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Adrian Houser is becoming a dude in the Brewers' bullpen

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Houser in relief as been exceptional.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Generally seen as the fourth - and sometimes forgotten - player sent over by Houston in the Carlos Gomez/Mike Fiers trade, Adrian Houser is making his presence known to Brewers’ Nation as well as opposing MLB hitters. In one of Adrian Houser’s recent relief appearances, the venerable Brewers’ broadcaster, Brian Anderson said that Adrian Houser is “becoming a dude!” The 2011 second round draft pick of the Houston Astros is certainly pitching well and continuing to prove the case that the Brewers won that trade in spades.

In 2019, Houser has pitched in 23.1 innings for a 2.70 ERA. He is striking out 10.41 per 9 and he is not doing it by luck as his BABIP is .333. His groundball percentage is 67.9%, and he is only given up nine fly balls all year. These are good numbers, but they are actually a bit inflated.

You may remember, his first appearance of the season was a four inning start back in April. In that start, Houser was pretty mediocre giving up 9 or the 21 hits on the season. He also gave up 2 of the 3 home runs, and 5 of the 8 earned runs given up in 2019. That start masks just how good he has been.

Since that April start, Houser has been a weapon in bullpen that seems to get better with each outing. As a reliever, Houser has pitched 19.1 innings for a 0.93 ERA. While he is no Josh Hader, he is striking out 11.19 per 9, which is still pretty darn good.

How does he get it done? ? Does he have elite spin rate like Corbin Burnes? Does he have extreme deception like Josh Hader? Does he have a fastball that sits at 100 mph? The answers are no, no, and no. In fact, when it comes to spin rate on his fastball and curve, Houser is in the 32nd and 6th percentiles respectively. He is not a spin rate god. In terms of deception, he seems to have a pretty standard delivery, which probably is not deceiving anyone.

The one thing that he does have is a fastball that plays. He isn’t getting it up there like Jordan Hicks, but his 4-seamer sits at 94.9 mph and his 2-seamer sits at 95 mph. Brooks Baseball describes his 4-seamer like this. “His fourseam fastball generates an extremely high number of swings and misses compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, is a real worm killer who generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers, has slightly above average velo and has slightly less natural movement than typical.” Brooks Baseball goes on to describe the 2-seamer in the exact same way, and indicates that his curve has exceptional bite. The slider is thrown hard but with less depth than expected. His change up is essentially a show-me pitch.

Those are results based descriptions. If we look at video tweeted out by BCB colleague Jack Stearn, you can see why hitters would find Houser difficult to hit.

His fastball combination seems to have tail and sink. Hitters are not barreling Houser up for the most part as a result. While his HR/FB percentage is 33.3%, he has given up just nine fly balls on the year. When you face Adrian Houser, the likelihood is that you will hit a ground ball or swing and miss. That is a powerful combination for a pitcher.

To throw fastballs at the major league level exclusively is to invite disaster for most pitchers (Bartolo Colon being the exception). Houser has a five pitch mix that he utilizes. So far this season, Houser is throwing his 4-seamer at a 36.2% clip, his 2-seamer at a 33.2% rate, his curve 14.7% of the time, a slider at 10.6%, and his change 5.1% of the time. That is a pretty nice mix that keeps hitters off balance, and remember that his curveball has exceptional bite. The negative pfx VMov in the third diagram in this sequence below demonstrates that bite that comes from his 12-6 action on the curve.

SABR outcomes from Houser pitch mix since going to bullpen
Pitch outcomes from Houser pitch mix since going to bullpen
Trajectory and movement pitch mix of Houser since going to bullpen

One thing that he seems to be doing more of late is throwing the 2-seam fastball to right handed hitters. In fact it looks like a decision was made around May 21 against Cincinnati to operate with that mode of thinking. Obviously the Brewers’ analytics team, coaching staff, or Houser found that his 2-seamer really works against right handed hitters. See the difference between May 16 against Philadelphia and May 21 against Cincinnati, which has carried over since. Left handed hitters still get a mix of all five pitches.

Houser 2-seam fastball usage against RHP May 16, 2019
Increase in 2-seamer beginning May 21

Adrian Houser’s performance to date has been outstanding. It might just be the case that we are seeing the emergence of a significant weapon in the Brewers bullpen. A lot of talk has been centered around the Cubs signing Craig Kimbrel, but perhaps the bigger bullpen addition in the NL Central will be Adrian Houser as the Brewers continue to enjoy the trade that keeps on giving.

I will leave you with one more statistic that demonstrates how good Adrian Houser has been. His LOB% or percentage of runners left on base is 86.3%. League average is 70-72%. If those numbers are what he is, Houser could be the 2018 version of Jeremy Jeffress. What this also shows is that he is probably a legitimately really good pitcher.

Breakdown of LOB% rating for a pitcher

Baseball statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball