Having accumulated 12.0 fWAR in his nine MLB seasons to date with four 2.0-plus fWAR campaigns, you couldn’t say that Jeremy Guthrie has been a bad pitcher over this career.
Then again, you can’t say he’s ever been this good, either.
Yet, that’s what the Chicago White Sox were left to ponder as exited Kauffman Stadium on Saturday, after the Kansas City Royals veteran handed the team another beating — this time in dominant fashion, as Guthrie manage to hurl his first career complete game shutout.
Four hits. That was all of the offense that the right-hander gave on on Saturday night, thoroughly out-matching the White Sox bats while giving up just one free pass and striking out three.
The Royals didn’t particularly give their pitcher much offensive support, but the way he was going, two runs was almost too much for Guthrie, who needed just 106 pitches to get through his evening of work.
You could argue that the only time he was in trouble was during the fourth inning, when a walk to Adam Dunn was followed by a Paul Konerko double to put runners at second at third; in that instance, had the walk gone to a faster baserunner like Alex Rios instead, a run might have come in to score.
Outside of that, only one other baserunner stepped past first, and none in a particularly threatening manner. With a 12-7 GO-FO ratio and a season-low 11.1 percent line drive rate on this night, Guthrie’s stuff was simply not being hit very hard at all.
Besides the career first, the 34-year old also broke a Kansas City franchise record with his 17th undefeated start, topping the mark of 16 set by Paul Splittorff. He now hasn’t been scored on in two straight starts, and his career with the Royals have been nothing short of odds-defying so far, as he’s posted a 2.92/1.13 ERA/WHIP with a .238 BAA, all numbers well below his career averages, since arriving to Kansas.
Now, you’d think that with an unassuming 5.88 K/9 to 2.40 BB/9 and a too-high homer rate of 1.31 HR/9, that Guthrie must simply luckboxing his way to a 2.40/1.11 ERA/WHIP in 2013 thanks to an incredible 93.3 percent strand rate and .240 BABIP, yes?
While there’s little doubt that a regression is coming (his FIP is 4.45), that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Guthrie has been a pitcher who has outperformed his field-independent numbers (0.52 ERA-FIP), and while he’s certainly not going to continue stranding as many batters as he’s done in 2011 thus far, he’s also doing a few other things right himself, too.
The 19 percent line drive rate (a three-year low) and a 52.6 percent strikes thrown (last topped in 2007) tells you that this is a pitcher having no problem attacking hitters (63.3 percent first strikes, full-season career high) and is having good success getting batters to bite, generating ground balls (1.37 GB/FB) without being hit too hard.
Sure, he’s been a little lucky and fairly homer-prone, but his stuff has also been good enough to warrant a little help from the baseball gods.
And yes, the ERA will come up eventually, but with Alcides Escobar behind him, Guthrie might find himself looking at another career-high — a 2.5-plus fWAR season — by the time the season comes to a close.