T.J. House: The Mustached Magician

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Indians southpaw looks to build on solid 2014 season

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When

T.J. House

tossed seven innings of shutout baseball in the second game of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins on September 11th, he became the first Cleveland Indians pitcher since 1914 to notch three consecutive starts of at least seven innings while giving up one run or less and walking none. Not bad for a guy who was nearly released by the club three years ago.

House began the 2014 campaign in AAA Columbus. He made seven starts there, with decent results (1-2, 2.40 ERA, 34/11 K/BB) before getting called up to the big leagues in mid-May. He was roughed up in his first start on the 23rd, giving up five earned runs, including two long balls, over six innings of work. Five days later he gave Tribe fans a peek of what he had been up to with the Clippers: 6.1 innings, one run, eight strikeouts and one walk.

Statistically, House didn’t exactly jump off the page at you in 2014. He ended the year with a 5-3 record in 18 starts, a 3.35 ERA, an 18.7% K% and 5.1% BB%. But there are some underlying numbers that paint a more successful (and sustainable) picture.

First of all, House was borderline dominant in September. Over 24 innings thrown, he allowed just 22 hits, four earned runs and posted a sensational 22/1 K/BB. His 2.88 FIP in those thirty days wasn’t borderline dominant, it was the definition of dominant. Using the league average HR/FB rate instead, his xFIP was a ludicrous 2.31 (the Major League leader among qualified pitchers was Clayton Kershaw with a 2.08 xFIP; Felix Hernandez was second at 2.51).

Obviously there will be some regression with those numbers. He has never been a strikeout pitcher, as his career K/9 has hovered right around seven throughout the minors. His career BB/9 is also quite a bit higher than the 1.94 he posted with the Indians this season.

But the Indians didn’t call House up to be a strikeout pitcher. He gets a ton of ground balls (60.9 GB%), which worked more and more to his advantage as the Indians defense recovered from abysmal to just plain bad towards the end of the year. The mustache and stirrups pitching in front of a possible Jose Ramirez / Francisco Lindor middle infield next season makes me giddy just thinking about it. On the rare occasion somebody got under one of his pitches, those fly balls were leaving the yard an unbelievable 17.9% of the time, which will surely drop as he has never been a pitcher that has struggled with giving up the long ball (and will help his FIP shrink closer to his xFIP). He also managed to strand 78.9% of runners that reached base against him, illustrating his bend-but-don’t-break pitching mentality.

Bottom line, House won’t be a number one or two guy for the Indians any time soon. He may very well have to battle in Spring Training to solidify his spot in the 2015 rotation. But he’s a guy who can go out and give you a quality start more often than not, and that’s something the Indians haven’t had in a left-hander in quite some time.

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