Guthrie Joins The Mile High Club

The Orioles and Rockies pulled off a mildly surprising trade yesterday, with Jeremy Guthrie heading to Colorado in exchange for Matt Lindstrom and Jason Hammel. The money is essentially a wash, so each club just rearranged the furniture a little bit. Guthrie’s fantasy outlook does change with the trade, but just how much? Let’s figure it out.

First and foremost, we have to understand that Guthrie is one of those rare guys that defies DIPS theory. He’s logged over 1,000 innings in the big leagues, and his career ERA (4.19) is roughly half-a-run lower than his FIP (4.68) and xFIP (4.61). As with Matt Cain, the guy has thrown so many innings that we’re at the point were we have to start thinking about him differently than other pitchers because he possesses some kind of skill that allows him to outperform his peripherals. I don’t know how he does it, but he does.

The ERA predictors suggest that Guthrie should have been one of baseball’s very worst pitchers over the last five seasons, but his actual results have him in the middle of the pack. Let’s take a look at his performance during that time…

’07-’11 MLB Rank*
IP 983.1 16th
ERA 4.12 53rd
FIP 4.64 99th
xFIP 4.58 101st
K% 14.5% 88th
BB% 6.8% 36th
GB% 40.4% 94th
HR/9 1.22 105th
HR/FB 10.1% 63rd
BABIP 0.271 5th

* Out of 116 qualifiers (min. 500 IP)

The first thing that will jump out at you is Guthrie’s average on balls in play, which isn’t all that difficult to explain. We know he’s a fly ball pitcher, and fly balls turn into outs more often than any other type of batted ball. Depending on who you ask, the Orioles had either a below average (-28.5 UZR) or an above average (+47 DRS) outfield defense during those five years. Total Zone says they were roughly league average (-2.1). Sounds good to me.

We have to remember that not every fly ball is hit to the warning track is a threat to be hit out of the ballpark, which is a problem we can fall into from time to time. Guthrie’s infield fly ball rate (10.1%) was the 54th highest in baseball during our five-year sample, and infield fly balls turn into outs way more often than regular old fly balls to the outfield. Sure, we would expect a fly ball pitcher to give up more homers than his ground balling counterparts, but it doesn’t automatically mean a ton more. You’d also expect the fly ball guy to have a lower average on balls in play. The caveat here is scorer bias, because a fly ball to you might be a line drive to the BIS stringer.

Camden Yards is one of the game’s best parks for homeruns, regardless of whether you use the park factors at StatCorner, ESPN, or the regular old eye test. Coors Field is just as bad when it comes to the long ball, but Guthrie and fantasy owners will benefit from the trade because he simply doesn’t have to face those AL East powerhouses anymore. Of those 983.1 IP he’s thrown since 2007, a whopping 440.2 of them came against the other four AL East teams (44.8%). The Yankees and Red Sox garner most of the attention, but the Blue Jays can hit the ball out of the park with anyone (especially over the last few years) and Rays are consistently strong as well. Instead of those four clubs, Guthrie gets the Padres, Giants, Dodgers, and Diamondbacks. Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium have been replaced by Petco and AT&T Parks. Pretty sweet upgrade.

At 32 years old (33 in April), Guthrie is more likely to decline that improve his performance, so there is some risk. His homerun rate figures to drop off a bit just because his division rivals aren’t as strong (and they tend to play in big parks), and that will carry over to his ERA. There’s also the whole no DH thing, which has a very real benefit. Guthrie’s been a 10 W, 120 K, 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP type for the last five years, but those last three numbers should see a slight improvement with the shift to the easier league. In ottoneu leagues, we’re talking about a 700 point pitcher becoming a 750-775 point pitcher, maybe 800 if things really break right. He’s still not a guy you want to anchor your staff in either 5×5 or points leagues, but his fantasy worth did go with with the trade.

Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

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10 years ago

I think Guthrie will be surprisingly effective at Coors. He throws exactly the pitches that work well there. And his road parks are now pitchers parks.