The Blue Jays’ signing of T.J. House is an intelligent gamble with the potential to yield strong benefits
There is a lot to like about the Blue Jays’ signing of T.J. House. Here are a few of the reasons why I particularly like this deal
#1 – He was good
In his 2014 season, before he was injured, House put up a 3.35 ERA and a 2.96 SIERA over 102 innings. Small sample size, granted, but just for context, that 2.98 SIERA ranked 12th in the majors (starting pitchers, 100+ innings). Well, actually, I exaggerate – House was *tied* for 12th … with two guys named Bumgarner and Scherzer. And he did this with a BABIP of .332, which would ordinarily indicate that he was unlucky.
So the man has demonstrated that he can pitch at the MLB level.
#2 – He is young
House will play the 2017 season at age 27, though he will turn 28 just in time to pitch in the World Series for the Jays.
Young arms are good.
#3 – He is controllable
House is not arb eligible until 2019, and will not be a free agent until 2022. So if House does succeed in recovering his mojo, the Jays will benefit for several years.
That makes the risk:reward relationship more attractive.
#4 – He is a good bullpen candidate
Back in 2014, House’s fastball averaged 90.7 mph. That is low for a MLB pitcher. But many (most?) pitchers find that their fastball velocity increases by 2-3 mph when they move to a bullpen role. For House, such an increase might be particularly valuable given that he starts from a position of relative weakness.
It is important that a bullpen arm be accurate. Walks (or wild pitches, or hit batsmen) in high leverage situations are particularly painful. House’s 1.94 BB/9 in 2014 was 30th best of 140 MLB starters (100+ innings).
So House has the theoretical makeup of a good bullpen arm.
#5 – 2016 results
In 2016, House pitched a total of 75 innings (AAA and MLB combined). Of those, 22.2 innings were from the bullpen (2.2 with Cleveland, 20 in AAA). In those 22.2 innings, House gave up 5 ER for an ERA of 1.99.
Usual sample size caveats, but favourable.
#6 – Longman/swingman/starter
House was a starter through most of his minor league career, and started 18 games in 2014 and 12 games in 2016. He should therefore have no problem in a multi-inning bullpen role, and could also be the 6th/7th/8th starter. If House does well as a starter in 2017, he could also be a candidate for a full-time rotation spot in 2018, when the Jays could lose Estrada and Liriano.
Flexibility is good. Innings are good.
#7 – The Cleveland connection
Ordinarily I would have a concern that Cleveland allowed House to become a free agent. What do they know that we do not know? But House was drafted, developed and made his major league debut under Shapiro and Atkins. The Jays should accordingly have more knowledge about House than any team other than Cleveland. That they are confident enough in him to make a small (minor league contract) gamble is a positive.
The bottom line
House is far from a sure thing. But given his past, his age, and the positive signs he showed in 2016, he is well worth the gamble of a 2017 minor-league contract.