Second Thoughts Game #64: Cleveland 17, Texas 7
After a 17-7 victory over the Texas Rangers that saw the last five innings of the game serve as little more than a formality (a formality in which the Clevelands scored five runs, it should be noted), the Cleveland Indians now stand two games behind Detroit for the AL Central division lead after the White Sox defeated Detroit at U.S. Cellular. If one was looking for pitching dominance, they did not find it; if one was looking for pitching dominance, they should have looked somewhere other than a T.J. House/Nick Martinez starter tandem at Globe Life Park.
Such an offensive explosion was it that over the course of the game, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, andLonnie Chisenhall gathered three hits - it was the last of these, however, who provided a night for the record books.
The Legend Rises
Before the season, there existed one question regarding Lonnie Chisenhall's baseball career - only one question, yet one that could not have been more critical; namely, whether Lonnie Chisenhall could hit those baseballs thrown by major league pitchers better than the average major leaguer. 2013 surface-level statistics suggested the answer was no; other statistics suggested yes.
It would be difficult to find any statistics, however, that suggested that Lonnie Chisenhall was Troy Tulowitzki with the bat. Yet by the best holistic measurements, Monday's performance vaulted Chisenhall into the league's elite in overall offensive performance.
Much of that was driven by the fact that The Legend of Lonnie ascended to new, bearded heights on Monday. Lonnie's line on the night was 5-5, 3 HR, 1 2B, 1 1B, 9 RBI. Depending on the parameters of measurement, Lonnie's night was either exceptional or unparalleled; in either case, the five-hit, three-home-run, nine-RBI performance has few equivalents in Major League History.
Devoid of context, then, the performance was truly great; context, however, looks grim upon Chisenhall's performance. In the context of an offense that scored 8 runs in addition to the nine Chisenhall drove in, Lonnie's Win Probability Added (WPA: that is, the tangible in-game contributions that helped move the 50/50 win likelihood at the beginning of the game to the 100% likelihood of an actual win) was only .162.
Context-endorsed or not, with a performance like that on Monday, the question, so improbable even five months ago, arises: is there anything Lonnie Chisenhall can't do?
Answer: Defend. One might darkly reply that this fact makes him a team player; at least, it makes him a player completely in place on the 2014 Indians.
Popping the Housing Bubble
T.J. House (3.1 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB, 1 K, 81 pitches, 46 strikes, 4 Swinging Strikes) was not as bad as he appeared in Texas on Monday. To grant that is to grant that no pitcher is allowed a tough night in Arlington. Arlington, after all, is a tough ballpark; even decimated by injuries, moreover, the Texas lineup still gives reason to be wary. House's reputation should not be defined solely by Monday night.
Yet the issue is that, at the major league level, performances like Monday's were forseeable. T.J. House is not a strikeout pitcher. In a discussion regarding Tomlin on Saturday, there exist pitchers who can get by - succeed, even - without a high-strikeout arsenal. This model is uncommon but not unprecedented.
What these sorts of pitchers, require, however, are pristine walk rates and defenses whose abilities align with the defense's competencies; unfortunately, House has had the benefit of neither. Throughout House's minor league career, House had not had a single season-level (100+ IP) wherein he enjoyed a BB/9 less than 3.00. And while his minor league strikeout record ranged from either lackluster or average, that did not account for the fact that both walk rate and strikeout rate, due to the fact that MLB's disciplined hitters can influence both, would likely see a decline.
Ultimately, House's K%-BB% rate, one of the more effective indicators of future success, entering the game was notso egregious as to merit serious worry; his 10.0% K%-BB% was worse than league average for starting pitchers, certainly, but below-average does not necessarily imply that House would needs be ineffective.
The real problem for House arose when one considers the second method by which one can overcome a low strikeout rate: directional pitching that aligns with the strengths of the defense. Directional pitching is one of T.J. House's strengths: defining House is his extreme proficiency at inducing ground balls. Among pitchers with 20+ IP, House's 64% ground ball rate places him sixth.
The question, then, becomes whether this aligns with the defense's strength. At this point, there exists one defensive strength, but Yan Gomes can't field ground balls. That task is left to Lonnie Chisenhall, whose day with the bat was so good, in fact, that he may have been attempting to field with it.
Error aside, Lonnie's glovework resulted in two hits that would have been difficult plays, but plays that a competent major league third baseman typically makes, to say nothing of Asdrubal Cabrera's own error on the day. House's excellent ground ball rate resulted in more batters reaching base because of hits and, as if on cue, his markedly improved walk rate to date regressed with unpleasant vigor.
Couple this with a home run, and the stars aligned for an altogether bothersome outing by T.J. House. The worry signs going forward for House, assuming Zach McAllister does not replace him next trip through, are threefold.
