Resisting The Urge To Buy In On T.J. House


Aug 7, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher

T.J. House

(58) throws a pitch against the Cincinnati Reds in the first inning at Great American Ball Park. Mandatory Credit: David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a baseball fan at heart, and being a fan at heart can do a number on the objective view required to properly analyze and write 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 they are not.

For instance, here’s what I wrote about Zach McAllister on May 5:

"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: McAllister is just not that good. What’s makes it even more frustrating is that this wasn’t exactly a shocker. I’ve written before the Indians shouldn’t rely on McAllister to pitch 200-plus innings of quality baseball, and I was right. But I let the excitement my inner-fan experienced over a brief sample of games 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 starts. On top of that, as my colleague Austin Ingraham points out, there’s a sound analytical case to be made in House’s favor. There are reasons 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 some of his peripherals (3.47 xFIP, 60.8 GB %) would seem to support it. He’s also been a victim of the Tribe’s porous infield defense, with a .338 BABIP, and he’s suffered from an inflated 17.1% HR/FB rate (10.7% league average thus far in 2014), both of which would seemingly indicate he’s due for some better luck in those areas.

But, as is the case with any player, those stats are just a piece of the puzzle. In an era when pitchers are racking up tons of strikeouts without increases their walk rates, House doesn’t strike out enough batters to make up for merely above-average control. His 16.8 strikeout rate and 6.9 walk rate equate to a below-average 9.9 K-BB%.

Jul 10, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher T.J. House (58) delivers against the New York Yankees at Progressive Field. Cleveland won 9-3. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

That alone wouldn’t be enough to preclude House from being a quality starting pitcher. But the concerns run deeper. The strikeout rate and walk rate are symptomatic of the fact that House is just way too hittable.

House has a 1.49 WHIP, 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 average, 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 evidenced 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 he consistently posted walk rates above eight percent in the minors) means he will make more mistakes in the zone than a guy with his repertoire can afford to make.

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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 appears to be a pitcher who will consistently run home run rates above the league average, not unlike 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 potential drop in his home run rate.

So looking forward to 2015 and beyond, T.J. House profiles more as an I-71 shuttle rider back and forth from AAA Columbus than a rotation stable. He’s certainly has looked good lately, but there’s just too much going against him for me to fully buy in. Even though the fan in me wants to hope for big things, the complete picture is telling a different story.