On November 7th, 2011, the Kansas City Royals traded away apparent depth in their outfield by acquiring starting pitcher Jonathan Sanchez from the San Francisco Giants for Melky Cabrera. Sanchez, in 53.1 innings with the Royals, was a complete and utter disaster, going 1-6 with a 7.76 ERA, while Cabrera returned to Kauffman Stadium as a NL All-Star and won the Mid Summer Classic’s MVP. Of course, it turned out Cabrera was a huge cheater but that is another story all together. Just a short time after the All-Star game, on July 20th, 2012, the Royals’ General Manager Dayton Moore made a move that barely registered as a blip on the Major League scene – he traded Sanchez for another team’s failed pitcher, the Colorado Rockies’ Jeremy Guthrie.
Over Guthrie’s first three starts for the Royals, he didn’t appear to be any better than Sanchez. He allowed 14 runs on 21 hits in 16.1 innings in three losses. The third of those losses, on August 3, 2012, was the last time Jeremy Guthrie lost a game. Guthrie has now started 18 straight games without recording a loss, a club record. In fact, the Royals have only lost two of those 18 starts.
This off season, when Guthrie became a free agent, he stated a desire to re-sign with the Royals and Moore showed interest in bringing him back. Guthrie eventually signed a three year dealing for a total of $25 million. Moore received some criticism over signing Guthrie to three years although some were a bit more optimistic. As of right now, Guthrie looks to be a bargain, not just this season, but in the next two as well. Of course, it is still early.
Just how good has Guthrie been for the Royals? In his 21 starts in the powder blue, Guthrie is 10-3 (those 2 losses, remember, were his 1st 3 outings for the Royals), a 2.86 ERA, and 1.149 WHIP. Compare that to his career marks, including his games for the Royals – 60-77, 4.20 ERA, 1.304 WHIP. His Hit:9 inning Ratio is down nearly a full hit as a Royal (8.2, down from 9.1), his Walks per 9 innings are down nearly a half a run (2.1, down from 2.7). His Strikeouts per 9 innings are nearly identical in Kansas City (5.6, up from 5.5). His numbers across the board are even better in the small sampling in 2013 than his career averages.
Is this career turnaround for real? Can Guthrie continue throw up numbers that are so much better than his career marks. In reality, no, he can’t. For one thing, he will eventually lose again. With an offense as anemic as Kansas City’s, it will probably be sooner rather than later. A deeper look into some stats point to some unsustainable trends. Guthrie has always produced a Batting Average on Balls in Play well below the league standard. His career mark in BABIP play is .277 (Fangraphs has it at .275) but in 2013, it is extremely low at .250. Even if he regresses back to his career average, which is very good, his ERA is going to rise. An even more telling stat is his Strand Rate. So far, according to Fangraphs, his Strand Rate (or LOB%) is an extremely high 93.2. His career mark of 73.1 is much, much closer to the league norm. This mark of 93.2 in his first 7 starts just flat out isn’t sustainable. When this number regresses, which it inevitable will, Guthrie’s ERA will spike.
It isn’t all bad news his K% (2.3% better than career mark) and BB% (.4% better than career)are both improved but not so much that they have to regress. Guthrie also seems to be gravitating toward being more of a ground ball pitcher, which means he is keeping the ball down, always a good thing.
Guthrie is a tough minded, durable starter who gives his team a chance to win just about every time out. According to the information on Fangraphs, he is throwing more sliders and change ups, and less fast balls and curve balls than in the past. Maybe these adjustments are making him more effective. He very may well be able to remain a better pitcher than the Royals acquired, just don’t expect him to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA all season. Also, keep in mind that we are seeing the fruits of a very small sample size in 2013, even including his 2012 numbers as a Royal, 21 starts is still quite a small sampling. Guthrie appears to be a better pitcher; let’s hope his improvements and adjustments are for real and that 3-year deal becomes more and more like a bargain.
The chart below is Guthrie’s pitch selection from Fangraghs.
|2004||Indians||80.1% (91.9)||4.5% (84.0)||0.6% (85.0)||12.5% (79.8)||2.3% (80.7)||0.6%|
|2005||Indians||76.5% (93.1)||4.9% (85.3)||12.3% (75.9)||6.2% (81.8)||1.2%|
|2006||Indians||70.4% (93.0)||13.4% (84.7)||7.0% (76.3)||9.1% (81.5)||8.4%|
|2007||Orioles||67.8% (93.4)||22.4% (83.7)||4.5% (74.9)||5.3% (82.8)||1.8%|
|2008||Orioles||64.1% (93.2)||18.1% (84.3)||6.3% (73.9)||11.4% (84.9)||1.7%|
|2009||Orioles||62.2% (92.4)||19.6% (83.6)||4.1% (73.6)||14.0% (84.3)||1.6%|
|2010||Orioles||61.5% (92.5)||21.6% (84.1)||4.6% (73.6)||12.3% (84.5)||1.7%|
|2011||Orioles||62.6% (92.5)||17.7% (83.1)||9.3% (73.4)||10.5% (83.5)||0.6%|
|2012||2 Teams||61.8% (92.8)||18.3% (84.6)||10.4% (75.2)||9.5% (84.7)||0.3%|
|2013||Royals||57.0% (92.4)||23.8% (84.6)||6.9% (73.8)||12.3% (85.1)||0.3%|
|Total||- – -||63.3% (92.8)||19.4% (83.9)||0.0% (85.0)||6.6% (74.2)||10.6% (84.3)||1.4%|