Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

We Won’t Get Fooled Again

Jeremy Guthrie at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE

I can already see it. Dayton Moore made the statement several weeks ago that that the Royals will be going after pitching in the offseason (and for a while it looked like maybe at the trade deadline). We are promised some “real” pitching will be brought in. Here’s the part where they try to tell us Jeremy Guthrie is that real pitcher.

Well, let’s not be fooled by Guthrie’s recent hot streak, and more importantly, by the front office this winter when they tell us a big part of the rotation fix is Guthrie. He’s not top of the rotation talent. No way. Granted…he’s better than what we’ve seen here in a little while, but Guthrie is not the solution. The solution is bringing in a couple of guys who are at minimum number two starters in a rotation (in a REAL rotation – not in a typical Royals rotation).

I don’t mean to be completely down on Dayton Moore and David Glass – actually, I am completely down on Glass, but not Moore – there are some positives in the Guthrie situation.

The first positive is after we had given up on Jonathan Sanchez, and were ready to walk away; Moore was actually able to get someone to give the Royals something in exchange for Sanchez. I know…I couldn’t believe it either. I can’t even pull deals like that with the worst owner in my fantasy league. So we swapped out Sanchez for Guthrie, and landed a veteran guy who has had some success in the big leagues. And not just success against bad teams, but was good pitching against the lineups in the AL East. That’s a major victory for Moore, and helped our pitching staff tremendously this year. So we’ve got that going for us…which is nice.

The second positive is, going back to what I just said, the fact that this guy has had some great success against a tough division. In a rotation that features Luke Hochevar, Bruce Chen, and Luis Mendoza; Guthrie becomes the instant ace. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling him an ACE, but he’s the Royals ace, which is sad, but at the same time, adding a guy who is better than all your other starters can’t totally be a bad thing.

All that said, here is where Dayton Moore will fly us into the danger zone. He promised a fixed up rotation. And I don’t doubt for one second that Moore wants to fix the rotation and win…whether Glass will put up the cash is another story. So Moore, with his hands somewhat tied, will tell us (I can hear it now), “We really like what Jeremy brings to the table. He’s a solid veteran and great clubhouse guy, and we believe he will be a real contributor to the development and success of this team moving forward.” Then he will tell us that Guthrie could be our guy on opening day in 2013, blah, blah, blah. Nothing we haven’t heard before.

Here’s the thing – I agree with that, to a degree. He can be a part of the rotation. He can contribute, and he can probably be pretty good. He cannot, however, be a number one starter on a contender. Or a number two. He can possibly be a three, if Moore lands two pitchers who CAN be a one or two. Personally I would rather see him as a four, with Hochevar and Chen gone, but there’s a lot of work that would have to go into one offseason to make that happen.

Here’s the thing…we all know Glass will sabotage Dayton’s offseason by giving him pennies to work with on the free agent market. On top of that, we’ve already got Chen on the payroll next year, and I imagine they will bring Luke back as well (unfortunately). So if Guthrie is given a deal like that, the Royals are stuck. We know they will only spend so much on the free agent market, so why throw a big chunk of what the team can afford at a guy who ideally is no better than a three? It doesn’t make sense.

Don’t let this hot streak fool you, and don’t be thrilled when, because of this hot streak, Moore offers Guthrie a two year contract at $8.5 million per year.Guthrie is on fire, no doubt. Since coming to KC, he’s been the best starting pitcher on the mound since

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Luke Hochevar throws a pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Zack Greinke left town. Guthrie has gone 39 innings in six starts. He’s got a 3.23 ERA, 1.026 WHIP, and he striking out 7.2 batters per nine innings, while walking less than two. That’s all great, and that’s the kind of pitching we need to win this division. But don’t be fooled. This guy is not peaking at age 33. He’s not going to repeat these numbers.

I know, you’re thinking, “But he had some great years in Baltimore” (with the exception of one bad year where he posted an ERA of more than 5). Maybe he can repeat one or two of those years, especially in spacious Kauffman Stadium. But the facts are he’s not a high strikeout/low walk pitcher. He’s a career 5.5 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 guy. That’s about two less strikeouts and a full walk more than what he’s averaging for the Royals. That’s not bad…but it’s not really swing and miss stuff. We need game changers at the front end, not Guthrie.

I’m not saying the guy is garbage (he’s far from it), and god bless DM for getting him for Sanchez, but do you want Dayton’s efforts to fix this rotation to fall on Guthrie? I don’t.

