Detroit Tigers (44-40) at Cleveland Indians (51-32)
Time/Place: 12:10 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Media: Fox Sports Detroit, MLB.TV, Tigers Radio Network
Pitching Matchup: RHP Michael Fulmer (8-2, 2.17 ERA) vs. RHP Josh Tomlin (9-1, 3.21 ERA)
I find Josh Tomlin both fascinating and infuriating, though the latter is probably only because he pitches in the AL Central. From 2010 to 2014, Tomlin was a near-replacement level pitcher, posting just 0.7 rWAR. He had a 4.89 ERA and 4.44 FIP during that stretch, and was largely an afterthought in the Indians' rotation plans. He missed nearly all of 2013 due to Tommy John surgery, but returned in 2014 as the same exact pitcher: same velocity, same pitch arsenal, same mid-4's ERA.
Except something clicked. Buried in that 4.76 ERA was a 21.1 percent strikeout rate, nearly double what he had produced in his last full season in the major leagues. This, coupled with Tomlin's customary low walk rate, resulted in a stellar 6.71 strikeout-to-walk ratio. It didn't matter much, as Tomlin still allowed 1.56 home runs per nine innings, but it was something.
That something continued in 2015, and even though the home run rate rose, Tomlin's ERA started to plummet. He posted a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts last season, and managed a 7.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio that ranked fourth among MLB pitchers with at least 60 innings under their belt. He also limited opponents to a .195 batting average, among the 20 lowest for pitchers with the same qualifications. The other two names to appear near Tomlin on both of those leaderboards? Clayton Kershaw and David Robertson.
Tomlin's baffling dominance has continued into 2016. He is 9-1 and currently owns a 3.21 ERA. His home run rate is the highest of his career, but most of those dingers are solo shots thanks to a 1.09 WHIP. He has yet to allow a three-run homer this year.
Meanwhile, everything else remains the same. His fastball velocity touches 90 miles per hour on a good day. He is throwing his cutter more than ever before, but opponents are hitting .297 and slugging .503 off it. His curveball is the only pitch that induces a whiff rate above 10 percent.
Tigers hitter to fear: Miguel Cabrera (.364/.462/.545 in 26 plate appearances)
Tigers hitter to fail: Justin Upton (.167/.167/.250 in 12 plate appearances)
If you look at the raw numbers, it seems like the Tigers have Tomlin figured out. They are batting .266/.321/.497 against him in his career, and have hit eight home runs in 156 plate appearances. Victor Martinez has three of those home runs -- including two in their last meeting -- while Mike Aviles has two. However, Tomlin has flipped the script on the Tigers this year. He boasts a 2.61 ERA in their three meetings, and has limited the Tigers' lineup to a meager .241 batting average and .268 on-base percentage.
I was concerned about how Fulmer would fare his second time through the American League prior to his last start, but the should-be All-Star was even better than before, throwing seven shutout innings. Fulmer gets a second crack at the Indians on Wednesday, and the Tigers are hoping things go much better this time around. He has continued to dominate lefties with the emergence of his changeup, which will be a key factor in slowing down this Indians lineup. With the red-hot Blue Jays up next, the Tigers could really use a win today.
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