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Second Thoughts Game #154: Indians 7, Minnesota 3

Second Thoughts Game #154: Indians 7, Minnesota 3
T.J. House (Photo: AP Photo/Jim Mone)
September 21, 2014
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It's not entirely true to say that T.J. House received zero press before the season, and it's also not entirely true that IBI was thesole provider of that press, but given how long House had been in the Indians' system and his distance from his original prospect hype, the renewed 2014 attention surrounding House came as something of a surprise for folks like myself, whose emphasis is far more on major-league examinations than the minor-league goings-on. Whatever the reason, however, it is completely fair to say that my original skepticism about House was incorrect; T.J. House has demonstrated legitimate major-league performance through complete orthodoxy.

Frequently, I find myself stirred by various players' statistical profiles because they achieve results in peculiar and unorthodox ways. Chris Young of the Mariners, for instance, has made a career of his ERA beating his Fielding Independent Pitching. Indians catcher Yan Gomes's offensive profile is fueled in large part by his BABIP; this is peculiar not only because he has sustained that BABIP at a solid .340+ clip throughout his career, but also because of his extreme ground-ball pull tendencies as well as playing a position where speed and hence BABIP are relatively scarce.

House's statistical profile is unique and hence interesting because it appears to be the golden standard that coaches describe: the ideal of the pitcher who keeps the ball low and issues precious few free passes, strikeouts be whatever they will. House is the lefty that embodies that ideal.

Saturday's performance was a microcosm of House's season. The Twins did get hits, yes; of the six hits House surrendered in his five innings of work, only one was an extra-base hit. He struck out five while walking one, a good single game for both stats, indicative of the fact that, on the season, House's walk rate has been notably better than league average and his strikeout rate only marginally worse; on the whole, House has been a completely serviceable middle-of-the-rotation arm were one judging based solely on his strikeout-and-walk outcomes.

What has separated House has been his exceedingly peculiar home run and ground ball tendencies. House's 0.84 HR/9, given that House pitches in the homer-suppressing Progressive Field, effectively equivalent to the major-league average of 0.88 HR/9. This, in turn, suggests that House has been an entirely league-average starter in controlling the Three True Outcomes - again, an extremely valuable middle-of-the-rotation arm.

Deeper, however, one finds reasons to believe that his 3.43 ERA and 3.59 FIP are not all there is to House. In a previous edition of Second Thoughts, a reminder that home run prevention can itself be unpredictable arose. In short, House surrendered a pulled home run on a pitch that was low and on the outside corner of the plate - to Alexei Ramirez. Home run rates are unpredictable and finicky - what is predictive, however, is the rate at which ground balls and fly balls are induced.

In that regard, House is textbook to the point of anomaly. Of those pitchers who have thrown 200 or more sinkers in 2014, House's sinker has induced the fifth-highest Ground Ball-to-Fly Ball ratio in the game.* Among those pitchers with 80+ IP, House's groundball rate - 60.8% - is second only to fellow southpaw Dallas Keuchel. His fly-ball rate, on the other hand, is the lowest in the majors at 17.9%.

Ultimately, the most shocking part of House's Saturday performance was the following: batters put sixteen balls in play against House. Zero of those sixteen batted balls were fly balls. House's sinker has had few parallels in ensuring that batters do not loft the ball, and a performance as extreme as Saturday's testifies to that fact.

Between his good walk rate, league-average strikeout rate, and near-elite groundball induction, House appears capable of sustaining a performance similar to the 2014 he has authored to date. If Cleveland's infield defense can return to merely below-average and if House's apparently fluky home run-per-fly ball ratio can return from its anomalous .167 to a more reasonable .100, then it's possible that he may help make this Indians rotation a carrying strength of the team.

*Note: the table requires sorting. Click GB/FB to see rankings. Numbers not updated to include Saturday's game. Presumably, given that House allowed zero fly balls, that number will not have decreased.

John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimmHe can also be reached by e-mail at john.h.grimm@hotmail.com.

