There are two pitchers who can save the Red Sox In the final line. One is Chris Sale. The other one is … wait, is that Chris Sale too? Well, not literally. It is Tanner houck. But if you watch Houck launch, you might notice something strange. The 25-year-old right is almost like a Sale clone. And his things are real.
Houck returns to the Boston rotation Saturday for the team’s doubleheader against the Blue Jays. If he continues to pitch as he has (2.45 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 22 innings), he will force the Red Sox to keep him there for the playoff push. And when Sale follows shortly after, the two could be exactly the tandem Boston needs. This is why. Sale and Houck are mirror images on the mound. Watch this.
It also goes beyond visual similarity. Let’s dive into the Statcast data. Sales numbers are for 2018-19. Houck’s are for 2021.
Use of 4 seams / slides
Sale: 37% 4 seams | 37% sliders
Houck: 38% 4 seams | 38% sliders
Houck relies on the same two-pitch combo as Sale: a four-seam hard fastball and a sweeping slider. Both pitchers throw either a four seam or a slider three out of four pitches … and both pitchers have the same uniform mix between the two pitches, which makes it even harder to tell which one is coming.
Houck throws his straights and sliders from the same height as Sale, but it’s the horizontal release point that matters most to these two secondary players. Both pitchers allowed their pitches to be about a meter away from the center of the plate.
Now check this out.
Out comes out a little wider than Houck, he’s a little more extreme toward the first base side of the rubber than Houck toward the third base side, but the point is, they’re both big time crossfire pitchers. Out lets the ball go from outside to first, Houck does the same but to third.
Imagine how difficult it is to see your stuff for a batter on the same side. When Sale faces a southpaw, or Houck faces a right-hander, the ball basically comes from behind. And often the ball that starts behind the batter’s back is a slider that breaks across the plate and ends up on the other side.
In other words, Houck is doing the same sorts of things from the right side as Sale from the left side when it comes to how he attacks hitters with his best offers. Another curious fact is that Sale’s fastball is: 94.4 mph, while Houck’s travels at: 94.5 mph.
So why does it matter that Houck casts as a mirror image of Sale? Well, the quick and easy answer is, because Chris Sale is one of the nastiest aces in baseball. Just recovering the original left-handed version would be great; if you also have a promising young right-hand version of him, that’s even better.