Second Thoughts Game #52: Indians 2, White Sox 6
When the Indians lost to the White Sox 6-2 on the Memorial Day ballgame in U.S. Cellular Field, it comes as something of a shock that the game was substantially closer than it appeared. Over the course of the game, Cleveland had twelve baserunners (8 hits, 3 walks, 1 RoE), whereas Chicago, despite scoring four more runs, had only 11 (9 H, 1 BB, 1 RoE). The mitigating factor in all of it was the timing. A third-inning error led to a three-run homer for Chicago. All of Tomlin's baserunners in the fifth scored.
Coupled with the fact that the Cleveland offense did not manage even one extra base hit, and the offense set ideal conditions for failure. Romanticism lives to fight another day.
Tomlin's Novel Outing
Josh Tomlin, to the author's knowledge, does not literally distribute business cards to fans. Figuratively, however, Josh Tomlin certainly does have a calling card as a pitcher - that being, a good walk rate and a general inability to garner whiffs. In this sense, Tomlin's Memorial Day outing was wholly in character: Tomlin garnered only 7 whiffs over 89 pitches, for a 7.8% Swinging Strike rate on the game (8.4% SwStr% is league average for starting pitchers). Given a below-average propensity for garnering strikeouts, one would expect his strikeout rate to likewise be below average.
In relief of Tomlin's mediocre swinging strike rate on the game, it's entirely shocking that he posted an extremely high strikeout rate for the game, fanning 8 batters in 5 IP. To put it in other terms, Tomlin struck out more batters than he induced whiffs. Moreover, Monday's eight-strikeout performance matched his career high, previously set on May 7th, 2012 at Progressive Field, also against the White Sox. Whereas the 2012 outing required 7.1 innings to reach eight strikeouts, however, the Memorial Day outing took only five.
While it was addressed elsewhere that dissonances between strikeout rates and swinging strike rates are typically unsustainable (particularly gaps of this magnitude), a good explanation shows itself in the called strike zones. The solid line indicates the de jure strike zone, and the dashed line denotes the de facto strike zone.
Yan Gomes likely regrets his day at the plate - he was facing a left-handed starter and did not get on base even once. Despite his struggles at the bat, however, Gomes's day behind the plate was excellent. Not once did he give up a single pitch in the zone, and eleven times, Gomes framed pitches out of the zone for strikes. Gomes's excellent game behind the plate explains, at least in part, how Tomlin's strikeouts came to be.
Regrettably, Tomlin's strikeout rate was not the only exceptional note about today's game. While Tomlin allowed only two earned runs in five innings of work and although Tomlin's ERA is still apparently teflon, he nevertheless surrendered five runs in five innings. Tomlin did not allow a great number of baserunners - five hits, one error, and one walk in five innings is not inherently problematic - but his 21.7% strand rate for the game, compared to a league-average rate around 70%, indicates that the sequencing of baserunners allowed was almost wholly responsible for his misfortune in run prevention. Viciedo's 3rd-inning home run came at exactly the wrong time. In relief, Bryan Shaw allowed all inherited baserunners to score.
There exists reason to be skeptical of Josh Tomlin's ability to prevent runs - his season BABIP, his fly ball rate, and his poor whiff-inducing ability lead to the conclusion that his profile is not that of a playoff starter. Josh Tomlin is not nearly as good as Monday's strikeout total would suggest, but he's certainly not nearly as bad as Monday's run prevention suggests.
After Josh Outman retired Adam Dunn in the 6th inning, Bryan Shaw received the call to shut the door. It had been Francona's expressed intent to bring the bullpen's two best pitchers - Allen and Shaw - in whenever the highest-leverage situations presented themselves; however, for the most part, the two had been cloistered into the eighth and ninth innings regardless of circumstances. While it's not universally true that earlier innings were off-limits to those two (for instance, Shaw relieved Trevor Bauer in the seventh against Detroit on May 20th), it was refreshing to see that Francona's rhetoric was matched by his actions.
It was not refreshing for particularly long, granted, since Shaw proceeded to allow both of Tomlin's inherited runners to score, but the decision-making was sound even if the results were not.
On the note of 'refreshing,' Carlos Carrasco allowed no hits with 1K and 0 BB in 1.2 IP. As of late, Carrasco's run prevention in the bullpen has matched what his FIP and xFIP suggested they should have been in the rotation. Carrasco's peripherals suggested, previously, that he should have been allowing runs at a better-than-league-average rate; since Carrasco has been in the bullpen, he has done precisely that.
In 12.1 innings of work, Carrasco has had an ERA of 2.92. While a 12-inning sample is tremendously small, his 3.45 FIP and 3.77 xFIP have been above-average for relievers. While the prevailing narrative going forward will say that the move to the bullpen is what caused Carrasco's newfound run prevention ability, this explanation isn't necessary: his better-than-average FIP and xFIP as a starter predicted a good ERA. Good execution of those things within a pitcher's control leading to good results shouldn't be surprising.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.