Apr 042013

by John Viril—Jeremy Guthrie has pitched like an ace since last year’s trade that brought him to Kansas City. His six inning, 9-strikeout day fueled Kansas City’s 3-1 win against the White Sox on Thursday in Chicago.

Make no mistake, this was a big win for the team.

While players would deny that the two losses to begin 2013 dimmed their outlook for the coming year, they’re still human beings. Three strait losses would have caused doubt to creep into the clubhouse. No one on the current roster has experienced a winning year in Kansas City. Thursday’s victory makes the ultimate goal seem a little more likely.

Winning is nice, but seeing strong pitching from Jeremy Guthrie is even better. He came to Kansas City from Colorado in trade for pitcher Jonathan “Piñata” Sanchez. The deal appeared to be nothing more than an exchange of problems. Hitters continued to rock Sanchez in his return to the National League. Guthrie, however,  showed that his struggles in Colorado really were due to the thin air of Coors Field.

After his escape from Denver, Guthrie has pitched well beyond expectations in Kansas City. Add in Thursday’s game, and Guthrie has a 3.06 ERA over 97.0 IP. That’s well above his career ERA of 4.28 and substantially better than his prior career-best season of 3.63 in 2008.

Soon after the Royals acquired Jeremy Guthrie, he tweeted that he enjoyed working with Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland. Presumably, they worked on Guthrie’s mechanics. But, how many times have we heard pitching coaches say they “fixed” Luke Hochevar’s delivery—only to watch him melt like the Wicked Witch of the West with runners on base?

In Guthrie’s case, there might have been something to the media chum that they spread in the water that day. Guthrie has dramatically reduced his walk rate since coming to Kansas City (1.8 BB/9 vs. his career average of 2.7). I believe this improvement has been the key to his Royals success.

Every game Guthrie keeps up this new standard is another day that cries of “small sample size” or “regression to the mean” grow fainter. Such sabermetric buzz words are stat-head ways of saying he’s been lucky. Such arguments, however, do have merit. Jeremy Guthrie’s Kansas City career has only included 15 starts—approximately a half-season of play for a starting pitcher. However, Guthrie’s improved walk rate provides a concrete explanation for his results.

Guthrie’s nine strikeouts in six innings seem like an anomaly due to cold weather and Chicago’s free swinging lineup. But, the one walk allowed continues a trend that he has sustained since he suited up in a KC uniform.

The bottom line is that maybe the Royals lucked into a massive bargain when they acquired Guthrie in a plaintive trade of mismatched parts. When the Royals signed him to a 3-year $24 million contract after last season, I said they could only expect the slightly-above average performance he had delivered over his career. If he continues to deny walks and maintains his career strikeout rate, we can begin to hope for something better.

Here’s to hope! It’s April after all.

 Posted by at 11:33 pm

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