Jake Arrieta. Stephen Strasburg. Josh Tomlin. Those are the only qualified pitchers remaining in MLB whose teams have won every game they have started in 2016. Chris Sale was expected to be the third name remaining after the Tuesday night matchup between the Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians. Instead, the Tribe made quick work of Sale while Tomlin worked deep into the game as the Indians (24-20) won easily over the White Sox (27-20), 6-2.
There are so many reasons to doubt Josh Tomlin. His fastball only sits at 90 miles per hour leading to a low strikeout rate. He gives up a home run each game1. His 3.35 ERA is good but not dominant. His 4.36 FIP is not good. His 0.5 WAR is tied for 66th among MLB starting pitchers. The one statistic wherein he is near the top of the leaderboard is the often-chided Pitcher Win column.
Josh Tomlin’s value from a modern sabermetric world is considered meager, and he should be replaceable. The man himself, however, is the type of refreshing pitcher who demonstrates how far human understanding of the statistical significance there is still to be achieved. At some point, there is more than a measure of good fortune indicating why all eight of his starts provided an Indians win. At some point, the eight wins in 10 starts in 2015 also come into play. The advanced peripheral statistics have provided MLB with better tools than ever before about predicting future behavior by taking out the factors that are commonly luck.
But there are outliers, and Tomlin appears to be one. Throwing first-pitch strikes, limiting hard contact, and not giving away free passes (walks) are among the things Tomlin does to put himself in that strange, undefineable space.
There is value in starting pitcher wins, including a team’s record when a pitcher pitches. Yes, there is an element of luck regarding the opponent, opposing pitcher, team’s offense, defense, and many more elements. However, over a longer sample size, having a pitcher with the ability to get the job done (whatever it might mean on that particular night) has great value. Winning baseball games is still the goal of each team.
On Tuesday, Tomlin threw 24 first-pitch strikes out of the 29 batters he faced. Given that batters had an average of .196 against Tomlin with a .211 OBP when faced with an 0-1 count, working ahead has done him well. Of course, hitters are only hitting for a .229 average when they attempt to take away the advantage by swinging at the first pitch. Brett Lawrie was the only White Sox hitter to attempt the approach. He had a double in the fourth inning to drive in Jose Abreu, but he meekly grounded out on a first-pitch swing in the seventh.
Tomlin simply cruised through the game. He got his customary solo home run over early by having Adam Eaton lead off the bottom of the first with a 400-foot shot. Abreu scored in the fourth. But over a span from the fourth-through-eighth innings, he retired 12 straight hitters. He worked quickly and efficiently, which allowed him to pitch eight innings on just 99 pitches.
He was Tomlinesque.
Tuesday’s game was supposed to include a dramatic duel between two pitchers, one of which was a bit over-matched. However, instead of a classic Western feature film, the Indians massacre of Sale appeared to be more in the Tarantino Western genre.
Sale gave up six earned runs in just three and a third innings pitched. The Tribe put up sevent hits, received four walks, and forced Sale to throw 89 pitches during his abbreviated time on the mound. Sure, Sale struck out seven batters, but those are the outs that happen when a team is swinging as hard as the Indians were against Sale.
The runs were the most Sale has given up since a September game of last year. The walks were the most Sale has awarded since August of 2013. In 2016, Sale has given up nine earned runs in 61.1 innings pitched to the rest of MLB. Against the Indians, he has also allowed nine earned runs, but in just 10.1 innings pitched.
Maybe the game goes another way if two specific plays go differently. What happens if Austin Jackson reels in the Mike Napoli line drive that opened up the floodgates? And, what happens if Juan Uribe isn’t a boss? Oh, you didn’t know he was a boss? Well, then just watch him calmly tag out Lawrie before doing a spinning throw to catch Avisail Garcia nappinig off of first base.
Just your run-of-the-mill 6-5-3 double play.
Mike Napoli had never recorded a triple and a stolen base in the same game until Tuesday. Given that he had only 10 triples and 34 stolen bases (with 21 caught stealing) in his twelve year MLB career over 1158 games, it is not surprising he had not accomplished the feat. However, seeing a 34-year-old catcher turned designated hitter/first baseman who is not exactly known for his speed pull it off with a belly flop (on the triple) and only millimeters to spare (on the stolen base) was quite fun to watch.
On the flip side, Jackson’s night didn’t go as well. Not only did his miss in center field break the game open for the Indians with Napoli’s triple, but A-Jax had a chance to finish on a positive note when he roped a line drive into center field in the eighth inning. There came a charging Rajai Davis with his minus-7 DRS2 for 2016. But this time, Davis made the diving, somersaulting catch, and the ball somehow stayed within the lip of the webbing. Some days, man. Some days.
Oh, and for the record: The Indians offense now has scored four or more runs in eight of the last 10 games, while reaching base double-digits (hits plus walks) in 13 of the last 15 games where they have recorded 54 extra base hits (3.6 per game). So, yeah, the offense is carrying their weight.