Were you one of the few who wondered why the Royals felt the need to acquire Johnny Cueto? Tuesday and Wednesday’s starting pitchers pretty much provided the answer.
Chris Young struggled, elevated his pitch count and couldn’t complete five innings on Tuesday. The next day, Jeremy Guthrie provided the gasoline for the Indians pack of matches and was torched for eight runs in 5.1 innings. There isn’t a contending team on the planet that would accept those two in the same rotation for meaningful baseball. And since the Royals are a contending team… You see where I’m going with this.
The question now is, who survives? Cueto mercifully pushes one to the bullpen. One will remain. I feel the need to get the host of the Bachelor on the blog. “Gentlemen, there is only one baseball remaining.” (Take it easy on me. People in my house watch. I learn via osmosis.) Both pitchers currently inhabit an island of suck. In his last 12 starts, Young owns a 5.9 SO/9 against a 3.2 BB/9 and has posted a 4.57 ERA and 5.41 FIP. His ERA- is 116 (meaning his ERA is 16 percentage points worse than league average) and his FIP- is a whopping 140. I discussed Young in-depth back at the end of May and noted his success was a product of smoke and mirrors.
Meanwhile, in Guthrie’s last 12 starts, he owns a 5.7 SO/9 and a 2.6 BB/9. He has an ERA of 6.30 and a FIP of 5.30. Fine. While Young has been “fortunate,” Guthrie has been on the opposite end of the fortune spectrum. Guthrie has a ERA- of 160 and a FIP- of 137. One of my favorite things I’ve seen on Twitter are from Royals fans who like to say things along the lines of, “If you remove the New York start from Guthrie’s stat line, he’s actually pitched better.” Well, no shit. Remove Eric Hosmer’s June from the ledger and he becomes an MVP candidate. You’re not allowed to randomly eliminate the bad and keep the good. That’s now how statistics work. Yes, there can be outliers. But if there are outings where a starter gives up 11 runs in one inning, you must also note the six scoreless innings from a previous start.
You’re allowed to like Guthrie. I like Guthrie. I think he’s a stand-up human and all-around good guy. I also happen to think he’s not worthy of being in the starting rotation of a team with October aspirations. Perhaps your vision of Guthrie is clouded by our introduction. He pitched really well for the Royals when he came over from the Rockies. In 14 starts, he posted a 3.16 ERA, a 3.84 FIP and was good for 1.5 fWAR. Solid numbers. They look even better when you realize the Royals gave up the corpse of Jonathan Sanchez for Guthrie in a classic “change of scenery” trade. Perhaps deluded by a small sample size, Dayton Moore signed him to a three-year deal. At the time, it was misguided. Time has proven this correct. Here’s how Guthrie has done since re-signing as a free agent:
In the two-plus years since Guthrie signed his deal, he’s provided 1.6 fWAR. That’s just 0.1 fWAR more than he provided in his first 14 starts as a Royal. This is stunning, but if you knew anything about Guthrie’s career, it’s not surprising. Using the fWAR as a barometer, Fangraphs estimates he’s provided $11.3 million worth of real value to the Royals. The Royals are going to pay him a total of $28.2 million for this contract. Don’t forget, I like Guthrie. But the guy is flat out committing larceny.
You could make the argument Guthrie is the last of the kind of pitcher Moore used to sign. The guy he would throw millions at to “eat innings” or provide a “veteran presence” and would be expected to at least be a number two or three starter in the Royals rotation. Young, on the other hand, is the kind of pitcher the Royals are now bringing on board for the back of the rotation. Cheap and on a one year deal. This is the luxury you can have once you develop a starting pitcher or two and wade into the free agent waters or trade market for other frontline type starters.
I mentioned the other day the Royals had an opportunity to shift around their rotation. With their first off day of the second half coming on Monday, they have the opportunity of skipping their fifth starter and keeping everyone on normal rest. That eliminates a Young or Guthrie start for at least one turn, which is kind of like ignoring that grinding sound your car makes when you put it in drive. The club will need to use their fifth starter at the end of next week. They’re not going to a four-man rotation when they hold a nine game lead in the Central and are twenty-plus games over .500. I can’t imagine they’d go to a four-man rotation under any circumstance. Kris Medlen could be an option. The Royals know his medical situation and what is possible for Medlen, who is returning to action after his second Tommy John surgery. However, I think the Royals know that Medlen would be used out of the bullpen in the playoffs and want to give him every opportunity to get acclimated to the role. He could pick up a spot start or two, but I don’t think the Royals are considering him as a full-time option for the rotation at this moment.
That leaves the Scare Pair. Young or Guthrie. Guthrie or Young. There is no correct answer. Both are going to continue to struggle. ZiPS projects Guthrie to make 11 more starts wit ha 5.65 ERA and a 0.2 WAR. The same projection system pegs Young at a 4.50 ERA and 0.2 WAR in nine starts. At this point, they’re basically the same pitcher. Pick your poison.
The good news is, in the postseason, neither pitcher should ever start. Nor should they ever find themselves in a high-leverage situation. If you can stomach the clunkers and realize that you can’t win ’em all, it will be easier to take the Guthrie or Young start every fifth day for the next couple of months. It’s not ideal, but at this point, it’s the best the Royals can do.