Despite taking the loss in Wednesday’s game versus the Blue Jays (the O's are 0-12 versus the Canadian Birds this year) - due mostly to a lack of offense, with an assist from the not great relief work - Jeremy Guthrie had another excellent pitching performance, for the third game in a row. Is he doing something differently and can he keep it up?
First, here's how his recent stretch compares to the start of the season:
I should point out that Guthrie had three straight games like this earlier in the year, but (1) that was against Cleveland (12th in the AL in wOBA), Texas (4th), and Oakland (10th) instead of Toronto twice (7th) and Minnesota (3rd), (2) he had a 10:4 strike-out to walk ratio instead of 15:2, and (3) his FIP (4.14) and xFIP (4.57) were both a fair bit higher. Anyway...
Guthrie's stuff clearly looks different in these last few starts, and though the Pitch/FX data isn't absolute I think it gives a pretty fair idea. He's throwing his fastball a little more often, and the velocity on it has really picked up - from 92.2 mph in his first 18 starts to almost 94 mph recently. And even though batters aren't missing the pitch anymore than they did before when they swing (a little less actually), they're having a much harder time putting it in play (they're fouling the ball off a good deal more often).
The slider, on the other hand, is generating a lot more whiffs (from 16.3% to 21.9%). It also appears to have more movement on it, in both directions (vertically and horizontally). Same thing with the curveball, which he's using much more often (he threw it 27 times in his last 3 starts and only 38 times total in the first 18, though I think at least a couple of the more recent ones are actually sliders that got put into the other breaking-ball bucket). In any case, Guthrie is throwing more pitches with a wrinkle in them, and those pitches are getting more whiffs.
The change hasn't been missing as many bats, but similarly to the fastball it isn't getting put in play as much either. Guthrie's also cut way down on how often he throws the pitch, from over 15% of the time to under 9%.
If Guthrie's stuff stays at this level, then he can certainly keep striking out over 6 batters per nine (which is still below average mind you). Walking fewer than 1 per nine won't though, and he's probably going to give up the longball a little more frequently (his HR/FB rates are 9.4% in his first 18 starts and 7.4% since - and even the first is probably lower than it should be). Still, if those rates go back up to 2.5 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9 respectively, but he keeps missing some bats (say, 6 K/9), then you've got the kind of FIP (4.55) that made him a valuable pitcher for the team in 2008. Given the return the Diamondbacks got for Dan Haren, I'm not sure if the O's can get the kind of deal it would take for Andy MacPhail to be willing to trade Guthrie at this point. This stretch isn't exactly hurting his value though.