Few informed baseball fans will question the absolute value that Jose Quintana brings to the table, a precise throwing lefty with a good track record of success in Chicago. Quintana has made a name for himself despite not being overly lauded by bigger news outlets, striking out around 20% of opposing hitters, keeping walk rates low, and consistently keeping his ERA around 3.30 with peripheral and advanced stats to back it up.
When the Cubs sent a package of prospects to ship Quintana up to the Northern Chicago squad, of course it made headlines, but generally in a good way. There is good value in the prospects sent, and Quintana is one of the better pitchers in the game. And while we know that Jose Quintana has tremendous value, his 2017 season has been a little rough so far.
His 4.20 ERA is a career worst, and his career average 6% walk rate has climbed up to 8.5%, a more average mark. It has left some speculation on if he’s actually worth what was spent, and if his best years are already behind him, as he creeps closer to 30 and has four consecutive high mileage years with over 200 innings pitched.
His rough start does absolutely not spring panic, however, as when we look a little deeper at the numbers we see Quintana has been just as good as ever, and even improved in areas as well. ERA is a notoriously touchy stat, for a few reasons.
- It’s very volatile, with one bad start affecting the overall number heavily (the difference between a 3.38 ERA and 3.60 ERA is just five runs over 200 innings, yet both marks are talked about with much different regards)
- Defense playing a huge role (bad defenders get to less balls, allowing more earned runs, despite the pitcher allowing poor contact)
- Different parks affecting hitters (Coors Field always plays up for hitters, but does not reflect in earned runs averages).
Taking a look at the two easy knocks on ERA and concern is quelled quickly. He had one rough stretch at the end of May where he allowed 15 earned runs over just seven total innings, and if we take those two appearances away completely his ERA shrinks to 3.20, more in line with what we have come to expect. Also, the White Sox have the fifth worst defense and the sixth most hitter friendly park. Normalized and ignoring a tough stretch, Quintana has been as good as always, there are just factors out of his control (well, not the bad starts) making him look worse than he actually has been.
While this inspires confidence Quintana is still who we thought, he has also improved his strikeouts as well. His rate this year is up to 25.9%, taking him from average to a much higher tier. He actually hasn’t changed his repertoire much; the biggest thing being a 5% decrease in sinkers used as changeups instead, and his zone rate is the same as well. But his chase contact percentage has dropped significantly, and it’s in part due to what looks like a new curveball. While in years past the pitch would get about three inches of horizontal movement, this season it’s been around five inches.
This has been reflected well in his pitch weighted values, last year hitters had figured the pitch out and it was worth -7.3 runs to him, but this year it has risen up to 3.4 runs already. The new pitch has given him confidence in different counts. While he threw the pitch just 13% of the time when down in the count last season, he is now using it 23% of the time in the same situation. And it’s the same story with two strikes, going from 30% to 35% this year. The new pitch is getting him whiffs in and out of the zone, and he has been able to incorporate it enough to see its value.
Overall, the Cubs have just acquired an ace pitcher even if his surface numbers haven’t looked like it so far. He has faced not only bad luck, but bad situations and sample issues, leaving his ERA looking rough while he’s still pitching at a high level. But he is not just the same pitcher; he’s actually better thanks to his curveball that he has adjusted to allow for more strikeouts. Not only used as an out pitch, it’s one he can mix in well no matter the situation, which is what has made it so effective.
Maybe it seems obvious for someone with his talent level, but Quintana is a legit pitcher, and should be treated as such. He’s as good as it gets and is only getting better. If you are looking for a strong second-half target to solidify your rotation for the stretch run, this is a great place to start.
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