Another September where the Royals are playing out the string. It feels like audition time all over again.
The most recent contestant to take center stage is newcomer Jeremy Guthrie. Last night the former first round draft pick posted another solid start:
7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO, 1 HR
According to Brooks Baseball, Guthrie's most effective pitches last night were his sinker and his fastball.
We know the Royals have struggled to find decent starting pitching all year. Consistent starting pitching. Dayton Moore is on the record as saying he wants 1,000 innings from his rotation and the steps they will take to secure this for 2013 will start internally and will include exploring a contract offer for free agent to be Guthrie.
But is that a good idea?
Guthrie's struggles in Colorado were well documented. Allegedly, the thin air keeps the ball a little more on a line. A guy like Guthrie who averages around 92 mph on a fastball, generally relies with more of a mix on his off speed stuff. Those pitches weren't exactly quality in the Rockies, which tumbled into a domino effect. Check out his pitch values at FanGraphs and how they have taken a step forward since his move to the plains:
It's not all roses, but we're seeing an improvement across the board. And the results have been there. Six quality starts in nine starts and an average Game Score of 53. Jonathan who?
One thing that is interesting is that Guthrie has largely ditched his cut fastball since jumping to the American League. He threw that pitch over 10 percent of the time for the Rockies. With the Royals, he's throwing it less than five percent of the time. He's replaced that cutter with a fastball that features a little more sinking action. Is this discrepancy based on the difference between PITCH f/x gear at the stadiums? I suppose it's possible. I don't know enough about the consistency of the computers to make a claim either way. But looking at the difference of the movement, it would seem something has changed in Guthrie's approach.
(I didn't include his wSI/c in the above chart because of sample size discrepancy. With the Rockies it was -1.45. With the Royals, it's 1.57. A nice little turnaround that justifies going to it with greater frequency.)
The results of Guthrie's pitches are quite different since the change of uniforms. His O-Swing percent has jumped from 27 percent to over 35 percent. I maintain that a higher O-Swing rate is always favorable... No matter the amount of contact made. For starters, you'll get more swings and misses with a higher O-Swing rate. (Guthrie has seen his swing and miss percentage move from six percent in Colorado to eight percent with the Royals.) Also, if hitters do manage to make contact, it will come via a swing at a pitcher's pitch. In other words, the contact generally won't be solid. That's been the case for Guthrie as his line drive rate has dropped from 25 percent in Colorado to 20 percent for Kansas City.
Of course, the real difference maker for Guthrie has been that he's cut his home run rate. In Colorado - humidor be damned - Guthrie posted a 2.08 HR/9. In KC, he has a 0.96 HR/9. That will help.
Guthrie has also found his control since coming to the Royals. His 1.9 BB/9 is more than a walk lower than he had in Colorado and is better than his 2.6 BB/9 career rate.
So we're looking at a starter who has altered the amount he's thrown some of his pitches and has seen a drop in his home run and walk rates below his career averages. Guthrie has been in the league for over six seasons... He's not some new commodity. Right now, he has a 4.32 xFIP compared to a 3.70 ERA . The results are real. But his career numbers... and some of his peripherals suggest they aren't sustainable.
If the Royals decided to offer Guthrie a contract, they will be buying high. I think he can continue to be a solid contributor to the rotation and the Royals need the arms, so it's not necessarily a bad thing if they splash the cash on the right-hander. But they have to take steps to protect themselves. That means a one year deal, maximum. Guthrie is making $8.2 million as he heads to the free agent market this November. Yikes. The Royals will have money to spend, but that doesn't mean they should spend foolishly... Or hastily. They have to wait to see how the market evolves before making a commitment to Guthrie. Except, it's not the Dayton Moore way to let the market settle before making his move.
I'd offer a one-year, incentive-laden deal. Sit back and see what happens. Don't overreact. The temptation will be there - especially with a strong September. And that's how the Royals get burned.