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T.J. House has been far better than expected

I was down on T.J. House. I doubted his ability, questioned his spot in the rotation, and opined that if he was going to be a key cog in the rotation, the rotation was in trouble. Well, today I offer T.J. a mea culpa. You deserved better and I won't doubt you in the future.

Jason Miller

Dear T.J.,

I am writing to say I'm sorry. Over the past year, I have said some things about you that were less than complimentary. Nothing nasty, mind you, but anywhere I talk baseball (here, Twitter, emails to friends, bars, etc.), when your name has come up, I have repeated the same message - T.J. House is a typical 6th starter: great depth, better than replacement level, but not someone you really want to see in your rotation for months on end. Yet, here we are, in September, and you have proven me wrong. So very wrong.

In 2013, getting your first taste of AAA, your numbers were kind of blah. Sure, the FIP was below 4 (3.89) but the ERA wasn't (4.32) and when you are walking almost 9% of the batters you face while striking out less than 18%, there is reason to be concerned. You kept the home runs down, but they were at an "acceptable" level, not an excellent one, and with your ground ball tendencies, I hoped for a bit better. 141.2 IP from a 23-year-old at AAA seemed a relatively safe sample size on which to make a prediction. I predicted "rotation fodder" and pegged you for a regular seat on the bus between Columbus and Cleveland.

In retrospect, I wonder if I missed something. Your career shows a bit of a pattern. From 2009-1011, getting your first shot at A and high-A, your numbers were only okay. Maybe not even that. But in 2012 you put things together at that level before taking your first stab at AA. That first stab was pretty average. Again, too many walks. Again, too few strikeouts. And an ERA pushing 4 in a league for which you were basically age appropriate.

But 2013...2013 you got another look at AA and treated the league with such contempt (nearly 11 K/9 and under 1.5 BB/9) that you were in Columbus in no time. And so when I analyzed your 2013 AAA numbers and projected more of the same in 2014, I wonder if I shouldn't have seen realized you were making adjustments and growing as a pitcher.

In your second shot at AA, you took your K% from 17.2% to 30.7% and your BB% from 8.4% to 3.4%. In your second shot at AAA, the changes weren't as dramatic, but again your K% and BB% both improved. You didn't dominate the International League like you did the Eastern League, but you didn't need to. In your age-24 season, you quickly showed you could handle AAA and deserved a shot at the big boys.

And what has happened? You are striking out big league hitters at an even higher rate (18.8%) and walking them at an even lower rate (5.4%) than you did in AAA. K%-BB% has proven to be a great predictor of ERA, and while your gap of 13.4 isn't world beating, it places among the top 60 pitchers in MLB with at least 90 IP this year. You are just above Zack Wheeler, who the Mets have high hopes for. You are only a few spots below John Lackey and Jesse Chavez, who were both terrific this year.

But you also do something those guys don't do, which is make every single hitter ever beat the ball into the ground over and over again. Ok, maybe not every hitter, but your GB% is 60.1%. That is nuts. Only Dallas Keuchel is doing better.

All of this adds up to a 3.42 ERA (also a top 60 number for pitchers with 90+ IP) which is solidly backed up by a 3.69 FIP (just outside the top 60). And a top 60 MLB pitcher is not "typical 6th starter," it's more like "legitimate 3rd starter in a contending rotation." The crazy thing is, when I look at what you are doing now, I start to wonder if next year can't be even better.

Your overall numbers this year are dragged down by a weak first half - and the improvement is drastic and visible across the board. I mean, check out these numbers:

K% BB% K%-BB% HR/FB% ERA FIP
1st Half 15% 5.5% 9.5% 28% 4.4 4.74
2nd Half 22.8% 5.3% 17.5% 6.9% 2.49 2.68

If we only look at the second half, that FIP ranks 15th out of 137 pitchers with 40+ IP. 15th! And this is your FIP, not - not luck induced. You have nearly doubled that gap between K% and BB% and your HR/FB rate - which was astronomically high in the first half - is back near where it was throughout your minor league career.

I am not sure what you did over the All-Star Break, but it worked. Something has clicked - maybe it's the same growth you showed in your second cracks at AA and AAA. Maybe you are just the latest notch on Mickey Callaway's very accomplished belt.

Realistically, you probably won't post a sub-2.50 ERA in 2015. In fact, a sub-3.00 ERA is asking too much. But wherever your ERA ends up in 2015, your season will likely start as a member of what is becoming a very impressive rotation. And that is a far cry from "6th starter."

Apologetically yours,

Chad

P.S. - Even when I doubted your arm, I never doubted that mustache. Truly glorious.