Jeremy Guthrie: For real, or a mirage?

When the Colorado Rockies traded for starting Jeremy Guthrie last February, they expected him to be a reliable innings-eating pitcher with a deceptive fastball, a good slider and change up. The right-handed Guthrie was the Opening Day starter for the Baltimore Orioles the last three seasons and Guthrie was the Opening Day starter for the Rockies. By July 20, Guthrie’s 2012 season was a bust and the Rockies sent him to the Kansas City Royals for the disappointing lefty Jonathan Sanchez.

The 2012 season started out well with an Opening Day win against the Huston Astros. But the Rockies lost 13 of the 19 games Guthrie pitched in and he ended up with a 6.35 ERA, 4.5 K/9 and a 3.1 BB/9 over 90.2 innings. In late April and early May, Guthrie also missed 15 games with a right shoulder injury. By June 20, the Rockies sent the struggling Guthrie to the bullpen as their long reliever, going with a four-man rotation. Guthrie rejoined the rotation July 4, but the Rockies lost three of the last four games Guthrie started before being dealt to the Royals.

In his first three starts with the Royals, Guthrie looked like a right-handed version of Sanchez, giving up 14 earned runs over 16.1 innings, 12 strikeouts and five walks, being pegged as the losing pitcher in all three games.

But the last two starts reveal a different Jeremy Guthrie. In a combined 15 innings, Guthrie hasn’t given up a run, earned or unearned and thrown 14 strikeouts and given up just two walks. And the teams he pitched against were the Chicago White Sox and the Oakland A’s, both teams who are in the thick of the playoff hunt.

Since the trade, Guthrie has a 4.02 ERA, 7.5 K/9 and a 2.0 BB/9 over 31.3 innings. Meanwhile, Sanchez has a 9.53 ERA, 6.1 K/9 and a 7.4 BB/9 over 11.1 innings. So far, it looks like the Royals got the better end of the deal.

So why the turnaround? A big part of it is Guthrie’s change of scenery. When Guthrie pitched at Coors Field, he had a 7.84 ERA and a 5.1 K/9 over 12 games in 59.2 innings pitched. When he was away from Coors Field, Guthrie had a 3.75 ERA and a 5.3 K/9 over 12 games and 62.1 innings pitched. Guthrie also gave up 15 homers at Coors Field compared to nine homers in other ballparks. And did I mention Guthrie is a flyball pitcher? That’s not a good thing in the rarefied air of Coors Field.

Kauffman Stadium is more of a pitcher’s ballpark and with the Royals good defensive outfield, Guthrie can afford to be a flyball pitcher. Lately, the Royals offense is improving, so that gives Guthrie and the starting rotation better run support.

Another factor is Guthrie’s attitude when joining the Royals. Sanchez always acted like he didn’t want to be with the Royals and his performance showed it. But Guthrie says the Royals were one of the three teams he would like pitch for and so far he’s displaying a good attitude.

But two good starts doesn’t mean Guthrie will continue his good run. And Guthrie isn’t going to turn the Royals 2012 season around by himself. These are the Royals we’re talking about, and starting pitching is still the weak link of the team.

Guthrie will be a free agent at the end of the year. If he has a good rest of the season, he could command more than his current $8.2 million salary. Would the Royals be willing or able to sign him, or will Guthrie go somewhere else for a bigger paycheck? And the Royals may believe they have better and more affordable in-house options and let Guthrie walk.

For a trade that seemed to be a wash about a month ago, Jeremy Guthrie is becoming a pleasant surprise. And with yesterday’s news of former Royal outfielder Melky Cabrera being suspended for 50 games for testing positive for testosterone, the Sanchez/Cabrera trade doesn’t seem too bad, especially with getting Guthrie out of the deal.

One thought on “Jeremy Guthrie: For real, or a mirage?

  1. The last two starts are probably a fluke. Guthrie has never been a high strikeout pitcher in his career; I’d be very surprised if he suddenly figured it out at age 33 with his third team in the last two years.

    I’d *like* to see him continue pitching like this, but I don’t think it will happen.

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