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The complicated future of T.J. House

His strong rookie season notwithstanding, the Cleveland southpaw faces some obstacles if he wants to remain a starter.

This gloriously mustachioed fellow had quite the 2014.
This gloriously mustachioed fellow had quite the 2014.
Hannah Foslien

We'll start with some trivia. Since 2002, the year in which batted-ball data came into public existence, 1,857 individual pitcher seasons have had at least 100 innings. Of those, 415 contained an xFIP- below 90; of those, five sets of four pitched for the same teams. In other words, five clubs ever (well, in the past 13 seasons) have had four 100-inning pitchers with an xFIP at least 10% better than average. Care to guess those squads and players?

Two of them were the same team in consecutive years: the Cubs. In both 2003 and 2004, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano, Kerry Wood, and Matt Clement attained the feat. While that group did so for the first time, another quadrumvirate equaled them: Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Brandon Webb, and Miguel Batista, for the Diamondbacks. After an eight-season drought, the Tigers brought together Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello to do it for a fourth time in 2013.

The fifth team, in a shocking twist, was the 2014 Indians. The Cy Young-winningSociety-inspiring god known as Corey Kluber surpassed the mark with ease. So did his vastly-improved teammates, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin (both of whom owned subpar xFIPs before the current year). And T.J. House, the 24-year-old rookie, joined them as well.

House's superb 2014 stands out, though, because while all of these men came out of nowhere, House did so to the greatest extent. Prior to the season, he came in at 30th on the Indians' Consensus Top Prospect List. His results at the time — an ERA of 4.17 across the minors in 2013 — certainly justified that ranking. So how did he excel in the majors?

Decent plate discipline numbers aided his success, as he fanned 18.7% of the batters he faced while issuing free passes to 5.1%. With expected strikeout and walk rates of 18.7% and 6.0%, respectively, he didn't have too much luck on his side in those regards. But he predicated most of his prosperity on his ground ball rate, which sat at 60.9% on the season (and ranked second in baseball).

A bit of regression will probably occur, since hardly anyone can consistently avoid fly balls that much. With that said, House won't turn into Chris Young — his arsenal gives him the profile of a ground-baller. For 56.2% of his pitches, he threw a sinker that averaged 91.6 miles per hour, with 11.5 inches of break; among qualified hurlers, only Chris Sale topped the latter mark. Pairing that with an 82.9-mph, 10.1-inch (sixth in the majors) changeup, and a respectable slider, House possesses a legitimate repertoire.

Nevertheless, he won't necessarily retain his role as a starting pitcher. Some of the blame for that falls on the quality (and quantity) of his comrades. Kluber and Carrasco have rotation slots assured to them; so will Tomlin, assuming Cleveland's brain trust realizes the worthlessness of ERA. In addition, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer won't go anywhere, and they only grow stronger.

A lot of that, however, comes as the result of House's pitch mix. As a heavy sinker-slider guy, he struggles with a platoon split. To that end, right-handed batters had a .357 wOBA against him, compared to the .271 figure that lefties accrued. The fact that he eschewed his slider against righties helps some — he used it 20.2% of the time when facing them, as opposed to 29.7% of the time when facing their counterparts — but it can't compensate for the nature of the pitches themselves.

These pitches have taken House to the show, and he can't just abandon them to combat opposite-handed hitters. No, he'll have to stay the course; that'll probably mean a move to the bullpen, where he can only pitch to the batters he dominates. The change from ace-like starter to LOOGY may rob him of some fame, but if it prolongs his career, can he complain?

At this time last year, House wasn't highly regarded. Now, he's a guy with 102.0 innings of 82-xFIP- ball behind him, and a whole lot of uncertainty ahead of him. He's excelled so far, but there's only so much you can learn about a pitcher over 100 innings. At the very least, the Indians will offer him a chance to earn his keep, whether that's in the rotation or the pen.

. . .

All data courtesy of FanGraphsBaseball-Reference, and Brooks Baseball.

Ryan Romano is an editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles on Camden Depot and on Camden Chat that one time. Follow him on Twitter at @triple_r_ if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.