Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What should the O's do with Guthrie?

That's the question Dan Connolly poses today over at the Toy Department, and one that deserves a fair bit of examination. First let's look at Guthrie's three seasons with the Orioles:

2007: 6.31 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 1.18 HR/9, 4.41 FIP
2008: 5.66 K/9, 2.74 BB/9, 1.13 HR/9, 4.53 FIP
2009: 5.23 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, 1.81 HR/9, 5.62 FIP

Since 2007, Guthrie is striking ouy one fewer batter per nine innings, and walking nearly a half batter more. That's not a good trend. Also interesting is the way Guthrie's pitch types have changed:

2007: 67.8% fastballs, 22.4% sliders, 4.5% curve balls, 5.3% change-ups
2008: 64.1% fastballs, 18.1% sliders, 6.3% curve balls, 11.4% change-ups
2009: 60.9% fastballs, 18.7% sliders, 4.8% curve balls, 15.6% change-ups

That's a pretty striking shift away from fastballs and toward change-ups, especially when you consider that, traditionally, the fastball has been Guthrie's most effective pitch. Unfortunately, Guthrie's fastball has actually been below average this year. What happened? Let's go to Pitch F/X.

First, I took a look at Guthrie's outing from June 16, 2008, when he allowed just one run over 8.0 innings to the Astros. He clearly had his good stuff that day, allowing just 3 hits, walking one and striking out 8.

Average Fastball Velocity: 92.92 mph
Top Fastball Velocity: 95.7 mph
Horizontal Movement: -4.75 inches
Veritical Movement: 10.13 inches

Next, I took a peek at his numbers from last night:

Average Fastball Velocity: 91.78 mph
Top Fastball Velocity: 93.7 mph
Horizontal Movement: -4.87 inches
Vertical Movement: 8.06 inches

Right off the bat, the drop in velocity and, especially, vertical movement is striking. Has this been a problem for Guthrie all year? Let's go to May 30, when Guthrie struck out 10 Detroit Tigers over 6.0 innings.

Average Fastball Velocity: 93.94 mph
Top Fastball Velocity: 96.1 mph
Horizontal Movement: -4.88 inches
Vertical Movement: 8.92 inches

The velocity is better, but the vertical movement still doesn't quite match his start from last year. Without going through all the data, it seems that this could explain why Guthrie is striking out fewer and allowing more home runs. Is this fixable? Is Guthrie hurt? Has that viral infection helped sap his velocity? Given that Guthrie will be arbitration eligible for the first time this coming season, he's very likely to cost so little that it's worth finding out the answers to those questions. At worst, it seems like he's capable of repeating his efforts of this season, and while that's not exactly what the Orioles were hoping for coming into 2009, his ability to at least pitch a significant number of innings makes bringing him back a very good risk for 2010.

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