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Second Thoughts Game #86: Kansas City 3, Cleveland 7

Second Thoughts Game #86: Kansas City 3, Cleveland 7
T.J. House (Photo: AP)
July 6, 2014
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After losing 7-1 on Friday in front of a sellout crowd, the Indians won 7-3 on Saturday in front of a listed crowd of 24,481. Because correlation is always causation, one assumes that the cutoff line between 'homefield advantage' and 'too crowded' is approximately 25,000 in paid attendance.

On a more serious note, Cleveland's 7-3 victory was neither wholly out-of-character nor wholly in-character for the 2014 Indians club - on one hand, Swisher did get a clutch hit; on the other hand, so did Chisenhall, reinforcing the Legend of Lonnie.

I Am Lon-gend

Lonnie Chisenhall has endured a fairly pedestrian four weeks on offense - since the beginning of the Series in Boston on June 13th, as he had hit 12/63 (.190) before Saturday's game and after the beginning of the Boston series. Were it not for the fact that six of his twelve hits over that stretch were extra base hits, it would have been a quite-barren stretch indeed.

With his two hits and walk, Chisenhall's offensive performance on July 5th yielded a game wRC+ of 310, the best single-game performance by Chisenhall since the June 17th game against Anaheim and the best performance without a home run since an identical stat line in KC.

Chisenhall's season has been the best of his career by nearly every metric - best walk rate, lowest strikeout rate, best across-the-board average and power. Chisenhall was unlikely to maintain the 190 wRC+ he enjoyed at his early-June zenith - regression was quite likely to see to that. However, regression does not mean that Chisenhall was, from that point, going to hit at his .220 clip of 2013 to balance out what had occurred, but he was going to get worse than he had been for the first few months, barring a run at .400.

His BABIP which had hung near .400 would come to Earth, and even the best hitters don't hit at the skill level of their hottest stretch for their entire careers - the 'hottest stretch' line refers both to exceptional BABIP luck and focused skill. Hence, a mistake that one frequently makes is to assume that excellent walk and strikeout rates will hold steady; even these clearly skill-based categories can fluctuate based on hot or cold periods (and, more locally, opposing pitcher skill).

For instance, ZiPS projection systems have take the normalization of skill into account, as well as the incorporation of a hot 2014 into Chisenhall's true talent level. Hence, ZiPS projects Chisenhall to hit a .282 clip the rest of the way out with decent, but not excellent, power. This takes everything into account, but it's an extremely interesting proposition: what was considered before the season an optimistic projection is now a 50th-percentile outcome, what would happen if neither he continued to breakout nor collapsed. Even in spite of a cold four weeks, Lonnie Chisenhall remains extremely impressive.

The Fall of the House of Starting in the Rotation

Nominally, T.J. House threw a quality start. He went 6.2 IP and allowed 3 ER, meaning that - insofar as the QS stat is concerned - House did what a starter was supposed to do. Given that his game ERA was 4.05 for the game, 'nominally quality' may not be sufficient to keep the challengers at bay.

In AAA at present, there are two pitchers, Danny Salazar and Zach McAllister, who each started the 2014 season in the rotation and whose recent performances have given excessive reason to believe that they might soon return to the rotaiton. While Masterson could quite feasilbly leave one rotation spot open if he should be placed on the D.L. (which, given one more start with control issues, seems inevitable), the rotation may soon be in for serious overhaul, and T.J. House may be on the way out.

More than anything else, T.J. House would appear to be raw. Simply distilled, House is an extreme groundball pitcher who limits walks fairly well and who has an extremely unimpressive strikeout rate. In xFIP terms, this leads to well-above-average diagnosis; in FIP terms, however, wherein real home run rates replace xFIP's regressed home run rates, T.J. House is exactly replacement-level.

