Jeremy Guthrie’s Quietly Dominant Start

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Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, Jeremy Guthrie did something no starting pitcher had ever done in a World Series game. He pitched 5 innings without surrendering a single walk or striking out a single batter. He’s actually the first pitcher to go 5 innings without a strikeout since Jimmy Key in 1996, and only the 17th pitcher to accomplish that feat in the Fall Classic. And he did that while keeping the Giants to just 2 runs.

Everyone knows Guthrie isn’t a high strikeout pitcher, but in today’s game, we see more strikeouts than ever before, so it still should be somewhat surprising for Guthrie to fail to record a strikeout against any of the 18 batters he faced. Guthrie has made a very nice career out of managing contact, but still, for a pitcher to go 5+ innings without a strikeout makes it appear as though he was incredibly lucky, and not nearly as dominant as one might initially assume.

But if you dig a bit deeper, you can see Guthrie clearly took care of business, and he did so even more impressively than you probably expected. In fact, Guthrie missed plenty of bats. He just didn’t do so in any two-strike counts.

Guthrie threw 77 pitches in the game, and he generated 8 swings-and-misses. That’s a swinging strike rate of 10.4%, above the league average of 9.4%.

For comparison, in Madison Bumgarner‘s excellent start in Game 1, he threw 106 pitches, and generated 9 swings-and-misses. That’s a swinging strike rate of 8.5%.

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This isn’t to suggest Guthrie was better than Bumgarner, or that Bumgarner’s start was not a dominating one. There’s absolutely something to be said for a pitcher putting a hitter away, and no strikeouts does mean the ball was put in play more often than a pitcher prefers. Contact is generally a bad thing for a pitcher, because bad things can happen when a bat makes contact with the ball. The goal should be to miss bats, because there are zero negative outcomes, except in those weird passed ball situations that happen once every two weeks.

Guthrie even admitted in his post-game presser last night that he was trying to strike guys out, but that the Giants simply did a better job of making contact when they needed to. What was important for him was to throw strikes early, so if he did get into a pitcher’s count, the hitter would have to swing at a pitcher’s pitch. If they’re going to make contact, make sure it’s on a well-located pitch, or on a pitch they’re not expecting.

With an aggressive team like the Giants, Guthrie also knew if he grooved any first pitches, it could come back to bite him. To counteract that, he did an excellent job of mixing his pitches and attacking hitters in different ways.

Here is the first pitch of each plate appearance against Guthrie:

1st inning: changeup – fastball – fastball
2nd inning: curveball – slider – changeup – fastball
3rd inning: fastball – fastball – changeup
4th inning: cutter – slider – slider
5th inning: fastball – curveball – curveball
6th inning: fastball – sinker

If you can find a pattern there, you’re a smarter person than most.

The Giants had no idea what Guthrie would be throwing on the first pitch, so they could either guess – which could lead to a whiff – or take all the way and risk falling behind in the count. As a fastball-hitting team, the Giants had to be kept off-balance as often as possible, especially since Guthrie doesn’t have electric stuff. It was a great gameplan from Dave Eiland and Salvador Perez, and it was executed to perfection by Guthrie.

Considering how lefty-heavy the Giants’ lineup is, last night’s start had me somewhat concerned. Guthrie gets hit hard by left-handed hitters, and even with the incredible outfield defense behind him, I thought he may end up giving up a few too many extra-base hits. Instead, he dominated the Giants’ hitters for the first 5 innings, even if the strikeout numbers don’t indicate as much. He still missed his share of bats, and thanks to his work, the Royals are now just 2 wins away from a World Series title.

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