Jays From the Couch looks at how Cleveland starter, Josh Tomlin was able to dominate the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 2 of ALCS
If you were like me, you were probably looking forward to watching the Toronto Blue Jays take the mound against Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin in Game 2 of the ALCS. After all, in Game 1, Corey Kluber was frustrating because he would allow some hits and chances for the Blue Jays to score, but, he managed to shut them down repeatedly. He bent, but did not break. He pitched like an ace. That’s why we were licking our chops at a chance to face a guy who was decidedly not an ace.
Entering the postseason, Tomlin posted a 13-9 record with 4.40 ERA, a 4.88 FIP, and most enticing of all, a HR rate of 1.86/9 innings. He looked to be the kind of guy that the Blue Jays could light up. Home runs have been a problem for Tomlin in 2016- he gave up 36 of them in the regular season. The Toronto Blue Jays live by the home run- hitting 221 of them in 2016. In the ALDS, we saw just how much they relied on it.
According to Fangraphs, in the regular season, Tomlin relied on his fastball (38%)/cutter (39.5%) combo most often. He threw in his curveball just under 15% of the time, followed by his change at 7.6%. For our purposes, here, I want to focus on that curveball. Check out the success he had with it during the regular season:
43% of a pitch that he only threw 15% of the time went for balls. It is not a pitch that he throws often for strikes, but one that he uses to get guys to swing at (13.4% whiffs), or one he hopes they’ll give up on because they’re not expecting it (17.2% called strike). He gave up just 15 hits off his curveball all year. That is a crazy amount of failure. During the regular season, Tomlin’s curve was a pitch that you keep in the back of your mind, but don’t go out looking for. It isn’t his best pitch, not even close as Fangraphs puts its (wCB) value at -5.1, which puts it as his 3rd worst pitch.
Game 2’s matchup seemed a good one for the Blue Jays- a guy who gives up homeruns and throws a curve to mix things up. But, something happened. Knowing full well that the Toronto Blue Jays are a good fastball hitting team, who rely on home runs, Tomlin flipped the script on them. He pumped curveballs all night long. He nearly tripled his usage of the hook at 43% of his 85 pitches.
If you ask him, he will tell you that he used it early and noticed that the Blue Jays were out in front of it and he saw that he could use it more. If they’re not having success, keep doing. And, that’s what he did.
Tomlin started using the hook more and got into a groove with it to the point he was getting more strikes than he’s used to. Whether the strikes were called by the umpire, or the Blue Jays whiffed, the pitch was working. And, whether it was part of the plan all along, or Tomlin adjusted on the fly and kept using what was working, is anyone’s guess. The pitcher will tell you that he simply reacted to what the bats were telling him.
He kept throwing the curve, and they kept letting it beat them. Perhaps, the Blue Jays hitters were playing the percentages, figuring that the pitch was going for balls half the time. Or, perhaps, they just could not get a sense of when the pitch was coming. Or, maybe they just would not adjust their approach at the plate. Only the Blue Jays know for sure, and they’re not likely to tell.
All we have to go on are the results. And, the results tell us that the curveball was the weapon of choice for Cleveland and Josh Tomlin. It worked on a fastball hitting team. Now, Cleveland has a 2 game lead in the ALCS and a very good plan as to how to keep the Blue Jays off balance. That is not to say that every pitcher from here on out will stick to Tomlin’s plan. Likely, they’ll each have their own. Of course, the ‘steady diet of offspeed stuff’ seems to have worked thus far as far as plans go. And, you know that any plan they have involves simply getting to Andrew Miller in that bullpen.
If the Toronto Blue Jays are going to climb out of this 2-0 hole, they need to adjust. Adjusting their approach ahead of time, as well as in game, will go a long way to evening this series. Otherwise, they’ll be getting the hook right out of this ALCS.
*Featured Image Credit: Arturo Pardavila III UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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Shaun Doyle is a long time Blue Jays fan and writer! He decided to put those things together and create Jays From the Couch. Shaun is the host of Jays From the Couch Radio, which is highly ranked in iTunes, and he has appeared on TV and radio spots.