In 2021, Adrian Houser had a 4.31 xFIP, while in 2023 he had a 4.30 mark in the same category. But he didn’t achieve those nearly identical marks in nearly the same way. As you know, FIP looks to strip away luck by concentrating on what’s in a pitcher’s control – BB, Ks and HR. And xFIP takes it a step further, looking to normalize HR rate, since that can be more luck than skill, too. And in these two seasons that were extremely similar, Houser had a 3.22 ERA in ’21 and a 4.12 ERA last year.

In ’21, Houser racked up his impressive ERA thanks to an elite 59.0 GB%, the third consecutive season he posted a mark in the 50s and the highest rate of his career. He got this thanks to a power sinker, one that averaged 93.6 mph. Houser threw the sinker 54.2% of the time, making it his primary pitch. He threw his four-seamer just 13.4% of the time in ’21. Statcast rated his sinker at 25.0 runs above average, easily the best results of anyone who threw at least 120 innings that year. Adam Wainwright was second, with a 17.5 mark.

Fast forward to ’23 and Houser’s GB% had dropped to 46.7 – still a solid mark but significantly below what he did just two seasons previously. As you probably guessed, his percentage of sinkers went down, too, to 47%. And it wasn’t as fast, either, as his average velocity with the pitch fell to 92.1 mph. Finally, Statcast graded his sinker at 3.8 runs above average, a massive drop from his ’21 campaign.

Last year, Houser threw more four-seamers and sliders than he did in ’21. The good news is that the new pitch mix resulted in more strikeouts. After posting a 6.64 K/9 in ’21 – the 10th-worst mark among pitchers with at least 120 IP – Houser recorded a 7.76 K/9 last season. He also cut his walk rate from 4.05 BB/9 to a 2.75 mark in ’23.

Unfortunately, when batters put the ball in play, there was more loud contact. In ’21, opponents had a 35.6 HardHit% and last year it was a 46.3 rate, the fourth-worst mark among pitchers with at least 100 IP. Opponents had a .662 OPS against Houser in ’21 and a .731 mark a season ago. And a lot of that came in SLG, as opponents slugged .340 in ’21 and .406 in ’23.

After his first Spring Training start this year, Houser spoke with the SNY broadcasters and mentioned that he started to switch his pitch mix last year after allowing home runs to Brett Baty and Brandon Nimmo in a game at the end of June. He felt that hitters were sitting on his changeup and he tried to incorporate more sliders, which certainly matches what we saw with the pitch breakdowns mentioned above.

The success was not immediate for Houser. But in his last nine starts of ‘23, Houser had a 3.65 ERA and a 3.48 FIP. Additionally, he limited batters to a .632 OPS. Before that closing stretch, Houser had a 4.43 ERA, a 4.33 FIP and opponents had a .792 OPS against him.

We hear all the time how baseball is a game of adjustments. Houser threw more sliders down the stretch last year and had much-improved results overall in his last nine games. Was it all because of the change in pitch mix? It’s impossible to say. If nothing else, it’s good that he was able to adapt on the fly and make changes in-season.

In the talk with the SNY broadcasters, Houser mentioned that he had a pre-existing relationship with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, as they are both from the same area in Oklahoma and that they have worked out together previously. That familiarity should be beneficial and is encouraging if the Mets need to make additional tweaks, both because Houser has done so previously and should be receptive coming from a coach he already knows.

All of that is well and good. But the issue remains Houser not being able to go deep in games. In 21 starts last year, he completed six innings five times and seven innings just once. Additionally, six times he was unable to complete five innings. And it’s not because he can’t face a lineup a third time. Last season, Houser had a .725 OPS against as a SP the first time thru the order. And the third time it was a .713 mark.

The splits are even more pronounced if we look at number of pitches. On pitches 26-50 last year, opponents had an .859 OPS against Houser. All other 25-pitch breakdowns had a sub-.700 OPS. What’s the key for Houser to do better here, essentially the second time thru the order? If Houser and Hefner can craft a plan for that, it could be the key to a successful season.

5 comments on “Adrian Houser and the quest to reduce loud contact

  • Metsense

    I enjoyed reading your articles like this one. They are so informative and knowledgeable. Thanks

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the kind words! This might make me not so bearish on Houser.

    • TexasGusCC

      I second Metsense’s view.

  • Brian Joura

    In his second start of the Spring, and first since this piece was written, Houser allowed seven balls in play. Four of them had exit velocities of 100 or more – too much loud contact.

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