General, Indians

The Dying Relationship Between A Cowboy And The Indians

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Let me start off by saying this: what Josh Tomlin has done for the Indians organization over the last nine seasons is nothing short of commendable. From making multiple switches between the starting rotation and the bullpen to successfully rehabbing from Tommy John surgery back in 2012 and 2013, he has endured a lot in an Indians jersey. Heck, he was an essential part of the Indians’ run to the World Series back in 2016, especially in the absence of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar.

But, that fateful time has come for the man known as the Cowboy. As he serves up longball after longball and continually puts games out of reach, the Indians can no longer afford to keep him on the mound this season.

Tomlin’s stint as a starter in 2018 was short and painful and the bullpen has not been much kinder. He started off his season by taking one right under the chin from the Los Angeles Angels (three innings, eight runs, four home runs) on April 3 and it took just a little over a month for him to lose his starting spot. Following his May 15 start against the Detroit Tigers, he was moved to the bullpen after accumulating a 7.84 ERA as a starter.

In 18 innings as a reliever, his ERA sits at 5.55, but even that might not do justice. It’s not so much the overall numbers that best sums up his time in the bullpen, but the game-altering performances that have – or at least could have – cost the Indians a victory. Three of his most recent outings (Oakland on June 30, again Oakland on July 7 and Cincinnati on July 9) are clearly indicative of that.

I see two big takeaways from those three performances in particular: each one either gave away a lead or put the game out of reach for the Indians, and each one featured a home run. That has simply been the theme for Tomlin’s disaster of a season.

It’s not just that opposing batters hitting .300 off of him. It’s not just that he is allowing a home run every 10 at-bats (no, that’s not a typo). It’s that his ability to pitch effectively at the Major League level has declined to a point where the Indians cannot rely on him to bounce back. And for a team with World Series aspirations, there is simply no reason to keep a pitcher on the roster that cannot provide production from either the bullpen or the rotation.

The Indians placed Tomlin on the 10-day DL on Tuesday, citing a strained right hamstring. This move came one day after he served up his 21st home run allowed of the season in a disappointing outing against the Reds. Whether or not this injury has been the root of Tomlin’s struggles is unknown, but he should expect to be on the shortest of leashes, should he make a comeback in an Indians jersey. If this time off doesn’t fix things, a DFA could very well be in order for the Indians’ longest-tenured player.

To have a monumentally rough season this late in one’s career can sometimes be a death sentence, and for someone without great speed on his fastball, the odds of a front office giving Tomlin another chance seem even lower. His average fastball velocity sits at 87.3 MPH this season, down a tad from his career average of 88.4, according to Fangraphs. Of course, the 33-year-old has never been a hard thrower, but how many guys with below-90 MPH fastballs do you see making a late-career comeback? Of course, there are some exceptions. Bartolo Colon is still sucking multi-million dollar deals out of teams at the age of 45, for instance. But in most cases, soft throwers on the wrong side of 30 generally don’t get a lot of chances for redemption.

My mind immediately jumps to former MLB starter Dan Haren, whose Twitter handle (@ithrow88) and tweets tell you all you need to know about how the last few seasons of his career went.

As Haren’s decline will illustrate, as a soft-throwing right-hander sees his velocity drop, even more importance is placed on accuracy and movement of pitches. And the scary thing is, one can even see those two things declining for Tomlin already. His walk rate, which usually ranks as one of the best in the league, has jumped up to 1.8 walks per nine innings, up nearly 1.0 from last season. Additionally, the advanced metrics on his off-speed pitches have indicated a sharp drop in value from past seasons. His wCB and wCH, which indicate the runs above average on his curveball and changeup, currently sit at -8.3 and -3.6, respectively. For reference, his wCB (2.1) and wCH (2.2) last season indicated that his curveball and changeup were above average pitches, according to Fangraphs.

This much needed time off for Tomlin could end up saving his spot on the Indians roster and potentially his career. But, if the first three months of the season are any indication of what’s to come, the Indians will have no choice but to part ways.