Brewer Spotlight

Can Josh Tomlin Crack The Starting Rotation? A Saber Snapshot…

David Stearns decided to take a flier on Josh Tomlin and sign him to a Minor League deal. While Tomlin had the worst season of his career in 2018, he has a history of success on the Major League Level. In the offseason, the veteran sought help from Driveline Baseball where they discovered a delivery flaw. BREW MATHs reviews Tomlin’s career trends to see how likely a bouce-back year is…

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Fangraphs recently wrote an excellent article (Josh Tomlin on What he Learned at Driveline) detailing what Tomlin learned while training at Driveline. Specifically, how he retooled his delivery after discovering he was not following through properly:

“A big problem last year was my front leg, my foot plant. When I was landing, I was soft on my front leg, as opposed to being firmer, so that I could lock it out — basically replace this hip with this hip, and get over the ball better. I wasn’t getting through the ball to create that whip, that catapult action. I was landing soft into my hip, and just kind of guiding through my release…

Coming through creates more spin, and more of that catapult whip action. It helps all of your pitches in the sense that it’s easier to repeat your delivery. When you have a soft front leg, you never know where your release is going to be. I was able to address that. Now it’s easier to get down the mound. My stride length will be a little longer, and I can get over my front side better, creating more extension and an easier arm path. I know what my ball is going to do.”

Tomlin is a low-risk signing who has the potential to contribute on the back-end of the rotation. Over his career he has demonstrated superb command which is supported by any metric, from the low walk rate (BB%) to his discipline stats. A quick look at his BB% compared to league average tells us all we need to know:

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That said, his 2018 stats were pretty bad overall…

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Which is clearly much worse than his previous baseline:

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So why the decline?

We cannot blame it on a drop in velocity

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But spin rate does show a slight downward trend with several pitches (i.e. four seamer, sinker, change-up):

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There also is a marked increase in barrel percentage

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And lauch angle over the last two years…

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It is when we look at pitch selection that his struggles come into fous…



Josh Tomlin’s Trouble with Balance:

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Note how often he threw each pitch last year (above) and how big of a change it was (below)
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In 2015, Tomlin’s best season (7-2, 3.02 ERA / 0.84 WHIP) we see he utilized his four pitches fairly equally. This is important with a ‘control-based’ pitcher who does not have an overpowering fastball. Tomlin’s four seamer averaged about 88 mph last year so he is not going to win by blowing guys away. Instead, he must use a balanced pitch arsenal and pinpoint accuracy to keep hitter’s off-balance. Above, notice how harmony has dissipated since 2015. Since then, the four seamer took a back seat to the cutter and he seemingly forgot about the sinker and change-up. Quality of pitch also demonstrates a decline in the effectiveness of his changeup (QOPA: 4.49 / ’16 -> 4.29 / ’17 -> 3.27 / ’18).

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Chart links to The Quality of Pitch Website
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Tomlin will not thrive if he pounds the strike zone:

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Instead, he must hit the edges with strategic pitch sequencing to be consistently effective. The good news is that Tomlin has top-notch accuracy (as above) and a work ethic to match! If he can rediscover his change-up and mix in the four seamer more, he could even find himself in the starting rotation.

A quick look at his peers (and the competition):

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Chart Links to Roster Resource

So… 2019?

Heading into 2019, thanks to Driveline, Josh Tomlin will have all the insight he needs to optimize his success. He has the potential to reclaim his form from 4-5 years ago after self-admittedly sliding into bad habits. The veteran’s success will largely depend upon the amount of deception he can create.

Minimizing a batter’s reaction time is to a ‘control pitcher’ what velocity is to a “power pitcher.” Tomlin now knows this better than ever.

Stearns will see just how much magic the 34-year-old right arm still has left… we all will.

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