The Atlanta Braves once had one of the greatest pitchers the game has ever seen. His name was Greg Maddux, and despite pitching in the “Steroid Era,” he issued only 999 career walks in 5008.1 innings. Famed for his intelligence, Maddux exhibited some of the greatest command the game has ever seen. He ranks 50th all-time in walks per 9 innings, a list dominated by relievers and pitchers who pitched before Babe Ruth. That said, there’s a new control artist in Atlanta. His name is Josh Tomlin, and he makes Maddux look pedestrian.
Josh Tomlin Makes Greg Maddux Look Wild
The career leaderboards at Baseball Reference begin at 1000 innings pitched. At this moment, Josh Tomlin is 41.1 innings short of qualifying. However, this is not an official record book or leaderboard, which means that it is not constrained by such regulations. Ergo, it can be said that by most measures, Josh Tomlin is one of the 20 best control artists in baseball history.
The all-time leader in walks per 9 is Hall of Famer Candy Cummings, who was born prior to the Civil War. It was a different game then. That alone should tell you the types of names that dominate the top of the leaderboard. There are 13 pitchers who walked less than one batter per 9 innings in their career, and all 13 pitched before 1900. In fact, the most modern member of the top 18 is Babe Adams, who pitched his final game in 1926. The current number 19 is Jack Lynch, another pre-1900 arm. Jack Lynch walked 1.3797 batters per 9.
With another 42 innings pitched at his current ratios, Josh Tomlin would pass Lynch for 19th all-time. In 958.2 innings pitched, Tomlin has walked a mere 140 batters unintentionally, for a rate of 1.3149 batters per 9 innings. Tomlin is quite literally doing things with command that have not been seen in 100 years. Should Tomlin get there, he would bump Greg Maddux out of the top 50.
It Is More Than Just Walks Per 9
Despite lackluster strikeout totals for this era, Tomlin’s current strikeout to walk ratio is 4.66 to 1. That number would place him fourth all-time, behind Chris Sale, Tommy Bond, and Corey Kluber — and directly ahead of Jacob deGrom and Stephen Strasburg. Sale, Kluber, deGrom, and Strasburg are strikeout artists. While excellent in their own right, they also benefit from the current era, much like Tommy Bond’s walk totals benefit from his pre-1900 era.
Tomlin does not have extraordinary stuff or benefit from his era. If anything, this era of strikeouts, walks, and home runs is a disadvantage for him. Among pitchers with at least 900 innings pitched, Tomlin’s 140 career walks is sixth-best. Again, all five pitchers ahead of him pitched before 1900. To put that in perspective, both Masahiro Tanaka and Kyle Hendricks have impeccable control. Tanaka ranks 14th all-time. He has issued 54 more walks than Tomlin in 4 fewer innings. Hendricks is 21st all-time – and has issued 73 more walks in 40 fewer innings.
The Last Word
Josh Tomlin is a marvel. He is not a Hall of Famer, but few are. He doesn’t have ace-caliber pure stuff. He doesn’t have Maddux’s abilities either. Maddux’s case as one of the best ever goes far beyond his control. What Tomlin does have is the uncanny ability to throw a baseball precisely where he wants to, at rates that haven’t been seen in over 100 years. Tomlin is a throwback to a different time. The past is not always better, but that doesn’t make nostalgia and throwbacks any less fun. Tomlin is one such throwback, and worth appreciating while he’s still around.
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