Heading into Friday night’s opening game, I was eagerly anticipating getting my first look at the Rockies’ opening day starter and de facto ace, Jeremy Gutrhie. If you were to only look at Guthrie’s stat line from the game (7 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO), you would probably assume that he pitched solidly, doing exactly what Rockies fans hoped he would do: pitch aggressively, eat innings, and overcome his propensity to give up the long ball.
I’m afraid that Guthrie’s performance was much more disconcerting than the box score might suggest, though, and he should consider himself lucky to have only surrendered four hits and three earned runs.
Guthrie’s primary shortcoming in Friday’s game was his fastball command. Of his 103 pitches, 33 were fastballs, and of those 33, only 18 were thrown for strikes. Below is the PitchFX data from Guthrie’s start, illustrating rather starkly his struggles to locate the fastball.
As you can see, not only was Guthrie consistently missing the mark with his fastball, he was missing pretty badly. He had much better luck with his cutter (22 pitches, 19 for strikes), but as the graph above shows, many of those strikes were up in the strike zone.
Even more concerning may be the fact that Guthrie didn’t induce a whole lot of swinging strikes. Through the seven innings that Guthrie was on the mound, Astros hitters only took six swings and misses. His change up and slider each induced two swings and misses, his cutter and curveball were each hacked at and missed one time, and not one Astros hitter swung and missed at his fastball. Clearly, you’d like to see a guy whose fastball sits between 92 and 94 mph get at least a few swings and misses with that pitch. These numbers would be far less alarming if Guthrie were the kind of pitcher who lived off of inducing contact and getting groundball outs, but we already know that he is a fly ball pitcher whose line drive percentage spiked last year. Instead, these numbers paint a picture of a guy who not only had trouble locating his fastball, but also didn’t have enough movement and depth on his secondary pitches to fool hitters consistently.
So, how did Guthrie escape with only four hits and three earned runs allowed? Basically, the Astros bailed him out, because the Astros are terrible at baseball. Throughout the entire game the Astros were overly aggressive in their approach at the plate, and continually hit themselves into outs rather than forcing Guthrie to find the strike zone. In the second, fifth, and sixth innings Guthrie threw less than 55% of his pitches for strikes, and yet the Astros only managed to put three men on base in those three innings combined. Outside of the monstrous solo home runs from Lee and Despite the fact that Guthrie gave the Rockies a quality start on opening night and helped secure the team a victory, Rockies’ fans should not assume that Guthrie’s apparent success is a sign of things to come. If Guthrie is going to succeed at Coors Field against teams that are more than just a collection of glorified AAA players, he’s going to need to rein in his fastball command and find a way to miss some bats. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for him to escape the damage of the home runs that he will inevitably surrender. Solo shots will transform into two and three run homers, and his pitch count will suffer against the discerning eyes of a true major league hitters.