Prospect Retro: Jeremy Guthrie
Jeremy Guthrie was drafted by the Indians in the first round in 2002, out of Stanford. He'd gone 13-2, 2.52 in 20 starts in college, with a 136/36 K/BB in 157 innings. He signed late but made his pro debut in the Arizona Fall League. Already 23, he was expected to make rapid progress due to his low-to-mid-90s fastball, curve, slider, and changeup, all of them potentially above average pitches. His command was very good in college. I gave him a Grade B in the 2003 book but expected him to exceed that once he got some pro experience under his belt.
Guthrie opened 2003 in Double-A and did well, going 6-2, 1.44 in 62.2 innings. However, his K/BB ratio was just 35/14...a very low strikeout rate. Promoted to Triple-A, he was blasted for Buffalo, going 4-9, 6.52 in 18 starts. I saw him pitch late in the season. . .it was very strange. He was hitting 93-94 MPH, and his breaking stuff had a lot of movement, but he wasn't fooling anyone. It was hard to understand how a pitcher with such good stuff could look so poor, especially since he threw strikes. Command wasn't the problem. I gave him a Grade C+ in the '04 book.
Guthrie began '04 in Triple-A and was so horrible (7.91 ERA in four starts with terrible peripherals) that he was sent back to Double-A. He did better there, going 8-8, 4.21 with a 94/42 K/BB in 130 innings. He also made a few appearances for the Indians, posting a 4.63 ERA in six games. There was still no clear indication of what his problem was. He was hitting 93-95 MPH regularly. His breaking stuff still looked good. There was no obvious sign that he was tipping his pitches, but he did tend to elevate things too high in the strike zone at times, and scouts were becoming concerned that his struggles were hurting his confidence. I gave him a Grade C in the '05 book.
Guthrie spent most of '05 in Triple-A. He went 12-10, 5.08 with a 100/49 K/BB in 136 innings, giving up 152 hits. By this point I was getting very skeptical. In one start I saw he was hitting just 90 MPH with his fastball and his breaking stuff looked flat. I rated him as a Grade C and left him out of the '06 book entirely.
I put him back in the 2007 book after he went 9-5, 3.14 with an 88/48 K/BB in 123 innings for Buffalo. But I rated him as a Grade C. His stuff was back up into the low-to-mid-90s and his breaking stuff had more bite again. But he was now 27 years old, and kept getting hit hard in the majors, with a 6.98 mark in 19 innings last year. I wrote that a change of scenery and a switch to relief would be the only things that would save his career.
Guthrie got the change of scenery and so far he's been quite a revelation for the Orioles: 2.42 ERA in 81.2 innings with a 56/14 K/BB. He's been a bit hit-lucky I think, giving up just 59 hits, but he's pitching genuinely well and is now living up to the expectations generated back in his Stanford days. He's pitching the best ball of his career right now. What's the explanation? He's always had the stuff. I think it was a matter of confidence and location, and clearing his mental and emotional palate after his struggles in Cleveland. If he continues to throw quality strikes, I think it's sustainable.