Resisting The Urge To Buy In On T.J. House
Originally Posted To WahoosOnFirst.com
I’m at baseball fan at heart, and being a fan at heart can do a number on the objective view required to properly analyze and commentate about the game on a website such as this one. I still have the bad habit of buying in to what’s happening immediately in front of me, despite the fact that over the long haul, the projections are right more often than not.
For instance, here’s what I wrote about Zach McAllister on May 5 of this season:
“McAllister’s command was impeccable throughout the game, and he did an excellent job mixing his pitches to keep opposing hitters off balance. His two-seamer is becoming a nice weapon for him, as he caught more than a couple Twins looking at strike three on tailing fastballs that started just off the plate only to run back in and catch the outside corner. McAllister now has a 3.18 ERA to go along with a 1.21 WHIP, and is solidifying himself as a bonafide mid-rotation option for the Tribe moving forward (and proving idiots like me wrong).”
At the time, all of that was true. Except here’s the thing: Zach McAllister is just not that good. And what’s even more frustrating is I knew that. I’ve written before (insert other link) that the Indians shouldn’t rely on McAllister to pitch 200-plus innings of quality baseball. I was right, but I had let my inner-fan get the best of me in my analysis.
All of which leads me to T.J. House. House pitched very well in his last outing, shutting the Minnesota Twins out over 5.1 innings. This continues a nice stretch of outings for House, who hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in each of his last eight outings. On top of that, there’s a very sound analytical case to be made in House’s favor. It makes a lot of sense to believe House has turned some type of corner and can be a solid contributor to a postseason-caliber pitching staff.
But, in an effort to learn from my mistake with McAllister, I’m not buying it.
House’s ERA looks nice (3.80 ERA), and as my colleague Austin Ingraham points out some of his peripherals (3.47 xFIP, 60.8 GB %) look like they would support it. He’s been a victim of the Tribe’s porous infield defense, with a .338 BABIP, and he’s also suffered from an inflated 17.1% HR/FB rate (10.7% league average thus far in 2014).
But, as is the case with any player, those stats are just a piece of the puzzle. House does a poor job controlling the strike zone. His 16.8 K% and 6.9 BB% equate to a below-average 9.9 K-BB%. In an era when pitchers are striking out more batters than ever without an increase in walk rate, House doesn’t strike out enough batters to make up for only above average control.
That alone wouldn’t be enough to preclude House from being a quality starting pitcher. But the concerns run deeper than that. The strikeout rate and walk rate are symptomatic of the fact that House is just way to hittable.
House has a 1.49 WHIP, has a .294 batting average against, and is allowing home runs on 17.1% of his fly balls. The WHIP and batting average against can be attributed to the Indians poor infield defense. The home run rate can be attributed to the bad luck that will eventually even out. It would be tough to fault someone for looking at these things, assuming they will regress closer to league averages, and conclude House will continue to pitch well.
But it’s not always that simple. Some pitchers are more prone to allowing hard contact than others. House doesn’t have dominant stuff, as shown by his strikeout rate, so when he makes a mistake in the zone, it’s going to be hit hard. His merely decent command (plus the fact that he consistently posted walk rates above 8% in the minors) means he will make more mistakes in the zone than a guy with his repertoire can afford to make. So yes, his inflated home run rate and BABIP may be somewhat due to bad luck, but they’re also an indictment of the kind of pitcher House is. His xFIP looks good because it normalizes that home run rate to the league average, but House looks like the kind of pitcher who will run home run rates above the league average, such as Josh Tomlin. His 60.8% groundball rate is all but guaranteed to fall back, which means more balls hit in the air that will potentially go over the fence, further mitigating any drop in his home run rate.
So putting everything together, it’s not a pretty picture. T.J. House certainly has looked good lately, but there’s just too much going against him for me to fully buy in to the idea of him being a rotation mainstay. Even though the fan in me wants to hope for big things, the facts are telling a different story.