Today is the biggest day of Jeremy Guthrie's baseball life: Game Seven of the 2014 World Series.
If adversity prepares and strengthens you for difficult experiences, the Kansas City Royals starter has a lot of strength to fall back on: his career has seen its share of ups-and-downs. Once a top prospect, Guthrie has twice led the American League in losses, losing 17 games for the Baltimore Orioles in both 2009 and 2011. He's 17 games under .500 with a regular season career record of 83-100, but he's built himself a niche as a workhorse inning-eater. Most importantly, he's performed well in his two post-season starts this year, allowing just three runs in 10 innings of work.
Guthrie began his baseball journey with Brigham Young University in 1998, posting a 6.54 ERA in 65 innings during a difficult freshman season. "I was burned out," he says, "I had pitched poorly as a freshman, and quite frankly it was not fun."
As Guthrie tells Sports Illustrated's Albert Chen, he then went on a two-year Mormon mission. This seemed to recharge his baseball batteries, and when he returned to the field with Stanford University in 2001 he was much more successful, going 26-6 in 40 starts in 2001 and 2002, with a 2.66 ERA with a 264/77 K/BB over 291 innings. He threw seven excellent innings in the 2001 College World Series.
His Stanford dominance earned him a first-round spot in the 2002 draft, selected by the Cleveland Indians with the 22nd overall choice. He was fast-tracked due to his college success but found the going difficult in Triple-A, posting a 6.52 ERA and allowing 129 hits in 97 innings for Buffalo in 2003. The stuff seemed good, but the results didn't match the talent and Guthrie never found his footing with Cleveland, the Indians eventually giving up on their first round investment and letting him go to the Baltimore Orioles on waivers in 2007.
The change of scenery bolstered Guthrie and he was a successful rookie for the Orioles in '07, posting a 3.70 ERA with a 123/47 K/BB in 175 innings. He was similarly effective in 2008, but in '09 he led the league in losses. Since then he's never really returned to his '07 and '08 peak, but has become a stable inning-eater, not spectacular but good for about 200 innings a year with an ERA a few points either side of league average.
As you'd expect, his WAR values aren't great, a little over 3.00 total in his two and a half seasons with the Royals and 14.4 over his eight-year career. His top career comparable Sim Scores through age 35 are Frank Castillo, Jim Deshaies, Tim Leary, Rich Mahler, Chris Capuano, Terry Mulholland, Joe Bowman, Andy Ashby, Larry McWilliams, and Sheriff Blake. Those aren't the guys you generally think of when considering a Game Seven starter. He was the weakest of KC's five regular starters this year.
Yet it all rides on him tonight. He's up against Tim Hudson, a veteran with a much more impressive track record and 74 innings of post-season experience under his belt. There's also the spectre of Madison Bumgarner lurking in the Giants bullpen should Hudson get into trouble.
But this is baseball; weird stuff happens, and sometimes the Don Larsens and the Les Strakers step up when they're most needed. And this isn't scientific, and I live 30 miles from Kansas City so I'm not objective, but tonight Jeremy Guthrie will pitch the game of his life, six shutout innings with five strikeouts, no walks, three hits, before turning it over to the bullpen, Brandon Finnegan, Wade Davis and Greg Holland, the Royals win 3-1, we don't see Madison Bumgarner until 2015, and my friends Susie Hudson Robinson and Tanya McNeely have sleepless nights of joy.