Early this morning we learned that the Kansas City Royals acquired Jeremy Guthrie from the Colorado Rockies for Jonathan Sanchez. I have to admit that when Sanchez was DFA-ed earlier in the week I fully expected him to request his papers and move on. Instead, the Royals were somehow able to grab at least something for perhaps the most disappointing pitcher ever to don the Royals blue.
Jeremy Guthrie entering 2012 was a guy who could be relied upon to provide his team with 200 innings of average to slightly above average performance. He wasn't a front end guy, but he was consistent and dependable, the kind of guy that the Royals just can't seem to find when filling out their own rotation.
However, in 2012 things took a turn for the worse. Guthrie was traded to the Rockies and as a fly ball pitcher it wasn't exactly a match made in heaven. Opposing hitters have absolutely crushed Guthrie particularly in Coors Field where they are hitting .368/.415/.720. I'll give you a second to take that in. In 9 games in Coors Field this season Guthrie has turned National League lineups into lineups that would include guys like The Great Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, The King of Crash, and Babe Ruth making every hitter seem as though they were an alter ego of the greatest hitter of all time.
While Sanchez's problems seem to stem from a loss in velocity that eliminated his best weapon, which in turn forced him to rely on other less dynamic pitches resulting in a total loss of command, (exhale) Guthrie appears to have simply lost the ability to throw the ball past hitters. His walk rate is up over three for the first time since his rookie season, but it is his drop in strikeout rate by over one per nine innings and a doubling in his home run rate that has been a huge problem.
The good news is this, Kauffman Stadium while not a pitcher's park does do a good job of suppressing home runs. Guthrie is a fly ball pitcher that has never had the opportunity to pitch in a park that favors fly ball pitchers. This season, Guthrie's HR/FB has nearly doubled from last year all the way to 18.6%. This is an astronomical number and if Kauffman can push it back down to his around 10% Guthrie should at least be serviceable. This may be asking for a lot, but don't forget about Bruce Chen whom posted HR/FB of 17.4% and 21.4% in Baltimore and Texas before seeing that number shrink to 11% and then eventually settling at 8.1% for the following two seasons.
Also of note, Sanchez's poor performance stemmed largely from a decrease in velocity. However, this is not the case with Guthrie whose velocity seems to have stayed constant based on Fangraphs' pitch data. Hopefully, Guthrie will be an example of a guy whose game just didn't fit the park in which he was playing. Based on his pitch selection, he hasn't lost confidence in any of his pitches, so perhaps a change of scenery will do him some good. Although, I have to admit that this is an optimistic take on a guy with a 6.35 ERA.
Ultimately, this isn't a trade to get to worked up about. Both starters are going to be free agents after the season and both are owed roughly the same amount of money. I'm sure what both teams are hoping is that moving back into the leagues in which the starters found success will do them both good. For the Royals, Guthrie will hopefully find a way to at least eat innings through the remainder of the season, saving the bullpen a bit from the incredible taxation they've had to pay. At this point it is hard to imagine that either Guthrie or Sanchez will pitch for their new teams past the end of September.