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Jeremy Guthrie at the cliff's edge

The Royals are counting on Jeremy Guthrie to continue his career trend of beating his peripherals. What is driving that trend, and is it likely to continue?

Jeremy Guthrie enjoys high fives.
Jeremy Guthrie enjoys high fives.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Guthrie is the very definition of an innings eater. He has four 200+ inning seasons under his belt during his seven full years, but his career 4.24 ERA is nothing special. However, Guthrie appears to have another talent not becoming of innings eaters: beating his peripherals. He has a 4.75 career FIP and 4.62 career xFIP. These peripherals are always hinting that Guthrie is about to fall off a cliff. Going beyond BABIP, how has Guthrie consistently been able to stay on the cliff?

Let's start by looking at what kind of pitcher he is. First, he is a low-strikeout, low-walk kind of guy. For the past two years, he's been over one standard deviation below the middle K%, and he's been between 0 and 1 standard deviations below the middle BB%. So, he allows a heck of a lot of contact. If his non-contact outcomes are not great, then it follows that the only reason Guthrie's been successful up to this point is through contact management. Below, there is a table that shows Guthrie's batted ball distribution relative to league average*.

*These numbers are taken from Baseball Savant and may not agree with other numbers out there. I am attempting to recreate Tony Blengino's method of analysis, but I don't have access to the same data as he does. The relative amounts are what matter.

Year GB% FB% LD% PU% Relative GB Relative FB Relative LD Relative PU
2008 44.7% 30.0% 18.2% 7.2% 95 104 93 150
2009 37.2% 35.7% 17.0% 10.1% 80 121 87 230
2010 42.9% 32.6% 15.6% 8.9% 94 117 83 119
2011 41.1% 33.2% 18.7% 6.9% 89 119 103 91
2012 42.2% 27.0% 22.1% 8.7% 90 100 118 121
2013 44.6% 25.9% 22.6% 7.0% 96 109 99 100

Guthrie's driving factor for success is shown in the line drive relative values. Line drives are a poor outcome for any pitcher, and Guthrie showed what appeared to be a skill in limiting the number of line drives he gave up. However, this skill might be eroding, or perhaps he is simply experiencing regression to the mean since he is closer to average now. Guthrie used to generate a fair number of popups, which are good for any pitcher since they are almost equivalent to strikeouts.

Next, there are three tables showing his production* on fly balls, line drives, and ground balls.

*Again, these numbers are from Baseball Savant and may not agree with other numbers out there. Like before, the relative amounts are what matter. I calculated the relative production with this formula: (BA/LgBA)*(SLG/LgSLG)*100.

Year FB BA FB SLG Lg FB BA Lg FB SLG FB Relative Production
2008 0.246 0.650 0.265 0.698 86
2009 0.290 0.815 0.266 0.718 124
2010 0.223 0.634 0.259 0.691 79
2011 0.256 0.692 0.260 0.693 98
2012 0.250 0.799 0.264 0.736 103
2013 0.250 0.739 0.219 0.637 132

Year LD BA LD SLG Lg LD BA Lg LD SLG LD Relative Production
2008 0.712 0.991 0.730 1.020 95
2009 0.763 1.051 0.734 1.012 108
2010 0.729 1.093 0.726 0.987 111
2011 0.703 0.977 0.724 0.983 97
2012 0.739 1.134 0.718 0.990 118
2013 0.646 0.878 0.675 0.987 85

Year GB BA GB SLG Lg GB BA Lg GB SLG GB Relative Production
2008 0.192 0.203 0.242 0.263 61
2009 0.242 0.254 0.242 0.263 97
2010 0.221 0.242 0.240 0.260 86
2011 0.239 0.265 0.243 0.263 99
2012 0.235 0.259 0.244 0.265 94
2013 0.250 0.266 0.245 0.264 103

It appears that another driving factor of success for Guthrie was limiting the damage done on fly balls, as he hovered around average production on line drives. Given his previous home in Baltimore, it was quite a feat to achieve below average production on fly balls. Unfortunately, this skill appears to be eroding as well; his production allowed on fly balls is trending upward relative to league average. The only saving graces in 2013 were the Kansas City outfield defense and Kauffman Stadium, which probably helped him achieve below average production on line drives and helped keep the fly ball production from being worse.

Looking ahead, what is Guthrie likely to do? Unfortunately, Guthrie is inching closer to the edge of the cliff. Guthrie's only strength left is that he limits walks; his popup rate isn't very high anymore relative to league average. His previous strengths, limiting line drives and preventing damage on fly balls, appear to be weaknesses now. The Kansas City outfield defense and Kauffman stadium are preventing those weaknesses from manifesting themselves half the time, shown in his drastic home/road splits (.312/.370 wOBA).

In 2013, Guthrie was also the beneficiary of some other kind of luck. He limited the damage done by opposing hitters with men on base and in scoring position (.355 wOBA bases empty/.325 wOBA men on base/.259 wOBA scoring position). This is not a career trend and will probably regress in 2014.

Kansas City needs everything to break right to make the playoffs. Guthrie's situation mirrors his team's; he needs everything to break right just to be somewhere around league average in run prevention. Something is bound to go wrong. The cliff is looming.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.

Kevin Ruprecht is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royal Stats for Everyone. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.