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Why not Jason Vargas over Jeremy Guthrie?

Ned Yost has elected to pitch Jeremy Guthrie in Game 3 of the ALCS

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

It's only one spot in the rotation earlier, and Jason Vargas is guaranteed to pitch in an ALCS game, but when I heard Jeremy Guthrie would get the nod in front of Vargas I thought it was a curious move by Ned Yost.

Guthrie hasn't pitched since September 26th in Chicago. That's about two weeks and change since then. Meanwhile, Jason Vargas pitched October 2nd against the best offensive team in baseball, at their park, and allowed 2 runs on 3 hits over 6 innings en route to a Royals victory. Both have had a nice stretch off from the mound, but Vargas has pitched a week more recently than Guthrie.

Jason Vargas 30 30 187 6.16 1.97 0.91 0.299 74.50% 38.30% 8.20% 3.71 3.84 4.05 2.6
Jeremy Guthrie 32 32 202.2 5.51 2.18 1.02 0.294 72.40% 43.60% 9.40% 4.13 4.32 4.33 1.5

Vargas has been the better pitcher this year than Guthrie beating him in basically every category save for innings pitched, groundballs, and a slight and meaningless BABIP win for Guthrie.

Now, an argument can be made that the Orioles line up slightly better against Guthrie than Vargas.

Jeremy Guthrie 0.294 1.19 19.70% 43.60% 36.70% 7.40% 9.40%
Jason Vargas 0.299 0.99 23.00% 38.30% 38.70% 9.90% 8.20%
Orioles 0.296 1.16 19.80% 43.10% 37.10% 11.00% 13.20%

The Orioles are a flyball hitting team (2nd highest FB% in baseball) and post hoc ergo propter hoc aren't a groundball hitting team (24th overall). Guthrie has limited flyballs better than Vargas slightly and has induced groundballs as a higher rate. So obviously you'd want to have your best groundball pitcher out their to try to limit flyballs and induce more grounders. In this case, Guthrie wins out on Vargas, but is that enough of an incentive?

I'd rather have Vargas, the obviously better pitcher, than Guthrie. A pitcher who has been basically relegated to the bullpen this post season. Conceivably you could start Vargas in Game 3 then bring Shields out Tuesday on 4 days rest for Game 4. Even further if tonight's game is rained out as speculated, then Shields would come out Wednesday on regular rest. In playoff series you want to get them over with as quick as possible so we'd want Shields out on the mound as many times as possible.

Monday Vargas Game 3

Tuesday Shields Game 4

Wednesday Ventura Game 5

Friday Duffy/Guthrie Game 6

Saturday Vargas/Ventura Game 7

Tuesday Shields - Game 1 World Series

Instead it could play out like

Monday Guthrie Game 3

Tuesday Vargas Game 4

Wednesday Shields Game 5

Friday Ventura Game 6

Saturday Guthrie/Duffy Game 7

Tuesday Shields Game 1 World Series

Starting Shields Wednesday basically gives a 0% chance of seeing him if the series would come down to a game 6 or 7. The Royals would then hope on Guthrie/Duffy or with Vargas on 4 days rest. Now of course a rain delay makes things like this conceivably:

Tuesday Guthrie Game 3

Wednesday Vargas Game 4

Thursday Shields Game 5

Friday Ventura Game 6

Saturday Guthrie/Duffy Game 7

So even with the extra day push, starting Guthrie means Shields/Ventura (your two best pitchers) are a non-factor come game 7 and your left to Guthrie/Duffy for game 7.

I don't know. It seems like I'm missing something here, and maybe I am, but in a playoff series, I don't want Jeremy Guthrie pitching in any game that the Royals don't lead by 5 runs in.

In a perfect world the Royals win Game 3 and Game 4:

Monday Vargas Game 3

Tuesday Shields (4 days rest) Game 4

Tuesday Shields Game 1 World Series


Tuesday Vargas Game 3

Wednesday Shields (full rest) game 4

Tuesday Shields Game 1 (full rest) World Series

Having this series over before going back to Baltimore, even if game 4 isn't played until Wednesday, is a huge relief on the rotation. That's best conceived by not allowing Guthrie to pitch.