Today, February 7th, the Brewers signed former Cleveland Indians starter Josh Tomlin to a minor league deal. If he proves himself in spring training and makes the big league roster he will earn $1.25 million plus up to $2.25 million additional in incentives. So who is Josh Tomlin? The 34 year old RHP was a 19th round pick for Cleveland back in 2006. He never played for any other team until now. Due to struggling in his 70.1 IP accumulating a 6.14 ERA, Tomlin was left off the Indians post-season roster in 2018. He has never shown much success over his career as he sits at a 5.8 WAR with having so many years of service time. His best season was just last year at a 2.2 WAR and his FIP was still 4.12 with 4.98 ERA. So what is it that the Brewers see in this guy? Why would the Brewers want some scrub who has never had an ERA below 4.50 while pitching over 100 innings? Here is why:
Take a look at these two rows:
One player is Josh Tomlin while the other player was a late season surprise who had a bounce back campaign. If you guessed player A to be Tomlin you were right. Player B might be a surprise but it is Wade Miley. While Miley sported a 2.57 ERA over 80 IP, his his xFIP was 4.30 showing he over performed a significant amount. I bring this up to show that both are similar in their arsenals and there are signs that show that Tomlin might even be better. Here is what Brewers’ Manager Craig Counsel had to say after Miley incorporated the cutter:
“He’s a guy pitching with some confidence. He’s comfortable. His cutter has been a big pitch for him and his strike-throwing is improving as he gets starts under his belt. There’s a lot of good signs there.”
Miley threw his cutter 41% of the time compared to his previous high of 12%. Clearly it paid off. While Miley had to learn the cutter, Tomlin already throws it a lot. The problem is that he never has had too much success with it. He allowed a .302 average against the pitch with an average exit velocity of 89 mph. What Tomlin does have going for him however, is that the spin on his cutter is actually a lot higher than what Miley had on his. Tomlin’s cutter had the 15th highest RPM among those who threw at least 250 cutters in 2018. Going further, he did significantly better against right handed hitters allowing a .263 average compared to whopping .353 against left handed hitters. Here is where he is throwing against lefties (left) vs where he throws against righties (right):
He clearly shows far less control against left handed hitters and keeps the ball up in the zone. His pitches are far more concentrated against right handed hitters and keeps the ball lower. In both instances he pitches away from the hitter.
In 2015 when Tomlin had a 3.02 ERA in 65.2 IP, he allowed a minuscule .195 opponent batting average against his cutter including a .156 against lefties! Look where he located that pitch against them:
What do you know! He kept the pitch low and that translated into success.
So what do the Brewers see in Tomlin. Well, he has a similar arsenal as Wade Miley who the Brewers had much success with. In addition he naturally has more spin on the ball. One knock on Miley was that he walked batters. In his career Miley has an 8.1 walk percentage compared to Tomlin who has a career 1.33 walk percentage. In fact among pitchers with at least 70 IP this season Tomlin ranks 3rd in that category. Since Tomlin’s first full season in 2011 he ranks 2nd!! Tomlin has been known to not walk hitters. This helps since the Brewers ranked 9th most in walk percentage. The Brewers are maybe thinking that best case scenario, Tomlin can come in and regain control against lefties. If he can locate his pitches better he may rediscover the success he had in 2015. As his ceiling he could be Wade Miley minus the walks! If he can prove himself in spring training, he has a shot to be a great bounce back and contributor in the Brewers staff.