You can never have enough pitching. That is, and always has been, the mantra of second year Indians manager Terry Francona. Pitching got him to the summit of the baseball world in Boston (twice). It got him to the playoffs his first year in Cleveland, as well as a Manager of the Year award. Having too many arms is a good problem to have.
Francona has dodged that bullet so far in 2014.
We all knew starting pitching would be a question mark going into this year. After losing Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez over the winter, many clamored for the front office to go out and get an experienced arm or two to add to the rotation. That move never came. Then there was more clamoring for the Tribe to acquire a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. We got an outfielder and a utility man.
It was clear that Chris Antonetti felt confident in the arms we had. Both Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister had their moments in 2013. Danny Salazar came up from Columbus and blew all our faces off with his fastball at the tail end of the season. And Justin Masterson was our unquestioned ace.
Fast forward to August 2014. Masterson plays in a different time zone. Salazar and McAllister have enjoyed some successful starts in a rotation together. In Columbus. Kluber has been the only mainstay in the rotation all year, and what a mainstay he has been. 13-6 with a 2.46 ERA and 3rd in the majors with 187 strikeouts.
The Indians starting pitchers as a whole currently sit 25th in the major leagues with a 4.31 ERA. They’re 26th in quality starts with 54, tied for 26th with a 1.36 WHIP and 26th with a .264 BAA. Trevor Bauer has started the second most games on the staff (18) and has done an admirable job. Josh Tomlin has started 16, McAllister 14, Salazar 12 and Carlos Carrasco 5. But who, oh who has started 11 games, throws with a different arm than all of these guys and has a head of hair that makes the ladies swoon?
That, my friends, would be T.J. House.
Let’s get the ugly out of the way first. Statistically, House hasn’t exactly set the world on fire during his first stint with the big club. In eleven starts, he’s 1-3 with an ERA just north of 4. His 1.03 HR/9 and .343 BABIP are also concerning, albeit decently above career averages. His HR/FB rate is just bananas at 17.9%, leading to a yawn-inspiring 4.16 FIP. Yes, he’s certainly leaving the ball up quite a bit. However his highest HR/9 in the minors was 0.83 in 2011, so I’d be shocked if you don’t see some regression there.
Using the league average HR/FB % instead, House’s xFIP of 3.47 is actually very good. As a guy who hasn’t traditionally been plagued by the home run ball I see no reason for him to continue giving them up at the current rate.
With a two-seamer that sits around 90-92, a slider in the low-mid 80s and a changeup in low 80s, he throws plenty hard for a southpaw and changes speeds well. He also does a good job mixing his pitches, relying on the fastball but using his slider/changeup around 20% of the time each.
Mark Buehrle is a guy that came to mind looking at the type of pitcher House is. They aren’t exactly the same: Buehrle relied less on his fastball, was less of a ground ball pitcher and didn’t throw quite as hard. In 2004, when Buehrle was 24 years old (his third full year in the big leagues), he posted a 3.87 xFIP, .295 BABIP and left 73% of runners on base. House is currently 24 years old in his first season in the majors. His 3.47 xFIP is better. His .343 BABIP is obviously worse, but let’s not forget he is pitching in front of the worst defense on the planet. His LOB% is also better at 75.1%. I know these are just a few statistics and I’m counting on some regression of House’s home run rate but I feel the comparison is reasonable. House throws harder. He gets more ground balls. He throws more first pitch strikes and misses more bats. He strikes out more batters. And that is all with two and a half less major league seasons under his belt. The potential is most definitely there.
With all that being said, my favorite thing about Mr. House is how fast he works on the mound. He throws the pitch, gets the ball, gets back on the rubber and does it again. No dilly-dallying. Of pitchers who have thrown at least 60 innings this year, House ranks 13th in the league in pitcher pace, taking an average of 19.7 seconds in between pitches. That might not correlate to any other stats, but I know as a fielder that’s the kind of pitcher I want to play behind.
The kind of hair I want to play behind, too.