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Dont Sell Stock in T.J. House

Expectations.

In the Indians' starting rotation, nobody epitomizes that word more than T.J. House. He defies, changes and fights expectation on a start-by-start basis, as his career has been defined by a constant shift in perception; both good with a more-than-slight lean to bad when there's even the slightest bump in the road.

In 2014, he shattered everyone's expectations showing an upside that House had scarcely shown at any other level, and challenging us to reconsider his upside.

But on April 26, 2015 House's line is pretty ugly: 10 IP, 12.60 ERA,  8.10 BB/9

This is where everybody glares when I say "small sample" with a retort like "I have watched the games, he looks worse than his line".

It has been unspeakably ugly, and at times thoroughly unwatchable.

However, this is the time for deep breaths, for us to consider what we are seeing, as compared to what we have seen in order to make a more reasoned decision.

Arsenal:

A large issue with perceiving House is that people criticize House for the flaws of past failures, which is not representative of his capabilities. Jeremy Sowers, Aaron Laffey, we all have scar tissue from watching these soft tossing lefties, command and control centered, fall flat in front of us.

In many ways, when House struggles we have nightmares of lefties past, living on the edges, trying to dodge bullets for as long as possible. 

Well T.J House is not that guy, so first the misconceptions regarding his stuff, when people say House is a soft tosser the following comes to mind:
Of course, his velocity has been down a bit early in the season sitting around 90 and touching 93. 

On a staff with Salazar touching 100, Carrasco touching 97/98, as well as Kluber and Bauer consistently in the mid-90's, House looks like a soft tosser but that is merely contextual. 

House, however, gets something from his fast ball which is more appropriately labeled a sinker that the others don't; ground balls, piles and piles of ground balls. In 2014, he induced 65% ground balls off his fastball, in 2015 it is 61% (batted ball data has not stabilized yet but it is similar enough to last season that I included it).

Ground balls are very valuable for two specific reasons, very limited frequency of extra base hits, and a relatively low batting average on balls in play, especially if you have a competent infield defense (House may not).

As for the slider, I asked Nick Wheatley-Schaller for some research on the pitch and he provided a lot of insight.

Nick looked at the 82 pitchers who threw 250 or more sliders in 2014 and the following are the results of the query:

21st in Runs Allowed Above Average (Pitch Type Linear Weights) with -1.15 RAA Per 100 pitches

Speaks to the overall quality of the slider and implies what we know, it is a really good offering.

4th in GB rate at 59.3%

As I previously discussed with the fastball, ground balls are a central part of his success as a starting pitcher.

6th in Whiffs per Pitch at 22.2%

The overall Whiffs/Pitch is great to see, as you can tell it's mostly a factor of getting guys to offer at it at a decent amount versus making it difficult to hit when they do swing. -Nick

74th best Balls/Take, 80.7%

Essentially, when batters take, House gets a very limited amount of called strikes, which makes this pitch less challenging if hitters can adjust, and start to take it more often.This is the difference between what is a good pitch and what could be a + offering.

This may be a place where hitters have started to adjust, according to Brooks Baseball has shown a 5% decline in swings at the slider between 2014 and 2015. Small sample but this is a possible adjustment to monitor.

Issues:

The largest issue which House has control over in 2015 has been  the walk rate. In 10 innings House has walked 9 batters, 1 intentionally.

In 2014, House had a walk rate of less than two per nine innings, one of the biggest reasons for his success which included a 3.35 ERA, and a 3.10 xFIP(fielding independent pitching calculation substituting the league average HR/FB rate, ostensibly measuring the aspects a pitcher can control).

We can root around for causes, but interestingly he is getting ahead of hitters more this season than last. What is the issue? Is he struggling to control secondary offerings? A little. Have hitters adjusted? Likely. Is there a quality of opponent issue?

Usage problems:

A start has never been so unfair to a pitcher as yesterdays', House wasn't scheduled to pitch until Tuesday and as was reported by Zack Meisel he was not informed he was pitching until 40 minutes before first pitch. Further, due to the long gap in between starts he had thrown a side session the day before. 

A worse situation for controlling the baseball, commanding the baseball could not be devised. Also, House was facing the Detroit Tigers who were 2nd against left handed pitching in 2014, posting an OPS of .789, also the added Cespedes to a lineup that already feasted on lefties.

House's starting schedule:

4/25: Six days after last start, day after side session, told immediately before game, best lefty hitting team in the league.
4/19  Seven days after his last start, bounced around for matchup purposes.
4/12: Fourteen days after his final spring training start, against the best lefty hitting team in baseball.

House has been wild, his walk rate is too, and among thing he controls it has been his only real down fall. A 25 year old, who has had a stable routine most of his career is struggling to control the baseball pitching without any rhythm. Being asked to wait six days, seven days, two weeks. 

Further, as batted ball luck goes, he has been living Murphy's law, his BABIP against is .421 and HR/FB is 20% both will regress to the mean.

House, has the makings of a solid big league pitcher, we also have a 100+ inning sample of him performing really well, and an arsenal with two good pitches as well as a usable third offering.

Part of  what determines success is the responsibility you are given and opportunities you are placed in, for House in 2015 it is fair to say that his usage has been unfair and expecting results in unfair situations is never sound. 

The bottom line is this, if you are selling T.J. House stock, I am buying because with young arms, patience and stability are everything.

A special thanks to Nick Wheatley-Schaller as he provided really helpful research on the quality of House's slider and if you have an inquisitive mind, his work is always a must read.
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