 percent with the cutter.
This season? Tomlin starts lefties off with his sinker a whopping 52 percent of at-bats, while the cutter remains the primary first choice for righties at 41 percent.
With most of Tomlin’s adjustments coming during May, it will be interesting to see if the league catches up to his new approach. But if opposing batters do catch up, have no fear. Tomlin will do what it takes to be effective.
If Tomlin’s changes to his approach remain effective, it will be a major coup for manager Tito Francona. Especially when considering Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer’s never-ending struggles. Tomlin’s next scheduled start is May 27 against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field.