Jeremy Guthrie has been a very productive pitcher since getting traded for Jonathan Sanchez in a welcome move away from Coors Field. A solid second half netted him a 3yr/25 million dollar deal with Kansas City this offseason (which I admittedly was not a fan of, but I was a fan of the Joe Blanton signing, so I clearly have some issues). So far Jeremy Guthrie has provided six solid starts to begin the year compiling 4 wins and a shiny 2.40 ERA. His 1.11 WHIP is down from his career mark of 1.30 and he is inducing ground balls at his best rate since 2006. Pitch/FX data tells me that he is throwing more sinkers this season, which may be part of his rising ground ball rate. He is also a horse in present day terms, averaging nearly 7 innings per start, which is important to a team with surprising problems in their bullpen.
Of course fans have to expect general regression, but what are Guthrie’s warning signs? The first number that jumped out at me was his 93.3 LOB%. The average left on base percentage for pitchers is generally around 70-72%, wich Guthrie’s sitting at 73% for his career. While pitchers can leave an uncanny number of runners left on base, this number should regress closer to the mean as the season rolls on. While Guthrie displays good control issuing 11 walks in his first 41 innings, his control is not elite, and he will likely never be more than a slightly below average pitcher in terms of strikeouts. Lastly, Guthrie has allowed 6 home runs during his first six starts, and I think it is fair to expect him to continue to give up the long ball throughout the season. Assuming he starts 30+ times, he will probably give up around the same number of homers.
The 34 year old Guthrie should certainly prove to be worth his 2013 salary as he should continue to be a workhorse who has proven durable over the course of his career. I do not think that this will be a renaissance year for Guthrie, however. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything significantly different or better than any other year skill wise, and I would expect his ERA to wind up closer to his 4.47 current FIP than a sub 4 showing by year end.
Ervin Santana came over to the Royals in a trade last winter, but I look at it more as a 1 year 12 million dollar contract from the Royals perspective, as they traded a prospect unlikely to ever reach the majors and somewhat surprisingly agreed to pay Santana twelve of the thirteen million dollars that he is owed. Santana, like Guthrie, has made the Royals look smart during the first month of the season. Santana’s ERA sits at an even 2.00, with similarly impressive 3.24 and 3.23 FIP and xFIP, respectively. His 6.2 K/BB is good for sixth best in the entire major leagues. Because of his microscopic BB% and WHIP, Santana has been able to average over 7 innings per start. One of the biggest differences is home runs. Santana will always give up a decent amount of homers, but he has not surprisingly cut his homeruns allowed almost in half after giving up nearly 2 homeruns per nine in 2012.
What else is he doing different from last year? First of all, his fastball has been much more productive. I am not sure if he is throwing his fastball any differently, but it certainly doesn’t rank as the worst fastball in baseball as it did last season. He is throwing it at the same MPH of 91.7, but it hasn’t been nearly as volatile as it were last year. Santana is hardly walking anyone, but during his ‘good’ years he has displayed good control. While it won’t last at this pace he should maintain good control. While is walk rate would rank as the best of his career, his strikeout rate of 7.74 would rank as his best since 2008. His average K/9 over the past four years is just under four, but I don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility that he is able to maintain is K-rate and keep it around 7.5+ for the entire season.
What am I worried about going forward? Like Guthrie, I worry about his 89% LOB%. Some of these runs are eventually going to score, but no one is expecting Santana’s ERA to stay at 2.00. His batted balls are consistent with his career norms and his home runs have stabilized compared to a horrid 2012. I do expect Santana to continue to give up home runs, however, and he could push the 30+ home run mark over 30 starts, even if he is aided by home ball park and pitching against the AL Central.
To me, Santana’s success depends on his K/BB. If he can maintain a top ten ratio in the game, we could see a pitcher providing tons of innings and an ERA around 3.50. If they return to what he produced in recent history, we could see his ERA spike somewhere between the high 3 ERA's he posted in 2010 & 2011 and his ERA that hovered over 5 in 2009 and 2012. I would suspect it to be closer to his 2010/11 numbers. Santana is a streaky pitcher, which also could give pessimists reason to be concerned, but overall Royals fans should be very excited with what Santana has shown them to start the year.