And of course, the publishing of this article comes just after Luke Hochevar throws a gem…can’t you hear it now? Dayton Moore is on the radio, once again telling Kansas City that Hochevar made an adjustment and has turned a corner. That Luke and Guthrie will lead the Kansas City rotation to the Promised Land. I’ve heard this before in regards to Hochevar, and I’m not buying. Not on either pitcher. Not this time.

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  • http://twitter.com/nikadimuz Kris Higdon

    All signs are pointing to there being an unusually high amount of decent pitching available this off-season. I can see the Royals trading for Brian Anderson or Clay Buchholtz or Clayton Richards and signing a risk type player, a la Jair Jurrjens. I believe there are going to be a lot of risk/reward pitching like Jurrjens who will be non-tendered. The Royals will have a chance if they make two moves like that and can go into a season with (not necessarily in this order) Guthrie, Mendoza, Chen and Smith along with the two off-season acquisitions. That leaves room for Odorizzi, Montgomery, Verdugo or Lamb (Will Carroll has said the a year of “Tommy John” recovery can have the same impact as a year of development) comes in and surprises with a great spring and makes the rotation. I just hope the Royals will finally cut ties with Hochevar!!!!!!!!

    • kibo

      Not necessarily in that order…how about not necessarily this group. Smith and Chen neither one should be in that group or you still won’t have a chance. Dayton Moore is fairly predictable, he picks up a pitcher that is a number 3 or 4 that has potential, like the pitchers you described above, then goes with Guthrie, Hoch, Mendoza, and one of the other in-house options. Which would be possibly but unlikely a .500 team.

      • Bob Ellis

        kibo – I agree that Moore is predictable. Like I mentioned in my comment above, in reply to Jim, he was on 610 this morning talking about how they look for guys with ace mentality, not necessarily ace stuff. A guy with ace mentality and average stuff does not make a number 1 starter. But he loves going after the guys with potential that he can get cheaper than a legit ace or number 2. I’d be happy if they just picked up a couple of number 2 guys…that’s a huge upgrade and honestly what most teams have (there aren’t very many guys I consider a real “ace”). I think the easy move would be to non-tender Luke (he’s getting to expensive for a 5 ERA pitcher) and keep Chen one more year as the #4 or 5, with Odorizzi taking the other spot. Then if they keep Guthrie, ideally he’d eventually be a 3, but they aren’t going to pay Guthrie AND take on two more salaries for number 2 type of starters. Maybe Guthrie (for now) is the 2, Mendoza the 3 (if he keeps pitching like he’s been doing), Chen 4, Odorizzi 5…then you need a 1. Still not ideal…but a big step in the right direction I suppose.

  • jimfetterolf

    All due respect, Bob, but not seeing any names, just the usual slamming of Glass and Moore. Who would you sign, how much would you pay, who would you trade for, who would you trade?

    I think Guthrie gets signed for a 2/18 deal with an option and may be our best bet. Zack isn’t coming home, Marcum, Lewis, and McCarthy have injury issues, and Oswalt and Jackson aren’t worth the money. Jair is a joke.

    • ArrowFan

      I agree, and besides if not for the injuries to our pitching and catching staff I think we would be competing for a playoff spot currently.

  • Bob Ellis

    Jim – I would recommend the Royals make one trade (a big one), and then go after a free agent. I’d be willing to give up pretty much any prospect for a legit front of the rotation guy – at some point we have to win at this level, and if that means leveraging the farm, so be it. What’s scary is I heard Moore (and I’m not really bashing Moore, just Glass) talking on 610 this morning. Asked about the pitching staff, he said something about all of our in-house options, and said as far as free agents, they were going after guys with an ace mentality, not necessarily ace stuff. That’s scary. I’d be okay with signing Guthrie, like I said, if they don’t plan on him being the ace…he’s a great 3. We are already hamstrung with enough 4 and 5 starters…let’s make way for Odorizzi and go get a REAL 1 or at least 2 in this rotation. They are going to have to spend, or pay a price via trade, to land one…but I’m okay with that. They can’t fix the rotation overnight…it will probably take this year and next, but may as well put a major piece in place this offseason. If we are going to compete, let’s say Guthrie is our 3, Luke our 4, Odorizzi our 5 (Chen can go to the pen and spot start). You need two guys better than Guthrie, in my opinion, to really win. And you need a guy like Odorizzi to really pan out.

  • jimfetterolf

    We saw what it took, twice, to trade for a Greinke, so I assume a real #1 would cost Myers, JaKKKe, and Ventura. I wouldn’t make that trade.

