“I couldn’t be any prouder of my little cowboy.”
Those were Manny Acta's comments after Cleveland's 2-1 victory over Seattle and Felix Hernandez.
Acta's nickname, while well intentioned, it is not the most flattering for a grown man. "Little cowboy" conjures up images of small children in cowboy hats and boots. Adorable. But most MLB players aren't going for adorable in a nickname.
Tomlin might rightly cringe at this nickname. But let's work with it, rather cast it aside.
If Tomlin were a Hollywood gunslinger, which movie cowboy would he be?
Acta points out that Tomlin (6-1/190) is small for a pitcher. So, let's eliminate character's played by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. No, Josie Wales or Rooster Cogburn here.
Tomlin doesn't have a rocket fastball. He averages in the high 80s. His secondary stuff is average, not spectacular. Mark Shapiro tweets, "Easy to appreciate J Tomlin's competitiveness and athleticism. One guy who gets every ounce out of his natural talent and then some."
So, lets eliminate the "fastest gun in the west" types. Tomlin, as a gunslinger, doesn't go into a crowded saloon and gun down twelve hired hands. No, Will Munny or Harmonica here.
Tomlin's success is based on gall and smarts. I cherry picked this stat a bit, but it still supports my point. Tomlin is 17th in MLB at getting batters to swing at pitches outside the zone (the 50 inning minimum is the cherry picking part). How do you get hitters to swing at average stuff outside the zone? Pitchability and pitch sequencing. In other words, smarts.
And as for gall, Tomlin is 13th in MLB for fewest walks (again using the cherry picked minimum 50 innings). This lets you know that he is willing to challenge hitters with mediocre stuff rather than give up walks. You know, gall.
So, we are looking for a movie cowboy with gall and smarts, but not amazing skill.
But you may be asking yourself, success? Tomlin?
Two points should be made here. Tomlin has had moderate success. And let's start by ignoring the outlandish success of making to the majors with average stuff. Tomlin has pitched 291 innings with a xFIP of 4.21. Not bad. But consider that Tomlin has averaged around 6.3 innings per start. So, his average start is a quality start. I say that is pretty good for a guy without amazing stuff.
Which gets to the second point, you don't have to be the best to be interesting. All pitchers can't be Roy Halladay or Justin Verlander. All gunslingers can't be the fastest draw. That doesn't mean you can't be cool. Dying in a blaze of glory shouldn't be seen as a flaw. There are plenty of interesting ballplayers that don't have careers that span decades. So, Tomlin isn't destined for the Hall of Fame. So, what? That doesn't mean on a particular day he can't beat King Felix in a pitching duel. And it doesn't mean he isn't a damn entertaining pitcher to follow.
And so, here it is. If Tomlin were a gunslinger, he would be Butch Cassidy as portrayed by Paul Newman. Small of frame? Check, Newman was not a large man. Surviving on smarts rather than skill? Check, see the clip below. Gall? Check, see the famous jump scene for proof. Cool as hell? Check.