Is Tom Koehler Really This Good?


May 2, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Tom Koehler (34) throws against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of the season ending injury to Jose Fernandez, my thoughts turned to how the Miami Marlins might be able to help fill that huge void for the remainder of the season.  I was not counting on any talent being brought in via trade, so it was obviously going to have to be done from within the organization.  Every other member of the rotation would have to perform a slot better in the pecking order, i.e. Nathan Eovaldi becomes a legit ace, Henderson Alvarez a #2, etc.  Then the #5 guy would have to be someone brought up from the minors or off the street, which appears to be the role Randy Wolf will be asked to fill.

One of the things that seemed encouraging about this scenario is that Tom Koehler has pitched so well this season.  On the surface, it seems easy to assume that Koehler would have no problem moving from the #5 guy in the rotation to an excellent #4.  After all, he currently has the best ERA of the Marlins starters at 2.25.  That’s right; Koehler has a better ERA than Jose Fernandez in 2014.

Intrigued and encouraged by this improvement, I wanted to look deeper into Koehler’s numbers for this year to see what exactly had changed for the better.  Had he developed a new pitch?  Was he using his breaking ball more often than before?  Was he throwing his fastball with more velocity?  Was he throwing more strikes?

After spending some time looking at his data at Brooks Baseball, I just could not see anything that was much different from last year except for the results.  Absent of any statistical evidence, I have to assume this means that he is either doing something different that does not show up in the numbers, like a more deceptive delivery perhaps, or more likely he has just been lucky.

Unfortunately, the evidence does seems to support that he has had quite a bit of luck so far.  At least based on his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP), and Left On Base % (LOB%), which all seem to indicate that he has not pitched as well as his 2.25 ERA would signify.  Here are these numbers compared to last season:

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Koehler’s FIP is only .15 better yet his ERA has improved by over 2 runs.  His BABIP and LOB% are also much better than last season and way better than the league average as these charts show:

I really wanted to believe in the emergence of Tom Koehler, but sadly, based on the numbers I just can’t. I have to conclude that Koehler has been extremely lucky so far and will soon end up regressing into the 4+ ERA starter everyone thought he was coming into the season.  Hopefully, he proves me completely wrong, but probably not.  Tom Koehler is who we thought he was.

Do you believe Tom Koehler has taken the next step in his development?  Is he just a temporary space filler or a legit rotation piece going forward?