Right now, the biggest anticipated concern facing the Kansas City Royals may be the identity of their fifth starter. Right now, that opening is expected to be a battle between Wade Davis, Luke Hochevar and Yordano Ventura, with Kyle Zimmer and Brad Penny as long shots for that role. Yet, it may be fair to wonder if the Royals should be concerned about more than that spot in the rotation. Jeremy Guthrie, who is likely the Royals third starter at this point in the season, may also be a source of trepidation as well.
On the surface, Guthrie had a relatively solid season for the Royals last year. Overall, he was 15-12 with a 4.04 ERA, seemingly a league average pitcher who was a solid fit for the Royals and the dimensions of Kauffman Stadium. Yet, there were concerns. Guthrie gave up the most hits in the American League and, despite pitching half of his games in Kansas City, managed to give up 30 home runs, the fourth most in the league. While he has never been much of a strikeout pitcher, Guthrie struck out under five batters per nine innings last season, the lowest full season rate of his career.
Where Jeremy Guthrie was able excel was in his ability to strand those runners he let on base. Despite giving up baserunners at a 6.5% higher rate than average, he managed to 78.2% of the baserunners he allowed, exceeding the league average by over 5%. Both those marks factor in to his xFIP for last season, which was at 4.55.
Guthrie has certainly fared well since coming over to the Kansas City Royals for the complete disaster that was Jonathan Sanchez. His time with the Royals has been the best of his career, as he has produced a 20-15 record with an ERA of 3.78. The cavernous outfield and the improved defense behind him certainly lends hope that 2014 will once again be a solid year for Guthrie. However, Guthrie will be 35 shortly after the season begins, and his 2013 performance may have been the start of a decline in performance. It is very rare for a player, as they approach their mid to late thirties, to get better as they age. With the present construction of the rotation, the Royals may well need him to be an exception to the rule.
The competition for the Royals fifth starter spot may be getting most of the attention, but there may well be other areas of concern in the rotation. With his expected performance last season, Jeremy Guthrie may well be one of those concerns heading into 2014.