    On FAs, lot of injuries, lot of age, and a lot of competition from more attractive clubs. Guthrie is likely the only 200 inning starter we could get for market value. And he may be good enough. Had our offense not been so bad this year we’ld have been quite a bit better, even with the injuries. Mendoza is solid and has gone toe-to-toe with Chris Sale and held his own. Odorizzi and Verdugo look good in Omaha, and Ventura may be the best of the bunch. And Duffy and Paulino will be back. I’m just not seeing desperation. I’m more worried about Hoz and Moose at the moment while getting more convinced that Gio is a 4A player.

    With a healthy club we should do better next year than the Phillies, Marlins, and Brewers did this year with big payrolls and hands full of aces.

    • Bob Ellis

      All good points, Jim. I would argue though, that at some point we have to stop “waiting til next year” or waiting on a group of prospects to pan out and go for the win at the big league level. It would definitely hurt if we were to trade for a #1 type of starter, but would you rather have a shot at the postseason or keep waiting for guys who may or may not pan out? Duffy I do believe in. Paulino looks good. But we don’t really know what they are yet, as they have had limited amounts of success. Myers looks legit, but who’s to say? As you said about Gio being a 4A player…there’s no guarantee that Myers comes up and has great success. Gio certainly doesn’t struggle against the minor league pitching, which is all Myers has faced to this point. I don’t want to see this team continue patching together a rotation while waiting for in-house options that may never arrive. Moore has shown he can draft…I would think if he traded away some prospects, he’d do well refilling the system.

  • ArrowFan

    To be honest with everyone if our Offense was hitting like last year we wouldn’t be talking about having a pitching problem. I do agree about Gunthrie he will only be good for maybe two more years as a 3 or 4. Basically I see him taking Chen’s spot as the old guy.

    • Bob Ellis

      arrowfan – I have to disagree with this. Last year, the offense scored 730 runs in 162 games (4.5 per game). This year, they are at 4.1 per game thru 123 games…not much difference. The pitching staff (as far as ERA) is better this year. Last year the team ERA was 4.44, this year, 4.26. Last year we were outscored on average 4.7 to 4.5 (762 runs allowed vs. 730 scored).
      This year, through 123 games, we have been outscored 4.5 to 4.1. Now…looking at that, if we were scoring at the same clip as last year, combined with this years slightly improved (?) pitching, we would be at 4.5 to 4.5 on average, so you could argue we’d have a better record.
      But when you look at guys like Luke, Chen, Sanchez, Smith…who all have tendencies to get knocked around – the lowest ERA of the four is a 4.95, (keep in mind the bullpen is helping lower that runs against average) we are getting knocked out of games in the first few innings. Granted, the Duffy and Paulino injuries hurt, but who knows what they would have done over a longer stretch? Point being…if you agree that Guthrie is a 3, then who are the 1 and 2? I don’t see an in-house option right now, unless Odorizzi hits the ground running and has a season worthy of winning Rookie of the Year. It’s certainly not Luke, Chen, Mendoza, etc. Paulino or Duffy? I don’t know. Need to see more out of them first.

      • ArrowFan

        Thanks for the numbers, I guess perception 3 parts reality and it just seems like we are not hitting the ball as well this year. I think it is high time we jack the payroll up a little, but we do need to cautious because some of our in house positional players that we want to keep over the long run will eventually cost us more $$. I would love us to sign a younger version of Verlander or any #1 ace. I think one of our biggest problems with Luke is he presides in to high of a spot in our rotation and he would win more games as a #4 or so. However that thinking may be flawed because he will still pitch the same regardless of who he is pitching against.

        • Bob Ellis

          You’re not wrong, we aren’t hitting the ball as well, but we are on a pace that, when you look at runs per game, it’s not making a staggering difference. I could make the injury argument as an excuse for our pitching, but contending teams have the depth and talent to take these things more in stride (and, granted, they have the money as well). A big part of the problem is Moore’s perception of our in-house options, as well as anyone he may target via trade or free agency. He continues to bring in underwhelming talent, and alarmingly, sticks with them (Davies, Hochevar are prime examples). You are dead on with your comment about Luke. He should not be higher than a 4 in any rotation. Yet we are asked to believe he’s going to figure it out at some point (he’s 29, I think it’s safe to say he is what he is). Going into 2013, KC will have a decision to make on him…as he’ll be heading into arbitration and could make around $5M or more. I say now is the time we walk away from Luke. That would help DM afford whatever extension he wants to give Guthrie (I would say he’s going to make at least $8M per year, and if he stays hot, maybe more). It would also allow him to go after another pitcher. If the rotation could include a legit free agent pickup, then slot Guthrie at 2 (for now), that would be a step in the right direction I suppose….

