Jeremy Guthrie and Jonathan Sanchez — both acquired in deals this past offseason — were supposed to help the Rockies and Royals, respectively, find some stability in their rotations. That never really played out however, and on Friday the two teams engaged a rare double change-of-scenery deal.
The deal had a time component to it. After designating Sanchez for assignment on Tuesday, the Royals needed to move quick if they were going to be able to salvage any value out of it. The cynic would say that in acquiring Guthrie, they still didn’t, and they would have a case. Guthrie has been all sorts of awful this season, but a good portion of the awful was isolated to Coors Field. While it can be hazardous to infer too much from home-road splits, Guthrie admitted this afternoon that his pitches broke less at Coors Field. While that is not a surprising or startling revelation, as we have heard that frequently over the years, it is always interesting to hear a pitcher actually admit it. Guthrie allowed fewer homers on the road than at home, and his ERA, FIP and xFIP all were much lower in road starts this season. And while it isn’t as cut and dried as that — as Eric Seidman noted last month, Coors Field isn’t any easier or harder to hit home runs in than is Guthrie’s previous address, Camden Yards — it is perhaps a minor point in his favor.
Also working in his favor are the results he has achieved since he was re-inserted into the Rockies’ rotation in July. They have still been modest, but they are trending up. In his first 59 innings in the rotation, he allowed a 1.033 OPS, and that has come down to .891 since the start of July. Now, the second sample is just 19 innings, so let’s not get carried away, but he has been better. He managed to post consecutive quality starts for the first time since last September.
In order to record a quality start, you of course need to get through the end of the sixth inning, and in order to find two consecutive starts in which Sanchez did just such a thing, you have to go back to last May — though he did come close in June against the Brewers and Astros. And while Sanchez was roughed up pretty good in his outing this season against the Cardinals, his 5.40 interleague ERA was a heck of a lot better than his 8.84 ERA against American League teams, so perhaps getting back to the senior circuit will bode well for him.
Devout Rockies watchers will remember that this isn’t the first time that Sanchez has been on their radar screen. As far back as 2008, Colorado tried to acquire Sanchez when he was still with the division-rival Giants, but such a deal never materialized. Their interest may stem from how well Sanchez has pitched in Coors Field over the years. Looking at the tOPS+ breakdown on his Baseball-Reference splits, we find that the only park in which Sanchez has started at least 10 games and pitched better in than Coors Field is Petco Park. Despite that success, Sanchez seems pretty broken at this point. As Wendy Thurm noted on Wednesday, the difference between the velocity on his fastball and changeup has been less than six mph this year, about four mph less than what is generally accepted as a good gulf in velocity. And of the 146 starters who have tossed at least 50 innings this season, only Kyle Drabek has thrown his first pitch for a strike less frequently than has Sanchez. Oh, and his fastball velocity is down…for the third straight year. What’s more, Sanchez has been hurt this season, with the same left-bicep tendinitis that kept him out last season, which doesn’t bode well.
Neither Jeremy Guthrie nor Jonathan Sanchez held up their end of the bargain with the teams that acquired them in the offseason. Making matters much worse, the two main players for whom they were traded — Jason Hammel and Melky Cabrera — have been outstanding (and Matt Lindstrom hasn’t been too shabby either). This trade is a bit of a Rorschach test — there are markers both in favor and against success for Guthrie in Kansas City and Sanchez in Colorado. Many change-of-scenery trades are similar. The great thing about this trade is that is low-risk, high-reward for both sides. Their initial trades have already been deemed massive busts, and if the pitchers continue to pitch as such they will be forgotten quickly, as both are set to become free agents at the end of the year. However, if either is able to rekindle some of their mojo, Colorado and Kansas City may be able to find a sliver of a silver lining.