"Jeremy Guthrie is still pitching."
–a Royals Review commenter, August 2015
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Let's get one thing straight. I don't think Jeremy Guthrie should be starting for this team in August. He’s a great guy, sure, but his pitching has not been encouraging this year, and given his age he'll likely decline as the season goes on. Having Guthrie pitch for your team in the middle of a playoff race? It’s not a good idea.
But at some point in August – let’s say the 22nd, the day I head back to college – we’re going to look up and see "Jeremy Guthrie" penciled into the lineup as the starting pitcher.
It will not be a fun day.
I can’t tell you why Jeremy Guthrie will be starting in August. There is a whole realm of possible permutations that would lead to Guthrie maintaining his spot in the rotation. In some parallel universe, every starting pitcher in the major leagues is Jeremy Guthrie. And that’s not all that weird, because this is baseball.
There could be injuries to other starters. Dayton Moore could decide not to pull the trigger at the trade deadline, and Kris Medlen could still be recovering, and all the minor league guys could implode at once, and Guthrie would have no competition.
Or – and this is the scary one – the Royals could legitimately believe that Jeremy Guthrie is one of the five pitchers that give the Royals the best chance to win.
And why is that scary? Because right now, that’s what appears to be true.
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A brief sidebar: There’s a difference between something appearing to be true and something actually being true. In McDonald’s commercials, it appears that their food is substantial, using the best ingredients, and might actually be delicious. But we all know that’s not what you’re getting when you stumble into a McDonald’s at 2 in the morning.
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Jeremy Guthrie is weird.
Jeremy Guthrie’s stats this year do not inspire confidence. Coming in to his most recent start against the Rangers, Guthrie had an ERA of 6.17, a FIP of 5.95 and had never struck out more than three batters in a start.
The Royals certainly know this. Why would they keep starting a pitcher with numbers like that? Simple. Guthrie has done just enough to keep the Royals in the ballgame when he pitches. That’s enough to create the appearance of a starter. And there’s one other thing.
The Royals are 7-4 when Jeremy Guthrie starts baseball games.
That’s good for a .636 winning percentage when Guthrie is on the bump. When someone else starts, that dips to .558.
I’m just surprised as you are. That has to be luck, right?
Well… going into Sunday, his BABIP (.296) was right around league average, and so was his strand rate (68%). He’s gotten run support at times, and been given nothing to work with several other times. The rest of the team has hung him out to dry twice, and have also bailed him out twice.
If you look at those basic indicators, there’s not much luck going on either way.
Those peripherals sure look ugly, though. Let’s dive in to his eleven starts this year and try to figure out how Guthrie has stayed afloat.
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A quality start is recorded when a pitcher goes at least six innings and gives up three or less runs. I’m going to adjust that a little and measure Guthrie using a new benchmark. Let’s consider this new "quality start" five innings with four or less runs. And let’s not call it a quality start anymore, because it’s not really a quality start. Let’s call it a "Be Royal start," because we can.
These are pretty low standards, but it’s essentially the minimum standards to give the Royals a legitimate shot to win the game. Since the Royals bullpen is so good, it’s okay if you have to leave for a dental appointment an inning early. Since the Royals average 4.38 runs per game, if you can limit the other team to four runs, you’re doing just enough.
|Apr 11||@ LAA||7.0||6||4||1||0||94-62||W 6-4||Yes|
|Apr 17||vs. OAK||6.0||7||4||0||2||79-52||W 6-4||Yes|
|Apr 22||vs. MIN||5.0||6||3||6||3||98-49||L 0-3||Yes|
|Apr 28||@ CLE||5.0||6||4||3||3||89-54||W 11-5||Yes|
|May 3||vs. DET||6.0||11||6||0||1||85-58||L 4-6||No|
|May 9||@ DET||7.1||8||2||1||3||98-65||W 6-2||Yes|
|May 14||@ TEX||5.0||6||2||0||1||94-57||W 6-3||Yes|
|May 20||vs. CIN||6.0||5||0||2||3||94-61||W 7-1||Yes|
|May 25||@ NYY||1.0||9||11||3||1||60-35||L 1-14||No|
|Jun 2||vs. CLE||5.2||2||1||1||1||105-63||L 1-2||Yes|
|Jun 7||vs. TEX||6.1||3||2||2||5||93-65||W 4-3||Yes|
Guthrie has recorded "Be Royal" starts in nine of his eleven starts. For perspective, here’s how the rest of the starters have done:
|Starter||Be Royal Starts||Total Starts||Be Royal Percentage|
|Danny Duffy's Beard||5||8||62.5|
We might as well just label that table the "implosion table," because it essentially measures how many times the Royals starters haven’t utterly imploded in a game. Really encouraging stuff.
As weird as it might sound, Jeremy Guthrie has blown up among the least amount of times for the Royals starters. Granted, most of his games are simply "meh" performances. But he’s had more good starts than bad ones.
What gives? Are the numbers wrong? Should we expect Guthrie to continue to pitch effectively, or will he eventually regress to the poor pitcher we expect him to be?
The answer is almost certainly the latter. But he might not regress to the extent we expect him to. Consider: while his pitching independent of fielding rates poorly, the Royals are not a fickle fielding team. The Royals are the best defensive team in the league. So yes, Guthrie’s numbers have been boosted a little bit by the defense, but that help also isn’t going away any time soon.
On any other team, Guthrie probably wouldn’t be on a team. But Guthrie makes the most of every start by typically pitching to his defense – a legitimate strategy when your defense is elite.
You can form your own opinion about Jeremy Guthrie. You probably already did two years ago. But so far this year he’s been one of the more consistent starters for the Royals, and that means two things: One, this rotation needs to get better fast. And two… odds are, he’ll still be starting in August.
And maybe September.
And maybe even the playoffs.
Hold on to your hats.