      • jimfetterolf

        Bob, the SP prediction coming from Ned Yost, me, and quite a few others was 82 wins or better, based on your numbers. Duffy and Paulino would lead the rotation and Chen would be his 12 win self and Hoch would be an ace one out of three games and the PCL pitcher of the year would anchor the end of the rotation. With an even better version of ’11s offense with Cain, Hosmer, and Moustakas getting full season and, presumably, Giavotella hitting a little, 82 wins was seen as a reasonable minimum.

        As for 1s, 2s, and 3s, Mendoza has faced some aces and held his own, as has Chen and Hoch and Guthrie. Any given game our first four pitchers can match up with anyone, as we’ve seen lately or even early in the year. With JaKKKe close and the three injured studs set for middle of next year, I think we have the pitching depth to grow our own aces, a good thing because I don’t see Zack signing here and I’m not real impressed by NL pitchers crossing over to the major league and being worth the money.

        As for runs per game this year, I would remind that we’ve just recently gotten above 4. Back when it mattered we were at 3.9 and scoring one run way too often while scoring six in a losing cause. The offense ruined this season. Having Hoz, Moose, Gio, Frenchy, and Cain hit .280 would do the team much more good than buying an ace.

        • Bob Ellis

          Jim – I agree about Mendoza, but it’s been a small sample size. I’d like to see how he finishes out the year (and how Guthrie finishes as well). If we could get at least get a very good #2 in here to lead the rotation for 2013, I’d be okay with that followed by Guthrie, Mendoza, Chen (since he’s under contract) and Jake. However, pitching is crucial, especially when you hit the playoffs (when and if that ever happens) in those short series. Let Luke go, in my opinion…at some point, you have to accept failure, rather than give him a raise via arbitration for being a guy with a upper 4 to 5 ERA. In regards to the hitters…I agree, if all those guys could hit .280, that would be a huge difference maker. Frenchy isn’t generally that guy, Cain could be (I think), and the jury is out on Hoz, Moose, Gio. Moose in my opinion may be a .260ish guy with pop. Gio, I have no idea what to think. And Hoz, I believe in him, but it could just be blind optimism (although a center fielder named Beltran had a pretty down sophomore season and turned out okay). That said…those 3 are all young and some ups and downs are to be expected. I do believe Moose and Hoz are legit.

          • jimfetterolf

            I don’t disagree much, but would suggest that ERA is a worthless stat for Luke, much better is either quality starts or Game Score. He is very good or very bad, when he’s on he’s an ace, when he’s off he’s DFA. Last I looked he’s running about half quality starts, so is worth something short of $5 MIL to us at the moment. When the young guys come back Luke is tradable or, my old idea, he could be a fine closer, which frees Holland up to move back to the more important fireman spot.

            Of the available FAs, Anibal Sanchez is most interesting due to age, but the AL hasn’t been kind to him so far. I might give a shot at Marcum for under $10 mil based on injury history, $8 would be better, three years at most with incentives and options.

            A lot is going to depend on whether the team feels like the young position players are real. Not sure Dayton Moore spend $30 mil if he questions whether Hoz, Moose, Cain, and Gio are real. He won’t spend the money unless he thinks it gives a good shot at winning it all for two or three years.

  • Grover’s Royals

    Great article Bob….keep up the work. Let’s make sure Royals fans aren’t continuing to fall for the same garbage lines. We have to figure out why we aren’t developing our minor league arms the way other teams are and get that corrected AND Glass has to spend like a Major League Owner. The rest will work itself out because this team is loaded with offensive and defensive talent (not including pitching).

  • the5allens

    a good article, thank you. I am amused by the comments, where people seem to both get and miss your point at the same time. Guthrie is the latest chapter in this book. See Luis Mendoza, Felipe Paolino for recent prior chapters of the same book. Guys who have shown flashes, and we start working overtime to convince ourselves that they just might be finally turning that oh-so-elusive corner toward respectability here in KC. Hochever was the subject of similar talk, after he showed some flashes late last year.

    I have argued on this site since spring training, that this starting rotation was going to be bad, bordering on a disaster. Many disagreed, quoting statistics to demonstrate that they would be “league average”. If only…

    The contrast I have used all year is the Washington Nationals, a team that has a real pitching rotation. They too have had injuries to key players (more than the Royals), and they have struggled with periods of woeful offense. What they have had, consistently since opening day, is starting pitching that brings it more often than not. and for that, they currently own the best record in baseball.

    KC (team and fans) has to stop deluding themselves. A crap pitcher is not turning into Cy Young at age 32. Is it possible – sure. Is it likely – no. And worse, the promising young pitchers turn out to be not so promising (Mike Montgomery anyone ?)

    When your rotation is full of retreads, “late bloomers”, and promising rookies, you end up where ?