First, House's walk rate and strike rate are bothersome. His minor league numbers suggest, on the whole, that House doesn't have the strikeout ability necessary to overcome an above-average walk rate. After Monday's game, House's BB/9 regressed upward to 2.82 - itself a number below any full minor league season for House to date. Given the uptick in walk rate one ought budget to compensate for increased major league competition levels, it seems that tonight might be nearer the norm than the exception in terms of walk rates.
Second, House's home run issues are clear, convincing, and quite bizarre. It's only rarely the case that ground-ball pitchers have home run problems; after all, among the population of major league pitchers, home runs surrendered are only a function of how many fly balls one allows. A typical league average HR/FB ratio is around 10%. An extremely inflated HR/FB ratio looks like 15% - where Danny Salazar stood. House's is currently at 33%.
It will not stay at 33%; it is almost guaranteed to descend to a more reasonable level going forward. However, extreme groundballers like House have at times experienced inflated HR/FB ratios. Consider the former Fausto Carmona and current Roberto Hernandez, whose HR/FB ratios have remained curiously high over the course of his career - a career rate of 12.5%. There is no guarantee that House fits this mold; the most likely explanation is that his currently high HR/FB ratio is unsustainable. Still, the phenomenon of inflated HR/FB ratios for extreme groundball pitchers has been known to occur.
Finally, House is pitching in front of a most inhospitable defense. His groundball capabilities are extremely robust, but this ability is all for naught unless a defense can both field routine plays cleanly and help out pitchers by making non-routine plays. The Indians' defense does neither.
So for now, T.J. House stands in the wake of an ineffective start that nevertheless resulted in a blowout victory. House may have joined the fraternity of Indians pitchers with a substantial ERA-xFIP gap, but one need only wait, be that several months or a year. There's a certain Puerto Rican shortstop down I-77 who knows - this author is told - a thing or two about fielding.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No way they DFA Kotteras. He's the ideal backup catcher. Yeah, Santana caused his own injury by turning his head. If he keeps his head straight the ball bounces off his mask and he doesn't get hurt. But he turns his head and body, which exposes himself to injury.
I'm OK with him at 1B or DH, or even 3B, but I'd pick a position and have him play there all the time so he can improve rather than bouncing him around.
Axford looks really awful on the mound. I didn't see his second inning (which featured 2 Ks I believe), but in his first inning he was saved by a miraculous bit of dumb baserunning by the Rangers. Until then, it looked the game was quickly going to be about 9 - 6 with Rangers batting and 1 out.
Probably a moot point as the Tribe always signs their good young players to extensions (Kipnis, Santana, Sizemore, Peralta, Lee, Martinez, CC, etc). I'm not worried about service time with Chiz.
Of course, Francona might as well go with a 5-man bullpen right now, since he seems to completely forget he even has a his "long man" out there, and certainly doesn't need the 3 lefties.
Indians have a tough decision to make when they bring back Swisher. There are only three options if you ask me (provided no one is injured or a convenient injury does not come up to Giambi):
1. Send down Hagadone. To me this is the most likely move as Francona doesn't even use all 8 guys in his pen anyway.
2. DFA Kottaras. To me this is the second option in play, but not the move I make because he is much more usable and valuable at this point than Giambi....especially since there are no DH at bats to give out to Giambi versus right-handed pitching with Chisenhall, Swisher and Santana all needing to play.
3. DFA Giambi. This is the most unlikely to me only because of Francona's loyalty to Giambi, but to me is the no brainer move here. He can't play in the field and at this point Kottaras is the better left-handed pinch hitting option and more versatile. Time to make him a coach though I am guessing to save him face that he comes up with some sort of calf strain or lower back injury to put him on the DL without releasing him.
The kid is JUST NOT READY.. he's showing in his 250 or so at bats that he's starting to get it.. A big jump in the quality of pitching occurs from High A ball to AA.. That will seem like a mere line drawn in chalk on concrete compared to what Francisco's going to see at the ML level.. This is NOT the time to screw with the lineup.. This team is gelling and should be permitted to continue..
Big G.. could be experiencing his last hurrah.. The swings and misses last night.. were not very good.. G was guessing and cheating to get ahead of the fastball.. It would not be a huge surprise to see G calling for a presser right around the ASB or, possibly, when Bro-Hio boy comes off the DL..
TJ House.. needed to be better..even in a blow out.. If and when Z-Mac is ready, TJ will be looking at a return to C-Bus, that is inevitable.. TJ may get one more start, so, I hope he makes the best of it..
Quick question Tony, if he can maintain a reasonably good clip going forward, could this expedite Cabrera's exit out of Cleveland, and Lindor's promotion. Lonnie's production would offset Cabrera's sporadic offence, and Lindor would certainly be an upgrade on defense.I know this is contrary to front office thinking, but the better all around talent should win out.
Also, when is Tito going to pull the pin on Giambi ? His value is in the clubhouse, not on the field like he might think. He has one meaningful hit all year. There are others that can fill that role as well as add to it, with defense and baserunning. The time has come. The fat lady is getting laryngitis.