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Tanner Houck will be Missouri's best ever pro pitcher

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Yes, better than Max Scherzer and Aaron Crow.

On Thursday, #MizzouMade Max Scherzer tossed a gem against the Baltimore Orioles, going 8 innings strong, allowing no runs or walks, 2 hits and striking out 10. On the year, he leads Major League Baseball with 227 strikeouts and is most Mizzou alumni's favorite MLB True Son.

But what if I told you there will be a pitcher even better than Scherzer to come out of Missouri? And that you still have one more year to see him pitch in Columbia?

I’ve noticed many fans and school officials now looking for the next great #MizzouMade athlete. Football recruiting centers around that search, and many football fans like to imagine the potential of who the next Missouri NFL great will be. In reality, it’s mostly football. And it’s gotten to a point where I’m concerned we’re losing sight of some potentially once-in-a-generation talents in other sports. Names like J’den Cox, Sophie Cunningham, etc.

But there’s one name in particular I think could end up becoming one of the most successful #MizzouMade athletes of all time.

So let me make a (not-so) bold claim.

Chips on the table:

Tanner Houck will be the best Missouri pitcher to enter Major League Baseball in the last 15-20 years. Possibly ever. I don’t have that much time to check.

As mentioned above, this isn’t all that brash of a statement. Until Rob Zastryzny's recent debut, six pitchers had made their way from Columbia to the big leagues in the past 10 years: Max Scherzer, Doug Mathis, Aaron Crow, Nick Tepesch, Kyle Gibson and Matt Stites.

Houck has generated some hype for himself, tabbed as a high first-round pick in 2017 by Perfect Game USA and Baseball America in the past year. Having seen him pitch in person, the accolades seem grounded in reality: he’s a special talent. I'm not alone in this opinion. Just this week, Tribune writer Danny Jones said he's drawing comparisons to Max Scherzer.

We’re still one year away from Houck’s inevitable declaration for the draft. So I decided to take a look at where he is in his career compared to his Missouri-to-MLB predecessors. I’m leaving Stites and Mathis out of these comps since they came to Columbia as transfers. Making fair judgments would be too hard in those cases.

I’m also excluding pitchers who are currently in MLB organizations but haven’t made their way to The Show yet -- Brett Graves, Breckin Williams, Peter Fairbanks and the like. They still have a ways to go, and the road to the MLB is one fraught with peril. But I digress.

I broke down a few important stats to determine where Houck actually stands in his college career and where he could be one year from now.

***For further reference: Every pitcher mentioned below spent three years at Missouri before declaring for the draft.

Win-Loss

  • Houck: 13-11
  • Crow: 23-8
  • Gibson: 28-10
  • Tepesch: 13-14
  • Scherzer: 16-8

I’ll be upfront: I don’t like the W-L. It seems a bit pointless to me. It’s too volatile in the sense that it doesn’t accurately portray how good a pitcher really is. Oftentimes, wins and losses can be chalked up to luck, good/bad run support and good/bad defense. But I do feel it’s somewhat important in this case.

Houck currently sits at 4th on this list. He’ll most likely pass Scherzer by the end of next season, but there’s no way he’ll reach Gibson’s total of 28. He’s also unlikely to pass Crow unless he duplicates Crow's junior year – when going a perfect 13-0. The important thing to point out is Gibson played on the best teams of all these pitchers, coming up on the tail end of the Tigers’ seven year NCAA Regional streak. Houck, on the other hand, has played on one bad and one middling team. It’s easy to see why his W-L totals might be slanted.

Innings Pitched

  • Houck: 206
  • Crow: 302.2
  • Gibson: 261
  • Tepesch: 213
  • Scherzer: 206.1

The amount of innings a pitcher tallies is an easy indicator of his durability. Houck has already passed Scherzer – this most successful pitcher out of Missouri – in this area. If he keeps his yearly average, he’ll pass Crow comfortably at 309 IP by the end of his junior season.

The more exciting prospect? If Houck continues his trend of improvement, he’ll get close to 320 IP (316 by the numbers.) That’s a durable, reliable starter, an invaluable asset to Major League organizations.

Strikeout to Walk Ratio (K/BB)

  • Houck: 5.05
  • Crow: 3.04
  • Gibson: 4.98
  • Tepesch: 2.62
  • Scherzer: 2.9

Big strikeout numbers are sexy. What isn’t often seen behind them is the amount of walks. K/BB is a great way to look at a pitcher’s control since it tells you how many walks you’ll have to suffer through amidst the K’s. For reference, the MLB leaders in K/BB this year mostly hover around the 5.00 marker. Only three pitchers – Josh Tomlin, Noah Syndergaard and Clayton Kershaw reached higher numbers. (Side note: Kershaw has a 16.1 K/BB. A god among men.)

Houck is already the best of the bunch here. Should he hold to his averages, that number will rise slightly to 5.08. And again, if he continues improving his already impeccable control, he’ll get that number closer to 5.5 ~ 5.6. Simply put: Houck has the best control of all these pitchers.

Walks and Hits Per Innings Pitched (WHIP)

  • Houck: 1.01
  • Crow: 1.25
  • Gibson: 1.17
  • Tepesch: 1.48
  • Scherzer: 1.04

Many people want to default to Earned Run Average as one of the ultimate indicators of a pitcher’s effectiveness, but I’m glad to see WHIP gaining more stature to baseball fans at large. WHIP is a more direct way to measure how well a pitcher is doing his job. Again for reference, the best pitchers in baseball usually hover around the 1.00 range for their WHIP.

Houck is already the best of the group. It’s great to strike a lot of people out like Gibson and Crow did. Most will trade the higher strikeout numbers for a guy that doesn’t let people get on base. WHIP is where Scherzer always excelled during college, and is a major reason why he’s still so successful.

Houck is already hyper-effective in this area. Batters have a hard time squaring the ball up on him, and he’ll very rarely give them a free pass. Once more, if Houck continues his career trends, he has a very realistic chance to bring his WHIP under the 1 mark – my math tell me it’ll be somewhere around 0.96.

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So Missouri fans, as the summer goes by, take heart. You still have plenty of time to make plans to watch Tanner Houck next baseball season. We all love a #MizzouMade success story, and Houck could very well be the next great one.

**Thanks to The Baseball Cube and Baseball Reference for the numbers.