User Comments

jim
September 22, 2014 - 8:24 AM EDT
house is no laffey - he strikes out a lot more guys than laffey ever did.
Tondo
September 22, 2014 - 5:22 AM EDT
Say no to Rios, he's a contract player and very inconsistent. Would rather gamble on Cuddyer's health
Homer
September 21, 2014 - 8:50 PM EDT
Mlbtraderumors.com says, the Rangers will decline Alex Rios option. IF that's true, there's a RH RF the Indians could use. I'm sure he will get a pretty nice deal for two yrs and an option. Rios had a good yr, a few minor injuries, and his power seemed to fade, but he might make a nice add. Btw, the Tribe reportedly had interest in him at the deadline.
C L Who
September 21, 2014 - 6:09 PM EDT
Let's not forget that for House to break out, Masterson had to be traded so House would have a shot at the rotation.

In my opinion, the same principal could be successfully applied to several other spots on the field, most notably 2B, 3B, RF, CF, and DH.

I doubt it will happen, but this off season I'm looking for "addition by subtraction" which has been so successful for the rotation and the SS position, to date.
shy
September 21, 2014 - 3:38 PM EDT
I've always liked ZackMack. He was drafted very young by the Yankees and coming up in an organization where he was trained to be constrained and precise in his mechanics- all the pitchers that come up in Yankees org can be spotted by the clean face, clean uniform and clean mechanics- he never realized the potential of the big body and live arm. He was actually considered a soft tosser when the Indians acquired him and to me anyway the collar didn't match the cuffs. I don't know if he signed on to the Paul Reddick internet crash course on how to add 5MPH to your fast ball or if he got the grip it and rip it makeover advice from Cash and Callaway , Whatever, he's lettin' it fly and they ain't hittin' it, Someone like ZackMack in his present state is a major asset in a bullpen whether as a set up guy or even possibly a closer.
Homer
September 21, 2014 - 3:15 PM EDT
I'm very excited to see what this club does this offseason. To be honest, I'm surprised they are in the race this late, but the pitching has been tremendous, no other way to cut it. If not for some of these SP performances they would have been out of the WC hunt long ago.

As for McAllister, I'm starting to think the move to the pen could be his long term role. If he continues to pitch like he has the last few outings he could be another setup man option to couple with Allen and Shaw. That could be a very destructive threesome the way McAllister has been pitching.

With the addition of another qlty bat or two, I think this club could contend for the AL Penant.
art
September 21, 2014 - 2:00 PM EDT
In the BPro link it is interesting to note House's horizontal pitch movement, the 3rd best of all pitchers.
Canadian Joe
September 21, 2014 - 1:16 PM EDT
Wouldn't that be nice. Shopping for bats and gloves, not arms. Kind of goes against the grain for the Tribe historically. Antonetti will be under the gun to get the required RH bats to complement the lineup. If he can produce, next year could be a lot of fun !!!
Seth
September 21, 2014 - 1:12 PM EDT
Yeah, I was ready to completely write off McAllister, but his last few outings have me intrigued. Davis comes to mind as another guy who had a crazy velocity jump later in his career. Even when he was out of the bullpen with the Rays Davis was throwing nowhere near as hard as he does now. You add McAllister into the bullpen with Allen, Shaw, Atch, Crockett, Hagadone, with other in-house bullpen options, and the current starting 5, it would seem (barring injuries between now and next March) they don't have too much pitching shopping to do.
John
September 21, 2014 - 12:59 PM EDT
No, you're right, that is interesting. I'm not certain of this by any means, but it's possible rest has something to do with it. Before the start in Houston on Sep 15th, he had thrown a total of 5.1 innings in September. That's no guarantee that rest *is* the explanation, but it seems possible.
Seth
September 21, 2014 - 12:53 PM EDT
The move to the bullpen is one thing, the fact that he averaged 95 mph on his fastball in his 6-inning start is another. Good 2-3mph above where he's been the rest of his career. He averaged like 97 his last 2 bullpen appearances, which is more like 5-6 mph above his previous starting velocity

http://www.fangraphs.com/pitchfxo.aspx?playerid=2895&position=P&pitch=FA
Homer
September 21, 2014 - 12:50 PM EDT
They worked with McAllisters mechanics, giving him a better downward plane. He hit 95-96 on occasion last yr, but that was rare. He was sitting 95, hitting 97 last night. He was just dominate last night. If he doesn't cut it in the rotation next yr, a bullpen move might work out great for the club. A guy that can throw multiple innings, and gets K's. His last few outings have been flat impressive. As others suggested, (Hiram?) he could be the Tribe (inexpensive) version of Wade Davis.
John
September 21, 2014 - 12:44 PM EDT
The bullpen adds a few MPH to most pitchers' fastballs, and McAllister's fastball had already been hovering 94-95. Most pitchers' stuff will be better when asked to pitch in 1-2 inning bursts, so it's something of a perfect storm for (effectively) a one-pitch pitcher like McAllister.

