After reading Jordan Bastian's nice profile of Josh Tomlin, I find myself really rooting for the guy to succeed. Not that I wished him ill before, but my feelings were more that I would like him while he pitched well, and wouldn't shed a tear if he stunk and got sent down for one of the other arms in the wave.
But as much as I want Tomlin to succeed despite his lack of physical stature and fastball velocity, I am having a hard time convincing myself that he can. His success this year probably has a lot to do with a .155 BABIP against, which is almost certain to rise. Last year, he had a .278 BABIP against and he kind of stunk. He doesn't strike out many guys (5.2/9 innings in his short major league career), but doesn't walk many either (2.1/9). How many guys have been successful doing that?
Possible answers are somewhat hard to find, because B-Ref doesn't list any comps for him (apparently a player needs either 100 IP or 500 AB by season's end to get a comp list). Looking at Fangraphs, it's easy to find tons of guys who have been successful with Tomlin-esque peripherals: unfortunately, they all pitched 100 years ago in the dead ball era.
Trying to find more modern pitchers who were successful with Tomlin's numbers became somewhat of a depressing task -- there just aren't that many. Jim Palmer, Jimmy Key and Dennis Martinez all had great careers with Tomlin-like K/BB numbers, but they pitched before the Power Burst era and before batted ball statistics are available. They also all had much lower HR/9 innings numbers than Tomlin, which probably indicates that they were groundball pitchers.
(As a sidenote, doing this research made me come across Urban Shocker, my new favorite name.)
There's late-career Greg Maddux, but when his strikeout numbers dipped to Tomlin's level, he was walking a lot fewer batters. He also was an extreme groundball pitcher and was stingy with homers, where Tomlin has been flyball prone so far.
Tim Hudson is also close -- he strikes out a few more batters, but also walks more than Tomlin. But Hudson again is an extreme groundball pitcher who rarely gives up home runs.
The comparison I ended up liking the most is Rick Reed, who had a nice 7-year run in the late 90s, early 00s. He struck out just a few more batters than Tomlin, and walked just a few less. Only his last two seasons have batted ball numbers, but he was a pretty even flyball/groundball pitcher, which is what Tomlin has been this year. And he provided his teams about 2-3 WAR a year, which seems like a nice addition from a fifth starter.
All of this might be wrong, of course. Tomlin might be out of the league at the end of the year or hoisting the Cy Young Award trophy (and then be traded next June). But I can root for him now knowing that he doesn't have to maintain an insane BABIP against or be the second-coming of Greg Maddux to succeed with his stuff. He just needs to polish what he's already got.