While the backend of the Braves bullpen understandably got a lot of the accolades this past season, there were several guys that played the important role of preserving some of those guys. The Braves had a really tough time with starters getting even relatively deep into games, so there were a few guys whose main mission was to put out fires and give the Braves innings to prevent burning multiple relievers while trying to stay in games that got out of hand early.
There were a few guys that played that role, but the long man out of the bullpen of choice for the Braves was undoubtedly Josh Tomlin who had a bit of an up and down year for the Braves. Lets take a look at what went right and wrong for Tomlin in 2020.
What went right? The focus here will be his role as a reliever as he was quite good in that role while being...less good when he was pressed into duty as a starter and that will be covered in the next section. Tomlin has always been a guy that didn’t walk batters and that continued in 2020 with a total walk rate of 1.82 BB/9 as a starter and reliever in 2020. As a reliever, he posted a 2.95 ERA while allowing opposing batters to have just a .239 wOBA against him. An added plus was that Tomlin actually struck out batters at a decent clip out of the bullpen with 24 strikeouts in 18.1 innings of work. He still gave up the long ball more than one would like, but his rate of giving up long flies on the whole was at the low end of his career averages at 1.36 HR/9. For a guy that was primarily a long man that was tasked with getting multiple innings and settling games that have gotten out of hand early, having a guy who held opposing batters to a .197 avg against him was a nice luxury.
What went wrong? For all of the good work that Tomlin did as a reliever, for the most part anyways, the five starts he was pressed into were far less encouraging. His ERA as a starter was 6.33 and opposing batters’ wOBA against him jumped to .365. His strikeouts dropped off precipitously as a starter as well with just 12 K in his 21.1 innings of work as a starter in 2020. The usual small sample size warning apply here, but in the starts he was pressed in to, the results were mostly less than desirable.
There was also the fact that Tomlin was far better in August than he was in the rest of the season with his outings in September being far more adventurous than one would like. The postseason wasn’t much kinder. He only made two appearances as a reliever in the playoffs, but one of them almost resulted in the Dodgers coming back to win a game that they had no business coming back to win.
Outlook for 2021: Tomlin is what he is at this point. He throws a bunch of strikes, can have issues with giving up home runs, and can give you a spot start here and there although one cannot get their hopes up with how well those starts are going to go. Any team could do far worse than having him as their long man. However, he is 36 years old and is headed for free agency again. With the Braves having a ton of young arms that may require roster spots depending on what the Braves think of them, Tomlin’s return is far from a sure thing. That said, he cost just $1 million last year and with the expected turnover in the bullpen, it wouldn’t be a crazy notion to see him get re-signed on another cheap deal. His retention or departure isn’t likely to make or break the bullpen, but as a long man who is pretty good in that inning eater/mop up role, the Braves could do a lot worse than by bringing him back.