Thursday, February 19, 2009

Community Projections: Jeremy Guthrie

Congratulations to Jeremy Guthrie on making the USA roster for the World Baseball Classic. The WBC is a good idea in theory - and I really do like the idea of it - but there are a lot of issues in practice. Injury risks, and stars not playing, and messing up Spring Training, and so on. Hopefully there won't be any negative repercussions for the O's #1 starter (maybe their only legitimate big league starter).

Jeremy Guthrie was a failed prospect (former #1 draft pick) when he was picked up off the scrap heap from Cleveland. After starting 2007 in the pen, he quickly transitioned to the rotation and has been the team's best starter ever since.

I looked at Guthrie in the middle of last season; mainly at how he puts up ERAs so much lower than what they should be given his peripherals.

2007: 3.70 ERA but 4.41 Fielding Independent ERA and 5.10 tRA (98 tRA+)
2008: 3.63 ERA but 4.53 FIP and 4.84 tRA (101 tRA+)

He's done it two years in a row and I have no idea why. Here's some more info. (thanks FanGraphs):

2007 6.31 2.41 2.62 1.18 .250 .277 75.1 19.3 42.5 38.2 11.2
2008 5.66 2.74 2.07 1.13 .247 .267 76.7 18.2 43.8 38 10.5

That drop in strike-out rate is the most troubling thing.

Here's a cool graphic of Guthrie's stuff (stolen from Harry Pavlidis at

It's for data through June for 2008. FanGraphs has the average speed of his pitches being about 0.5-1 mph less for each. Guts throws hard and has pretty good stuff. Let's look at the pitch outcomes with Josh Kalk's Pitch/FX tool:

Pitch Balls Strike Called Strike Swinging Foul In Play Out 1B 2B 3B HR
Fastball 849 411 124 469 327 82 18 4 18
Curveball 78 42 19 31 34 12 2 0 0
Slider 237 101 66 140 96 23 6 0 9
Change 144 65 70 91 60 23 4 0 0

When he hangs the slider it gets hit pretty hard. He didn't give up as many hits on hanging curveballs - most of the hits off of curves where out of the zone (usually low). Guthrie started throwing a few more curveballs and a lot more change-ups in 2008 at the expense of some sliders and fastballs. His change-up might have been his best pitch, showing a near 10 mph difference from his fastball with very similar movement (a little more sink) and a similar release point. He got swinging strikes on 15% of the change-ups he threw, compared to 10% for sliders, 9% for curveballs, and 5% for fastballs. That batters didn't hit it for much power is also a plus. Considering the velocity, I expected his heater to be more effective.

Looking at starting pitchers from last year (86 of them on FanGraphs), Guthrie has the 13th fastest fastball at 93.2 mph (in-between Zach Greinke and Matt Garza). The 12 guys ahead of him averaged 8.3 K/9 with only Edwin Jackson under 7.3 K/9 (he was at 5.3). The 12 guys after Guthrie averaged 6.84 K/9 with only two guys below Guts' 5.66 (Daniel Cabrera at 4.75 and Mike Pelfrey at 4.93).

Velocity does have some relationship to strike-out rate (even more FanGraphs goodness):

Guthrie is the dot that's at (93.2, 5.66). It looks like he's one of the very few pitchers who throws hard and doesn't K many guys.

The big elephant in the room is his BABIP. With values of .277 and .267, Guthrie has been "lucky" the last couple years (it should be closer to .300). Some pitchers have been able to maintain BABIP below .300, but not 30 points below. This is were there may be some small link with the pitch selection. Guys that threw more change-ups (say, in the top 35 of % of pitches being changes - Guthrie's 35th) had slightly lower BABIP (.294 instead of .300). That's shaky at best, but given his otherwise unimpressive assortment of skills (though he is an excellent athlete and a good fielder) I don't know what else explains the rate at which he gets outs on balls in play. Maybe he's just been lucky two years in a row. I don't really expect it to continue, but I'm hedging a little by predicting a slightly better ERA (converted from tRA) than one would expect given his peripherals.

My projection is 180 IP with a 4.37 ERA, but the current projection for the community WAR project is 180 IP with a 4.17 ERA. He should still be an average to slightly above-average starter, and the official stopper of the Orioles' staff.


Heath said...

Guthrie is unusual that he was able to outperform his FIP and keep his BABIP so low for two straight years.

Some pitchers are able to keep the BABIP down consitently (Tim Wakefield and Carlos Zambrano are good examples) so maybe Guthrie just has a knack for inducint weakly hit balls.

Of course, the Orioles have a pretty good defense which makes Guthrie look a lot better...

FrostKing said...

As with many sets of data we use, it's a good idea to regress it to the mean. We don't know what Guthrie's true talent BABIP is, but given a small amount of data (two seasons) we can make a fair assumption that it is better than average (.300, to his .277 and .267) but not as good as he's shown. If I had to guess, I'd say something around .290 is what he would settle in at given several more years.

That's why I was willing to give some on his FIP and tRA (which were closer to 4.50) and go a little lower.