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Jeremy Guthrie: AL and Loving It

More often than not, when a pitcher crosses over from the American League to the National League, he usually finds a little more success than if he were crossing over the other way. Aside from the simple fact of replacing a designated hitter with a light-hitting pitcher in the lineup, there are other nuances, such as simple pitch selection, that usually favor the former AL hurler. But scrolling down Zach Sanders’ Starting Pitcher End of Season Rankings all the way to number 94, you’ll find an exception in Royals’ starter Jeremy Guthrie. He basically crossed over twice in 2012 and in both cases, bucked the stereotype.

While Guthrie began his career with the Indians, he spent the majority of his major league career pitching for the Orioles. There was really nothing special about him with respect to the fantasy world as he was pitching for a team that struggled for wins, had a slightly below-average strikeout rate, and though his ERA fluctuated between the high 3’s and the low 5’s, his FIP hovered more around the mid to high 4’s, indicating where his true talent level sat. He was a guy you grabbed late in the draft in deeper leagues and someone you thought about scooping off the waive wire to stream in shallow ones.

During the offseason just prior to the 2012 season, the Orioles dealt the 33-year old right-hander to the Colorado Rockies. The original stigma of pitching in Colorado obviously was in play, but Guthrie had a GB/FB fairly close to 1.00, had lowered his HR/FB to under 10-percent his last two seasons in Baltimore and was already well-experienced with pitching in a launching pad of a home ballpark. It wasn’t the ideal move, but one where you would have thought, at worst, his numbers would have remained close to the same. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

While pitching for the Rockies, Guthrie was routinely pounded by National League hitters. In nine appearances (seven starts) at Coors Field, he went 1-5 with a crushing 9.50 ERA and a 18:12 K:BB as hitters were batting .368 against him. Even on the road, he was was struggling and routinely failed to keep the ball in the park as his HR/FB rose to well over 20-percent by the All Star break. To make matters worse, the Rockies employed their 75-pitch limit for starters which just made pitching for Colorado that much uglier. If you had drafted Guthrie in 2012, he was likely dropped like a hot rock by the end of April things got so bad.

The Rockies also decided to give up on Guthrie and opted to deal him to the Royals late in July in exchange for another under-performer, Jonathan Sanchez. No one in the fantasy community flinched as both pitchers were returning to leagues in which both struggled in their careers. When Guthrie got shellacked in his first two outings as a Royal, there was almost no impact in the fantasy world as his ownership percentage was miniscule. But then Kansas City pitching coach Dave Eiland stepped in to help and suddenly Guthrie was no longer the punching bag we all knew and despised.

As our own Jeff Zimmerman pointed out in late August, Eiland helped Guthrie change up his release points and moved him over on the rubber just a bit and the results were quite ridiculous. On top of a scoreless inning streak that ran 22 innings, Guthrie also flirted with a no-hitter for seven innings in one start in late August. His ERA over that stretch was at 0.94 and his K/9 jumped to 7.2 while his BB/9 dropped all the way down to a 1.6 mark. His FIP stood at 2.01, although his xFIP was at 3.66 thanks to a 42-percent fly ball rate, and although we all knew his .224 BABIP during that stretch was unsustainable, using him during that run in fantasy leagues proved to be a huge success.

As we expected, there was a bit of a decline over the final month of the season, but he still managed to post a 2.36 ERA over that span. However, his K:BB dropped and his FIP jumped back up to 4.05. We knew he wasn’t going to be able to continue pitching at that level and luckily the end of the season came before the full regression occurred. On the surface though, for the sake of the standard 5×5 roto categories, he still finished the season on top.

As for the 2013 season, you should probably expect something somewhere in the middle of his nightmarish Colorado numbers and his lights-out stretch in Kansas City. He’s sticking with the Royals, having signed a three-year deal in the offseason and he’s slated as the team’s number two starter this year. If he continues down the path that Eiland has helped him get on, there’s no reason to think Guthrie can’t finish the year close to Bill James’ current projections of a 10-win season with a 5.39 K/9 and a 4.20 ERA. He’ll be able to serve his purpose as a back-end fantasy starter in deeper leagues and could conceivably find himself on another stretch like he found in August of last year. I wouldn’t bank on that, but even if he comes close to doing what he did for the Royals in the second half of last season, he’ll be worth that buck or two you’ll have to spend to get him.