The Rockies traded for Jeremy Guthrie to help solidify a questionable starting rotation. He is viewed by the team as a veteran innings eater certain to throw at least 200 innings this year and keep the Rox in ball games. After three starts he’s pitched 17.1 innings, which is on pace for roughly 187 for the year. That’s not too bad. There have only been 22 pitchers in franchise history that have thrown more than 187 innings in a season. However, if the Guthrie keeps giving up runs at this rate, 187 innings from him would be disastrous for the Rockies.
The good news is that Guthrie will get better. I’m not saying he will be good, but he won’t be this bad all season long. As a person, I really like Guthrie, and I’m sure most fans would agree with me on that. Last week, him inviting a random fan to play catch at Coors was one of the coolest things I’ve heard of a ballplayer doing. (That story is really remarkable, if you haven’t heard it already.) However, he’s a bad fit as a pitcher in Colorado, which isn’t really a surprise. Still, there is some indication that he won’t continue to be this bad all season.
The first thing that jumps out about Guthrie’s first three starts is his K/BB ratio. Simply put, he’s walking too many and not striking out near enough hitters. Throughout his career he has K’d around 5.5 hitters per nine innings. So far this year his K/9 ratio is 1.56. It’s pretty much unheard of for a pitcher to be successful in Colorado with that kind of K rate. Fortunately, it’s almost guaranteed to increase – probably significantly – based on his career track record.
Guthrie’s walk ratio is also way off his career norm. He has always been under three walks per nine innings, but this year he is approaching four. Combine this with a low strike out rate and his propensity for giving up long balls and you have yourself a Coors Field nightmare. However, you have to believe that Guthrie will also walk fewer people as the season progresses. And again, I’m just saying that a regression to his career mean in these categories would merely make him an okay pitcher. I’m still very much of the opinion that acquiring him and trumpeting him as the staff ace was a mistake.
What is somewhat worrisome, and also pretty interesting, is that Guthrie is actually pitching a little different this year. When he was in Baltimore, he threw fastballs roughly 60-62% of the time. According to Pitch F/X, in Colorado, that’s been closer to 50% and he’s been throwing a lot more change ups and curveballs. Perhaps that’s for good reason as hitters have been feasting on his fastball this season. So far, it’s been by far his worse pitch. But, the problem with his fastball isn’t velocity, it’s been poor location.
When Guthrie is at his best, he keeps his fastball middle-down in the zone. And he is particularly effective when he owns the inside part of the plate. With the Rockies so far, he has failed to do both of these things. He is elevating too many fastballs and has gotten away almost completely from pitching inside.
Here is a fastball location heat map from Guthrie’s start last September against the Rays. He went 7 innings, struck out 10, gave up just three hits, and picked up the win.
As you can see, Guthrie made a living that day by painting corners and keeping the ball down. There is virtually no red up in the zone. Not that it’s a bad thing to occasionally climb the ladder, but Guthrie can’t make a habit of it. Again, the most important thing is all of the red off the inside part of the plate. Pitching guys inside keeps them honest, and it seems to be particularly important for Guthrie.
Now look at Guthrie’s fastball location heat map so far for this season.
First of all, there is a ton of red in the upper middle part of the zone. Even worse, he has repeatedly failed to come inside to both left handed and right handed hitters. When you look at a heat map like this, it’s easy to understand why his wFA is lower than it’s ever been in his career. Hitters looking for fastballs out over the plate usually tee off. There are very few pitchers that can get away with that kind of location and Jeremy Guthrie is not one of them.
It’s reasonable to wonder why Guthrie is pitching like this. He’s a veteran who should know what works for him. Part of it has be a lack of confidence in his fastball which could probably be somewhat restored by throwing inside, off the plate. But, you also have to wonder if part of his revamped style is at the behest of the Rockies and Bob Apodaca. Whatever the case, Guthrie has to figure it out and make some changes. This probably goes without saying, but the Rox can’t allow him to throw 187 innings with these results.