Sep 26, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (11) throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning at U.S Cellular Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Why Jeremy Guthrie Could Lose His Spot in the Rotation


Jul 31, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (11) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest question surrounding the Royals pitching staff has been the identity of the fifth starter. Yet, for all the discussion about that role, it is expected that whoever wins that spot coming out of Spring Training will not be in the rotation all year. With Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy in need of a spot, and relatively soon, it is thought that the fifth starter and Bruce Chen will lose their places once Ventura and Duffy are ready.

If there is one thing about Chen, it is his ability to perform better than expected. Including a difficult 2014 season, the Panamanian version of Jamie Moyer has produced a 44-33 record with a 4.17 ERA, striking out just over six batters per nine innings while walking less than three batters per nine. Those numbers, while not outstanding, are quite solid for a back of the rotation starter.

Meanwhile, taking a look at Jeremy Guthrie, we see that his numbers are similar to Chen. In the year and a half that he was been a member of the Royals, Guthrie has posted a 20-15 record with a 3.78 ERA, striking out five batters per nine innings and walking 2.3 batters per nine. Over their respective careers, both pitchers have been relatively similar as well, with similar numbers across the board.

Yet, it is expected that Bruce Chen will lose his spot in the rotation once Ventura and Duffy are ready. Perhaps this is due to Chen having experience as the Royals long reliever/spot starter, a role that he excelled in last season. Guthrie, however, has also been used in that role, as recently as 2012 for the Rockies. It is a position that both pitchers are familiar with.

Of the two pitchers, it is seemingly more likely that Jeremy Guthrie regresses. Guthrie had an insanely high strand rate last season, leaving baserunners on 78.2% of the time; the major league average is approximately 72%. He also led the league in hits allowed, giving up 236 hits. Despite pitching half of his games in Kauffman Stadium, Guthrie allowed 30 home runs. These numbers mean that Guthrie had an expected ERA of 4.79, nearly a run higher, based on normal results.

Chen, meanwhile, had a similar strand rate of 78.3%. However, he only allowed 107 hits over his 121 innings of work, or eight hits per nine innings. Guthrie came in at ten hits per nine. Chen allowed 13 home runs, which came out to approximately one home run per nine innings. Guthrie allowed 1.3 per nine. Chen, with his slightly better performance last season, was expected to post a 4.12 ERA in 2013.

What this shows is that Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie are essentially the same pitcher. Both are solid back of the rotation starters, yet would seemingly be replaceable if a better option came along. So why is it automatically assumed that Chen would be the one to lose his spot in the rotation?

It may well come down to salary. Guthrie is making $8 Million this year, with another $9 Million due in 2015 and a team option in 2016 for $10 Million, with a $3.2 Million buyout. Chen, on the other hand, is making a $3 Million base salary this season, although incentives can increase that to $4.5 Million. He also has a mutual option for $5.5 Million in 2015, with a $1.25 Million buyout. It may be felt that it is easier to justify Chen as a long reliever/spot starter since he is making far less than Guthrie.

Should that be the actuality of the situation, that logic is entirely flawed. The amount that the player is making should not matter – their performance should be the determining factor as to who remains in the starting rotation. If it winds up where Chen is performing better than Guthrie, yet is the one sent to the bullpen, we know that it is David Glass’ pocketbook making the decisions, not the actual performance on the field.

If all things are considered equal, then it should not be automatically expected that Bruce Chen loses his spot in the rotation. Jeremy Guthrie is a very similar pitcher, and could potentially function in that swing role as well.

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Tags: Bruce Chen Jeremy Guthrie Kansas City Royals

  • jimfetterolf

    It will come down to performance. Both Chen and Guthrie have been pointing out the shortcomings of peripherals for awhile and both have been predicted to be at the end of the road for awhile, and both just keep chugging along. First things first, Duffy and Ventura have to force their ways into the rotation.

    • Dave Hill

      Definitely. I just found it strange that it was automatically assumed that Chen would lose his spot in the rotation when Guthrie is, for all intents and purposes, the same pitcher. If Chen is pitching better than Guthrie, and a spot needs to be opened for either Duffy or Ventura, then Chen should keep his spot.

      At this point, if I had to wager on one of those two performing better than the other, I would probably put my money on Chen. There is just something about him that leads me to believe that his success is more sustainable.

      • jimfetterolf

        Quite possible, a coin flip at least. And like Chen, I think Guthrie has the attitude to embrace going to the ‘pen and doing his best. He’s a pro, he’s got eyeballs, he’ll know that it’s the right move.

        • Dave Hill

          Exactly. That’s another reason why, as much as the Royals may be better served by giving someone else Guthrie’s money, I don’t mind him being on the roster. Another professional, veteran presence for the younger players to learn from is a good thing to have.

          • Eric Akers

            I don’t think the Royals believe that Chen has the endurance to start all year.

  • LFPThree

    Well it is automatic that GMDM will never have a rotation without Chen and/or Guthrie. Dude loves him some pitchers that are about to crush regression.

  • Tyler_KC_Fan

    I’m gonna have to disagree with you on this one. Not because I’m a die hard Guthrie fan, but because the stats aren’t equal. Guthrie pitched 211 innings last year compared to Chen who pitched 121 innings and a good portion of Chen’s innings came from the pen (Chen made one start as a starter before the ASB). In nearly 100 innings difference Chen gave up his stats that are identical to Guthrie. I kind of find it hard to believe that Chen wouldn’t give up at least 13 (or in the ball park of) more HRs and his ERA would be higher than Guthrie’s 4.04. The walk to strike out ratio would be different as well. If you go back to the previous year when Chen was a starter his numbers weren’t all that great either.

    If Chen had been a full year starter like Guthrie and had identical stats, I would be more inclinde to go along with you. But comparing those two based off of stats that are significantly different in IP makes it harder for me to go along with this. Guthrie led the team in W last year. Guthrie was the only pitcher to throw complete game shutouts and he did it twice. Guthrie is a proven innings eater and a guy that will never lose the game for you.

    Aside from me being a Guthrie fan, if we are being realistic about the stats then Chen gets bumped to the pen with Duffy/Ventura is ready to be called up. Not understanding why everyone says both are regressing when they have been a consistent pitcher, but Guthrie is a #3 guy and he’s one of the better #3 guys because he accepts his role and doesn’t try to do to much. As Jim said, he’s a professional and he acts like one no matter what. Gotta love that.

    • Dave Hill

      That’s fair Tyler. I know there was quite a difference in the innings between the two, but it just struck me as interesting that the two put together relatively similar peripheral numbers. Basically, I just don’t think it is a given that Chen ends up being the one to lose his spot in the rotation.

      • Tyler_KC_Fan

        They do have realitivly similar number, I’m not disagreeing with you on that, but I think Guthrie still beats Chen out number wise. It may not be a significant difference but I believe Guthrie does best Chen out.

        Now that Yost has ended the #5 debate and Duffy is going to be the #5 starter, I for sure see Chen getting the BP spot once Ventura’s arbitration situation is taken care of. I love soft throwing pitchers because opposing teams don’t see soft pitching often and that could be a huge advantage, but having 2 in your rotation is flirting with danger. Especially of we have Vargas as a #2/#3 we would have the potential of having 2 soft throwing pitchers in the same series. I love me some Chen music, but if Yost saw him as a full time starter he would have been signed before the end of January.