The old baseball axiom says that a team cannot have too much starting pitching. Can a team have too much crappy starting pitching? Recently Logan went over who might start for the Rockies and I would venture to say that aside from Jhoulys Chacin there isn’t one starter currently on the Rockies roster that I hope throws anywhere near 150 innings for the team next year. Of course, someone will hopefully throw 150 or maybe close to 200, but they will most likely come at the cost of 4-5 runs per nine innings. We definitely do not want to see another year in which the Rockies use 10 or more starting pitchers because that would indicate the team is having a bad year.
Yesterday the Rockies swapped starting pitcher Jason Hammel and gas throwing reliever Matt Lindstrom to Baltimore Orioles for starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie.
Did the Rockies get better?
Let’s compare the two starters to begin with and assume that Lindstrom is just a throw-in (a player worth 1.4 wins above replacement according to baseball-reference.com as a reliever; pretty good throw -in).
Hammel has been worth basically two wins above average over each of the past three seasons while Guthrie has been worth more than four wins in three of the past five season (and nearly three last year). Looking at WAR takes into account opponents and park factors and it is a pretty good place to start.
Hammel’s ERA+ peaked at 109 in 2009 while Guthrie’s ERA+ was over 120 in ’07 and ’08 but dropped to 95 last year (Hammel was under 100 the past two seasons). ERA+ also adjusts to league averages and park factors.
A first blush Guthrie looks to be the better pitcher. Guthrie isn’t a top notch pitcher but it doesn’t take much to outperform Hammel. Guthrie only averages slightly below six strikeouts per nine innings while walking over two per nine; neither are particularly good. Hammel walked over three per nine last year, however. Guthrie has pitched over 200 innings in each of the past three years and his WHIP has been 1.42, 1.161 and 1.341 in each of the past three seasons. Not too shabby pitching in the AL East versus the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays.
Guthrie generates ground balls in just under 40% of the balls put in play which isn’t great and placed him in the bottom third among qualified starting pitchers in 2011. We all know fly ball pitchers are not successful at Coors Field. A bigger concern is the big spike in line drives allowed by Guthrie last year, Rockies fans need to pray that ’11 was an aberration in line drives allowed by Guthrie (line drives have the best chance in resulting in a safely hit baseball).
Guthrie is a right hand pitcher who throws in the low 90’s and relies on a fastball/slider combination and occasionally throws a curve. He does have a changeup and last year he threw his changeup as little as he had in his previous two seasons. Utilizing a changeup is good for Coors because it should induce ground balls and maybe that is the slight correlation between Guthrie’s increased line drive rate last year.
Let’s face it; the Rockies are not going to find a top shelf pitcher available without giving up some prized prospects and/or shelling out some cash. Next year names like Matt Cain and Cole Hamels are available. The Rockies will either need to open their pocketbooks to the tune of $80-$100 million and four or more seasons to these two guys or deal with relying on young pitching from their minor league system (which, frankly, hasn’t produced a lot of top shelf pitching over the years).
I will say that Guthrie is definitely an upgrade over Hammel, but like I stated before that isn’t too hard to accomplish. When Lindstrom is thrown in the trade appears to be pretty darn even. The Rockies feel they have enough bullpen arms and need a reliable starter to help eat innings and Guthrie looks like he fits that mold as he has thrown over 60 more innings over the past three seasons over Hammel.
Looking back at Logan’s piece you can swap out Hammel for Guthrie but now we can hopefully count on 200 innings from another arm in the Rockies rotation, rather than about 175.