Looking back, the 2012 KC Royals season doesn’t appear to have been very good. But a closer look shows the club was better than you might think.
The Royals finished third in the American League Central at 72-90, marking the first time since 2003 they finished above fourth. Not to mention there were good young prospects who made their way to the majors.
To free up center field for future star Lorenzo Cain, the Royals traded one of their great 2011 outfielders, Melky Cabrera, to San Francisco before the season started for pitcher Jonathan Sánchez and prospect Ryan Verdugo.
At the time, it seemed like there was nothing to lose: Kansas City received a veteran pitcher with postseason experience to help spark its young staff. Sánchez had a 4.26 ERA in six seasons with the Giants and had just come off a 2011 season with an identical ERA and 102 strikeouts in 101.1 innings.
Sánchez pitched well in his first start with the Royals, notching a win and allowing just two runs and fanning four in five innings against the Angels. But from there, everything spiraled downward as Sánchez began struggling with walks, accumulating 44 during his 12 game KC stint.
By mid-July, Sánchez was 1-6 with a 7.76 ERA and had subpar 6.07 K/9 and 7.42 BB/9 rates.
Not surprisingly, Kansas City designated Sánchez for assignment in July.
The KC Royals acquired Jeremy Guthrie for Sánchez in a one-sided trade.
After designating him, Kansas City traded Sánchez for Jeremy Guthrie in a straight one-for-one deal with the Rockies July 20.
Guthrie was off to a poor start himself in Colorado, posting a 3-9 record with a 6.35 ERA and allowing 21 home runs in hitter-friendly Coors Field. The Royals and Rockies seemed to believe the changes of clubs would benefit both pitchers.
Sánchez, however, continued his struggles with Colorado, while Guthrie, save for some sour starts, thrived in Kansas City.
At first, Guthrie couldn’t settle down, allowing five runs to Minnesota in his first start with the Royals. He allowed six more against Seattle to finish a poor July—he had a combined 9.58 ERA with KC and the Rockies.
Guthrie’s first real turnaround start came against the White Sox August 8 when he tossed eight scoreless innings with six strikeouts. In his very next start against Oakland, he struck out eight in seven innings, and finished August with a 3-1 record, 2.33 ERA, 27 strikeouts and only two home runs allowed in 38.2 innings.
Guthrie’s September was fantastic with a 2.25 ERA and 18 strikeouts. He finished his Kansas City part of the season 5-3 with a 3.16 ERA and gave up only nine home runs in 91 innings, and 11 of his 14 Royal starts lasted six innings or more.
The KC Royals’ pitcher-friendly ballpark helped Guthrie turn things around.
What must have been beneficial to Guthrie was shifting from hitter-friendly Coors Field to pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium.
With the Rockies, Guthrie had a 4.47 K/9, 3.08 BB/9, 2.08 HR/9, and .318 BABIP. But with the Royals, Guthrie improved to 5.54 K/9, 1.88 BB/9, a miniscule 0.89 HR/9, and a .268 BABIP.
Although he pitched only 91 innings with Kansas City, Guthrie was arguably the best starter on that 2012 ballclub. The second-best ERA to Guthrie’s 3.16 was Luis Mendoza’s 4.23 and Bruce Chen had a third-best 5.07. Guthrie also had a regular rotation-topping 132 ERA+.
Guthrie went on to lead the 2013 Royals in wins with 15, won 13 in 2014, and went 8-8 in 2015. He also won Game 3 of the 2014 World Series.
After the Jonathan Sánchez deal didn’t work out for them, the Royals salvaged it by flipping him for Jeremy Guthrie, who was arguably the best starting pitcher in the 2012 rotation and helped the club forget a bad trade.