Seth: As for the Laffey comp, that's certainly possible. Noting the difference in strikeouts, as you have, there are certainly similarities in the major-league rate numbers, but the fact that House has thrown nearly twice the innings as Laffey lends some increased credibility to House's performance. How much greater is that increased credibility is an open question, of course.
Matthew
September 21, 2014 - 12:23 PM EDT
Seth--

Not totally unusual for a guy to pick up 2-3 mph on his fastball when moving to the bullpen.

I think it's telling that Tito went to McAllister in high leverage spots 2 nights in a row. He has no options remaining, House has more or less locked down the 5th starter spot, and it appears the Indians are going to take this opportunity to see what ZMac has out of the bullpen. Last night, 5 K's in 7 batters faced. So far, so good.
Seth
September 21, 2014 - 11:58 AM EDT
What was McAllister doing in Columbus anyway? How did he suddenly start throwing fastballs like he's Danny Salazar?
Hiram
September 21, 2014 - 11:49 AM EDT
Tito used his bullpen beautifully last night. Indians need to get CC Lee consistent because he's going to be good. McAllister is going to be an outstanding bridge guy to get to the closer.

I think the Indians are going to get alot of play from teams about some of the players. House, Perez, Gonzalez, Ramirez and others are going to come up in trade talks. I don't think the Indians will be inclined to deal any on of them but teams will ask


Indians need to get more pitching into the system with big time upside. I do know that Lovegrove, Brown, Lugo, Baker, Sheffield, Hockin, Miniard are some but they need one more draft of good pitching and continue to develop the guys they do have. I think the SP depth is lacking and the development is one year behind the position players. One more year of development and a draft focused on pitching should do the trick though
Seth
September 21, 2014 - 11:45 AM EDT
I just hope House isn't another Laffey. Laffey in '07 also had a 62% ground ball rate over 50 innings, and a 5.8% walk rate, and both rates just went downhill from there. House has better stuff than Laffey, about 4 mph on his fastball, and he's sustained it over twice the sample size.I haven't seen many of House's recent starts, but from what I did see his elevated ground ball rate seemed fluky. You saw Masterson or Carmona pitch and it made sense that it was difficult to do anything but hit ground balls against them, House never struck me like that.
Chip
September 21, 2014 - 11:22 AM EDT
I think one characteristic that is overlooked is how quickly House makes adjustments. He is definately a pitcher instead of a thrower, and with his descent "stuff" fits in perfectly behind the 4 horses.

Jim you may be correct with the Roberts statement, but my pick is Maronde if he returns to starting. Colon is also on the very edge of breaking through too, and nobody should write off Anderson just yet. I think Mitch Brown has figured something out and Dylan Baker is a pure power pitcher. From the leftside, Morimando, Merritt, and Brady look to have some potential along the same lines as House. Needless to say, there is some talented depth piling up behind the current rotation.

We credit the coaching staff for the development and performance of this rotation. While that is farely accurate, not enough credit is given to Yan Gomes. His demeanor and performance make him one of the very best in my eyes. The Jays have to be scratching their eyes out over him.
Jim
September 21, 2014 - 9:39 AM EDT
I think Will Roberts could be next year's TJ House
Robert
September 21, 2014 - 9:25 AM EDT
CJ, Infield defense will be a lively topic of winter discussion. I look forward to it.

Bob
Canadian Joe
September 21, 2014 - 8:42 AM EDT
House has certainly made himself a relevant piece of the Tribes staff. Hard work does pay off, and now he has a job in MLB because of it. And how much better could he and the rest of the staff be if we had an infield defense. Lots to look forward to.

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