Monday, February 21, 2005
Giants Pitching Preview 2005: From Bombko to Tomko
When the Tomko signing was announced last winter, fans broke into sarcastic applause and began to place bets on which mediocre innings-eater Brian Sabean would sign next. Not to toot my own horn or anything (though this is a really, really lame horn to be blowing on), I actually predicted that Tomko would have a surprisingly good year in 2004 on this incredibly amateurish and borderline pathetic web page I concocted last spring. Of course, this is the same page where you can find intelligent insight such as “Giants fans will love A.J. Pierzynski” and “Jeffrey Hammonds will have a productive year” sprinkled throughout. I know, it’s bad, but come on, I was young, and we all make mistakes when we’re young. Maybe not the Kaz Tadano kind of mistakes, but mistakes nonetheless.
Anyway, I thought that if Tomko were to start throwing the changeup more often Jason Schmidt-style, he’d have a successful year. Dave Righetti’s advice worked wonders for Schmidt in 2001, I concluded, so why not the same for Tomko? It seemed like a reasonable theory. Well, sure enough, Tomko did his best to make me look like a total heel come the start of the season. To get an idea of how Tomko performed in the first month-and-a-half of 2004, just picture him as Ned Beatty in Deliverance, then have that burly backwoods hillbilly represent opposing hitters. I think you get the picture. As disturbing as that analogy may be, it’s appropriate. He was bad, very bad. And to top it off, he popped off to the Oakland Tribune in May, blaming his problems on his flaky catcher. Then he got stuck on the DL, even though he denied being hurt. It was ugly. Trust me, I absolutely hated this guy until June. Tomko looked to me like he would be tossed into the forsaken land known as Lair of Past Giants Whom We Will Never Ever Speak of Again, where Salomon Torres, Glenallen Hill, and Jim Poole are all said to be sipping tea together, discussing how ludicrous the ending of Saw was. Every time he showed up on TV or something I would literally have to leave the room and mangle one of those gooshy stress balls.
Of course, we now all know that Tomko ended up putting up his best year since 1997, and it wasn’t really due to any changeup, but just a seemingly newfound confidence in his ample fastball. His improvement was also directly correlated with a substantial drop in his home run rate (19 surrendered in '04, as opposed to 35 in '03). You'd think it would be due to the move to Mays Field (that's right, I'm officially converted after visiting the new web site), but Tomko actually gave up more homers at home (12 in 79 innings) than on the road (7 in 114).
So what's the outlook for 2005? Well, I actually think Tomko will improve.
All the sabermatricians in the audience just had a collective stroke. "Improve? A 32-year-old journeyman who has put up one good year in his last five...improve? You're sick man! Sick!"
Just hear me out. Tomko last season dealt after the All-Star break (7-2, 3.15, 1.15 WHIP), improving his K/BB ratio (63:31) to something at least respectable after the aforementioned hideous start. More often than not, strong second halves tend to project good things for the following season. What really has me looking for an improvement though, are Tomko's home/road splits. In 2004, Tomko was poor at home (5.31 ERA), but terrific on the road (3.15). It's natural to expect improvement in this area for 2005, simply because very few major league pitchers are better on the road than at home in neutral parks or in pitchers' parks like SBC (though SBC did play more toward hitters last year, at least in terms of batting average; it still quashed home run production). There are, of course, some exceptions resulting from extenuating circumstances, like Jeff Weaver or Kenny Rogers with the Yankees, but San Francisco isn't nearly the pressure cooker that New York is, and even the flakiest of pitchers have been somewhat successful (even Shawn Estes had his 1997). Usually home/road splits like Tomko's tend to be one-year flukes, like Tom Glavine in 2003. I whole-heartedly believe that Tomko's bad home stats were an aberration, and that he'll be much better at SBC...uh, Mays Field this season.
Of course, the flip side to that is that any gains in the home ERA will be mirrored by a drop in road performance. After Tomko's hideous 7.77 showing away from home in 2003, and a career road ERA of 5.20, it's silly to think that he can keep up the 3.15 ERA away from the Giants' home. But the expected improvement at home plus Tomko's change in pitching philosophy in the second half of last year should combine to negate the expected road decline. Does that make him a legitimate #2 starter? OK, now you're getting into tougher questions, but if he can indeed improve just a tad upon last year he'll certainly justify the contract option the Giants picked up on him this offseason.