Saturday, August 23, 2014

What is Jeremy Guthrie?

Most of you know that I pick baseball games every day. It's part of my shtick. And one thing that happens every fifth day is not knowing what to do with Jeremy Guthrie when his turn comes up. You could say that Guthrie has been successful with the Royals. His record in two and a half years there is 29-25. He takes the ball every fifth day and is durable. But, gosh, he just doesn't seem to be very good.
The Royals gave him a nice contract of $25 million for 2013, 2014 and 2015. He has an option for 2016. That is some pretty good coin for a guy I regularly call a "journeyman" pitcher. Obviously, the Royals know what he has, what his stuff is and what it is worth to them to have a guy eat six innings of a game 32 times a year and reasonably succeed half of the time. I do not know how much a role stat-crunchers play in the Royals' decision-making process. But the Royals thought this was a reasonable deal. Can we argue with them?
If you look around the Majors and teams that consistently lose starters to the disabled list, is their "stuff" worth the down time? Here we have a pitcher without much "stuff" but who is dependable and reliable. That has a value and part of his overall value equation is his innings pitched and his steady amount of starts.
And that is a good thing for Guthrie as the rest of his peripherals do not bring him much value. Guthrie currently ranks 88th of 96 qualifying pitchers in FIP at 4.55. His ERA isn't much prettier at 4.48. If you go by ERA+, he sits at 90 when 100 is average. He is 82nd of 96 pitchers in strikeout percentage with a 15.4%. His home run to nine inning rate is 86th of 96 qualifying pitchers. He led the American League in hits allowed last year and is ninth in all of baseball this year. So you get my quandary here.
It really doesn't help that the statistic sites have different ways of valuating players. The disconnect is sharp when it comes to pitchers. For example, gives Guthrie 19.5 rWAR for his career, 1.1 rWAR for last year and 0.5 so far this year. gives him 13.7 fWAR for his career, 1.0 fWAR for last year and lo and behold, 0.8 this year. Whuh?
In 2013, the first year of Guthrie's contract, the 1.0 fWAR valuation came to $4.8 million, which isn't bad since he was paid only $5 million. Each year, the value of a win increases and so, if you go by Fangraphs, Guthrie has been worth $4.6 million so far this year. He will probably end up worth around $5 million this year. The problem is that he now makes $8 million and will make $9 million next year.
The question for the Royals is: If the Royals make the playoffs and they get to a short series, do you start Jeremy Guthrie?
I have a hard time gaining perspective on the career of a guy like Jeremy Guthrie. I appreciate that he eats innings and gives you 30 starts a year and averages more than six innings a start. I can see the value of that to a pitching staff. But I also see that his closest career comps are Kris Benson and Paul Maholm.
In an era of the strikeout, Guthrie is not that guy. Of all his pitches, only his change-up has a positive value. His OPS against is .753 when the league average among all batters is .710. He has led the league once in hits allowed and once in homers allowed and twice in losses in a season (granted, for some awful Oriole teams).
Jeremy Guthrie is a journeyman pitcher with three of his last four seasons being less than league average. The fourth was exactly league average. But he takes the ball every fifth day and holds a pitching staff together. That doesn't quite seem worth the money he is making, but it does have its value. If you look at him like a fourth or fifth starter who wins half of his decisions, then you cannot make fun of that, can you? Maybe I should stop doing so.

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