The Kansas City iteration of Guthrie doesn’t possess the peripheral-beating skill of the Baltimore one. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
The Baltimore Orioles went into yesterday’s game needing a win. Down 2-0 in the seven-game series against the Kansas City Royals, they couldn’t afford to lose. Unfortunately, the Royals came away with the victory, in large part because of their starting pitcher, former Oriole Jeremy Guthrie.
Most fans of the Birds probably have fond memories of Guthrie. The Cleveland Indians drafted him in 2002, and he gave them three ineffective years in return. After 2007, they gave up; the Orioles picked him up off waivers, and he grew into a solid starting pitcher. For me, however, his results don’t stand out as much as his expected results (and the difference between the two) do.
What do I mean by that? Guthrie played for the Orioles for five years — after 2011, the club dealt him to the Rockies, who subsequently flipped him to the Royals during 2012. Among 231 qualified pitchers, from 2007 to 2011, he ranked:
Guthrie outperformed his peripherals, by a lot. In fact, he accumulated 4.8 Fielding-Dependent Wins in that period — the fifth-most in baseball*.
*I’ll revisit the disparity later.
While stranded runners had a hand in Guthrie’s good fortune (he posted a 73.0% LOB%, a bit higher than the MLB-wide 71.7% mark), he derived most of his luck from balls in play: His .271 Baltimore BABIP ranked 15th in the 231-man sample. That number becomes even more incredible once you take into account the defense that played behind him. In those years, the Orioles ranked 24th in the majors in both UZR and DRS. Thus, the team’s BABIP sans Guthrie sat at a far less respectable .308.
He did post lower-than-average ground ball and line drive rates in this time (18.2% and 40.4%, compared to 19.1% and 43.9% for all pitchers), and his 10.4% pop-up clip topped the major-league average of 9.8%. But these differences alone wouldn’t beget that level of overperformance, and as the aforementioned numbers show, his teammates probably didn’t do him any favors. Random variation probably caused this; since Guthrie owns a .295 BABIP post-Baltimore, despite spending much of that time with an elite Kansas City defense, this certainly seems plausible.
Retrospective root cause analysis is so boring, though. Let’s look at rarity! FanGraphs defines a 4-win-player as an All-Star, an impressive distinction. Three of Guthrie’s five seasons in Charm City had at least four wins above replacement — by runs allowed, that is. FIP-based WAR viewed him less positively, to say the least: According to that standard, he didn’t even top three wins in a single season.
How common is that? How many players, in the history of baseball, possess three (or more) All-Star-worthy campaigns by RA9-WAR, and none by FIP-WAR? Aside from Guthrie, a grand total of five: Bill Duggleby, Cy Morgan, Ed Brandt, Elmer Riddle, and Guy Bush. As some of those appellations might imply, these players pitched in the days of yore — none appeared in the majors after 1949. In the modern era, Guthrie stands entirely alone in this regard.
As I write this, the Orioles trail the Royals in Game 4. Given the strength of Kansas City’s bullpen, I feel that I can safely chalk this one up as a loss for Baltimore, which means that the Royals will soon head to the World Series. Fans in Maryland will watch our former star (by some standards) on the biggest stage in the world, and hope that he, perhaps, recaptures some of the magic he once had.
All data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.