As one might infer from this rather leading line of logic, House's greatest deficiency - by far - is his inability at preventing home urns. But for the case of Roberto Hernandez and Fausto Carmona, extreme groundball pitchers typically do not have home run problems, largely because HR/FB ratio - for all major-league pitchers - hovers typically around 10%, with anything over 14% being extremely high. House's HR/FB ratio of 26.3% is the highest among all pitchers with over 30 innings pitched. 

It's possible that this is merely a fluke of statistics, of course, and a non-negligible one, but there could be legitimate reasons prompting a rate above the league average. For instance, to say with either T.J. House now or Danny Salazar several months ago that HR/FB regression to the mean being nearly-universal among the population of major league pitchers - which is true - assumes that either is fully a member of the population of major league pitchers. In fact, there are reasons to believe that neither are true: Salazar had never been trained in the minors to use his secondary stuff to get through a rotation a third time, and House likewise began 2013 in AA and began the season as the eighth pitcher on the starter depth chart.

Salazar's Saturday performance produced reasons for optimism - his 9 K/3 BB split in Saturday's game was a net positive on its own. His 4 ER allowed over his 6 IP was disconcerting, of course, but minor league stats are notoriously unreliable as a literal reading of a player's ability - Salazar was sent down to work on a purpose; the practice occurring in AAA is targeted practice in improvement in concrete categories more than MLB simulation. To which degree each of the two exist is known, at this point, only to the Indians front office. Nevertheless, there exists some reason for optimism. McAllister's case requires less blind worship at the altar of K/BB. His AAA ERA for the year hovers at 2.08 with a FIP only a tick above at 2.78, and that at the hitter's paradise of Huntington Park. He's proven hismelf capable of all things at the MLB level.

House has done nothing poorly enough to be removed for the rotation. He's done nothing so exceptional as to solidify himself in an MLB rotation spot, but whether he's removed from the rotation depends as much on whether Cleveland is willing to commit to him in the medium-term as whether the alternatives are better. T.J. House had an outside shot at the rotiaton entering 2014, and he has accomplished certain component tasks of pitching successfully, most notably inducing ground balls.

However, the desired end-result of ground-balling - limiting home runs - is a task that House has not accomplished. Whether this is as a result of a failure on the part of House or on the part of the HR/FB luck dragons is an unsettled matter, but the organization has made it clear that HR/FB rates are not the province of luck. If they believed that HR/FB ratios were not in the hands of the pitcher, they would have had no reason to send Salazar to AAA.

House's outing on Saturday merely repeated every theme about his season to date - no walks, mediocre strikeout rate, and a HR/FB ratio over 20%. It may not be before the break, and it may be due to injury, but change is coming to the rotation. Given the dearth of pitching in the farm system as recent as even two years ago, the state of affairs is both far from perfect and far from the worst possible scenario.

John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimmHe can also be reached by e-mail at john.h.grimm@hotmail.com.

User Comments

Berdj J. Rassam
July 6, 2014 - 3:27 PM EDT
Bourn, Klonis, Swisher etc had a great game.
yourtribe
July 6, 2014 - 12:52 PM EDT
If we fall out of the race or in the offseason, trade bourn. Hitting in the .260s with about 4x more Ks than walks is a 7 or 8 hitters numbers. Surely we have a minor leaguer who can do that? As that is noithing special. And only 7 steals. And gets hurt. Just need a taker.

Even if we eat say 5 million of his deal each of the next to years. Would be better to have only his 5 on the books plus a youngsters half million to million versus his 13.5. That's a savings of about 7 to 8 mil per year.

Swisher I don't see a market for. Just have to deal with it.

pathofkindness
July 6, 2014 - 12:03 PM EDT
Thanks for the great stuff on Chisenhall. Also, I'm more happy about House's performance than you are. Expectations weren't really very high, as he was never thought of as more than a fourth or fifth starter, but as that, he's showing some real promise. Best thing is, he's tough and a fighter, and I like that.

By the way, to say, "the state of affairs is far from perfect and far from the worst possible scenario" is like saying nothing. 8--{

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