I saw Tanner Houck had a slider that produced a .142 xBA and I gulped, then I went looking for some examples. Enjoy:
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 16, 2021
When a hitter is swinging at a pitch that’s either so far off the plate that the catcher can’t get to it or if it hits their back leg, it’s so nasty. Or simply S’nasty, which is Tanner Houck’s new name. S’nasty is basically Chris Sale from the other side, who was like Mr. S’nasty Sr. He was S’nasty before S’nasty. Yes, I’m comparing Houck to a guy who was the fastest to 2,000 strikeouts in history. That’s heady company, which sounds like what a pimp would name his LLC. Now, what made/makes Chris Sale nasty is/was he can’t/couldn’t be hit by lefties or righties. Naturally, he’s much harder for lefties. His career mark is .202 vs. lefties and .223 vs. righties. Bringing that up for a reason, can imagine if S’nasty Jr. aka The Incredible Houck is that good vs. righties? For those slow on the uptake, there’s more righties! If Houck is as good vs. righties as Sale is vs. lefties, then Houck’s about to have himself a few Cy Young awards and become a top five starter in the league. So, what can we expect from Tanner Houck for 2022 fantasy baseball and what makes him a sleeper?
Psyche! Before we get into the Tanner Houck sleeper post, just wanted to announce that I’ve finished my 2022 fantasy baseball rankings and they’re all available on our Patreon. Anyway II, the Tanner Houck sleeper:
Well, I don’t think Tanner Houck is going to win a Cy Young. Guess he could, but S’nasty Sr. aka Chris Sale would regularly have three pitches getting a sub-.200 xBA, and Houck has the slider. Also, outside of the Tommy John stuff, Sale would locate his slider much more accurately than Houck. Listen, putting a Sale comparison on a guy as young as Houck is unrealistic. Houck’s slider is still great. S’nasty’s success isn’t going to be dictated by his best pitch. It’ll be based on his worst pitch, his sinker.
Tanner Houck’s sinker is not bad; you can find demonstrable evidence it belongs in the S’nasty repertoire theater doing kabuki on hitters while purveyors of pitcher GIFs do bukkake. The sinker showed 32.4 inches of vertical drop and 14.7 inches of horizontal movement. It is getting hit at times, badly. Sinker’s slash is .313/.353/.458 with a 2% BB%. I wonder if Tanner Houck would do better throwing it out of the zone more. The SwStr% on the sinker is 17.3%, which is terrific, so it’s almost like he’s not wasting the pitch enough. Might be a matter of building up confidence. It could also be a small sample size on the sinker, he only threw 195 of them, and then I drilled down further. This might also be a case where I just got very lost in Statcast, and watched literally every sinker Houck threw last year. It wasn’t that many. Here you can see them for yourself in a blink:
Isolating all the sinkers over the plate (36), and this won’t surprise you, but they produced a .330 xBA. The difference there and my Sean Manaea sleeper is startling. In fairness, the majority of pitchers are like Houck. You throw over the plate and you get hit. This goes back to what I was saying about Houck, that he threw the sinker over the plate too much. *shields eyes from light* Sorry, I’m returning to the Statcast rabbit hole. Again, about the sample size: Only ten sinkers (9 in August and September, and one on 4/3) produced a .600 batting average and a 1.100 SLG. Any guesses what I searched to find those truly beaten-up sinkers? Too late! They were all his sinkers thrown under 93 MPH. So, his sinker’s troubles might be due to being tired later in the year or not ready in his first April appearance. In other words, Houck might be just a little bit of luck away from an ace-type year. Or just being better rested. Though, he also never threw more than 5 1/3 IP in any start all year. Hard to go from that to an ace.
The interesting thing about S’nasty is the more I dug in on him, the less I liked him, but I started at like a 17 out of 10 on the Like Scale. So, that I came down to a nine, still means I’m wholly favorable for all he can do. Though, he clearly has drawbacks. Can he throw 125+ IP? Can he stay in the rotation? Can he stay on the mound for more than 5 IP in starts? Can he fix his sinker? Why we’re even here is because even if he can’t do any of those things, he could still be a number three starter. If he can adjust one of those things, he can be a number one. For 2022, I’ll give Tanner Houck projections of 8-7/3.27/1.08/156 in 126 IP with a chance for more.