The “Little Cowboy” Who Got No Respect

In the great city of Cleveland lived a little cowboy. While tales of his exploits were heard across the country, he still didn’t get the respect that he deserved.

His name was Josh Tomlin.

The cowboy was once a revered staple of Americana. Known for being brave, alert, courageous, fierce protectors, marksmen, and of strong physical stature, they were a vital component of the development of the western reaches of the United States. While there were many reported stories of negative and unpleasant encounters with the Native Americans, Tomlin was a friend of the Indians.

This “Little Cowboy” was born in Tyler, Texas, in 1984 and after years of showcasing his skills in the Lone Star State, he got the call in June of 2006 that he had been recruited to Cleveland, a wonderful city half the country away on the shores of Lake Erie.

For four years, he toiled around the eastern half of the country, proving his worth and earning his keep in places like Niles, Eastlake, Kinston, Buffalo, Akron, and Columbus, hardly the usual stomping grounds for a cowboy. Finally, in 2010, he was welcomed back to Cleveland, a stronger, more refined man, ready to defend the Indians from all comers.

Tomlin’s skills and cowboy characteristics were tested, as the “Little Cowboy” needed to be brave and courageous to recover from the injuries of his profession. His ability to come back from Tommy John surgery in 2012 and a shoulder surgery again in 2015 earned him praise from his teammates and his coaches, as all knew how difficult of a challenge he had undertaken to continue to do what he loved. He was never the biggest man on the field, making his ability to be a contributing force to those around him that much more impressive.

Even now, a year and a half after returning from the shoulder procedure, Tomlin’s efforts go overlooked and underappreciated in his job, except by those around him and those who have been paying attention.

The baseball is his lariat, as he uses the tool to wrangle opposing hitters, keeping them from wandering away from home to run wild around the bases. His pinpoint accuracy and his control of his weapon of choice make him one of the finest marksmen in the game. While he bravely challenges opposition bigger and stronger than him, he refuses to buckle or back down, regardless of the stakes. When he makes the occasional mistake pitch, he keeps that damage to a minimum.

Tomlin - Jason Miller/Getty Images
Tomlin – Jason Miller/Getty Images

What makes this “Little Cowboy” different from the others?

For starting pitchers, much of the game now is designed around the quality start. Give the club a good chunk of innings with a small amount of damage before handing the ball over to the highly specialized bullpens.

Tomlin has done exactly that.

Since returning to the roster last August, Tomlin has made 27 starts. In 18 of those outings, he supplied the team with at least six innings of work with three earned runs allowed or less, putting the team in a position to win. And they did, 15 out of the 18 times. Two other times, he left just one out short of a quality start; the Indians won both of those games as well.

He has posted a 17-4 record in 27 starts in the last two seasons with a 3.22 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP (174 walks and hits in 173 1/3 innings). The Indians are 22-5 in those 27 starts.

He has made a habit throughout his career of containing base runners, minimizing mistakes on the occasional home run by preventing additional damage via the free pass, and pitching deeper into the ball game because of his controlled pitch count due to a limited number of strikeouts and a miniscule number of walks.

Tomlin has had just two attempted stolen bases against him since returning August 15 of last season. One was successful, one was not.

While his strikeout total sits at just 129 in those 27 starts, his walk total is 20. Since his return, he has averaged a meager 6.70 strikeouts per nine innings, but has a rate of just 1.04 walks per nine with a healthy 6.45 strikeout-per-walk rate.

His walk rate per nine this season (1.0) is tops in the American League and second in all of baseball to Clayton Kershaw. His 6.00 strikeout-per-walk rate in almost one full strikeout more than the next closest pitcher in the league, David Price (5.036). Tomlin’s next walk allowed will be the 100th of his career – but he has logged 621 innings already over the course of seven seasons with a career walks per nine rate of 1.4 (including a MLB-best 1.1 mark in 2011).

Tomlin has become a known commodity for the Indians. They can count on him to keep the game within reach, start in and start out. Twenty-one times he has allowed three runs or less since his return. Twenty times Tomlin has pitched at least six full innings.

He will give up home runs; he is a fly ball pitcher. A total of 35 have left the yard in the last two seasons against him. Only two of the 13 he allowed last season were more than a solo shot. Two happened to break scoreless ties and two others tied the game. This season, he has allowed 22 homers, 14 of which were solo shots and only one of which was of the three-run variety.

One of the more strange statistical results for the Indians in the last two seasons has been the club’s won-lost record when Tomlin has pitched after a loss. Of his 27 starts, a total of 16 have come following a defeat for Cleveland.

The Indians are 14-2 in those games. Tomlin has a 12-1 record in those contests with three no-decisions.

Some have diminished Tomlin’s results as being aided by his fifth spot in the rotation because he would, in theory, be pitching against other team’s fifth starters frequently. But with off days, rain outs, and other scheduling nuances, that has hardly been the case. Over the course of the last year and a half, Tomlin has defeated several front end of the rotation pitchers, including Justin Verlander (twice), Ian Kennedy (twice), Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Harvey, and Jered Weaver.

He has done all of this for the bargain price of $2.25 million this season. The Indians have Tomlin under control for $2.5 million in 2017 and have a $3 million club option for 2018 with a $750,000 buyout. There is also the potential in those final two seasons for up to $2 million annually in performance bonuses based off of his number of starts and innings pitched.

He may not have the zip and flame-throwing strength as his other four rotation mates in Cleveland, but Tomlin’s ability to control the strike zone, the running game, the pace, and, generally speaking, the outcome of the game, has been an invaluable resource for the Tribe. He has been a perfect complement to the Indians’ hard-throwing rotation and has not gotten the credit or the respect that he deserves for the extended stretch of stellar efforts over the last eleven months.

This “Little Cowboy” deserves some respect.

Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

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