Yesterday, Jose Quintana shut out the Milwaukee Brewers over nine innings, achieving the first complete game shutout by a Cubs lefty since Rich Hill did it back in 2006.
But despite how absolutely brilliant the overall performance was (and we’ll get to that fully in a minute), there’s something I want to talk about first: all those beautiful strikeouts.
Through 9.0 innings yesterday, Jose Quintana struck out a massive ten Brewers, while surpassing the 200 strikeout total for the first time in his career.
Here’s a look at all ten in ten seconds:
10 Things I Love About You. pic.twitter.com/xsEMkk9BYN
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 25, 2017
Over his last five games, now, Quintana has racked up 40(!) strikeouts against just 4 walks. That’s a 10.00 K/BB ratio in his past five starts in a league where starters are averaging just one fourth of that this season. Crazy, crazy numbers indeed.
Continuing, Quintana’s 26.2% strikeout rate this season has been far higher than his 20.9 K% career rate, and it’s been even higher with the Cubs (28.4 K%). Is it possible Quintana is evolving into a new pitcher, one who could even take the leap to that oft-fantasized next level? Maybe.
Thanks to Brooks Baseball, we can see that Q’s change-up and curveball have improved dramatically here in 2017, in terms of whiff rate:
When I zoomed in on just the 2017 season, however, I notice that the curveball has fallen off here in the second half (i.e. since coming to the Cubs), so that’s not likely the primary source of the giant strikeout rate spike. His change-up, on the other hand, has continued to improve in this regard, especially against fellow lefties.
Change-up Whiff Rate Versus Lefties:
2017: 23.1% (!)
While his change-up’s whiff rate against righties has also gone up this year by a significant margin (7.3% last season, 12% this year), it hasn’t shown the same dramatic growth as it has against lefties. Quintana still isn’t using that pitch a lot, but he has started to use it against both lefties and righties more than he did last year, and, clearly, to some success.
Indeed, for the first time in his career, Quintana’s change-up has a positive value (according to FanGraphs):
Again, this is just a pitch he’s thrown around 10% of the time for his career, but, hey, if one new pitch suddenly starts getting more whiffs than ever – when you already have a few other pitches that work well too – that could be a big difference, as we’ve seen. That’s especially true when you’re able to work it against same-side hitters.
To be fair, Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton suggested that the Brewers were on his change-up yesterday (it recorded just one whiff all afternoon), but did add that Quintana’s curveball was hurting them as a unit, and that Quintana was nailing all of his spots. Joe Maddon and Willson Contreras were equally effusive in their praise of the lefty.
“Q,’ to me, he’s a special kid,” Contreras said via Cubs.com. “He comes to the ballpark ready every single day, even if he’s not pitching. He prepares himself, he asks a lot. Today was one of the biggest days of his career. We had a plan and he executed every pitch we wanted to.”
Okay, let’s take a step back and discuss how good he’s been with the Cubs more broadly. Starting with this fairly unbelievable fact:
Most 6+ inning scoreless starts, #Cubs this season
3 Quintana (acquired 7/13)
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) September 24, 2017
Despite having about half the opportunities as everyone else, Jose Quintana has thrown more 6.0+ IP scoreless outings than any other starter on the Cubs. And despite some stray struggles early on, his Cubs numbers look fantastic: 3.50 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 46.3 GB%, 28.4 K%, 6.4 BB%.
Overall, batters are definitely making more hard contact than you’d like to see, but thanks to a low 29.6% fly ball rate (league average is 35.3%), hardly any walks, and all those strikeouts, Quintana has managed to find a ton of success in this juiced ball era.
Looking league-wide, I notice that his 1.8 fWAR and 3.38 FIP in the second half are both 13th best in all of baseball, while his 4.43 K/BB during that stretch is 10th best. These are just great numbers, and are even crazier when you consider that two of his 13 starts each featured six earned runs over 5.0 innings.
I’m not sure if Jose Quintana will ever take that final step into the upper-most tier of starting pitchers (I’m talking about the one with just 3-5 guys in it every year), but he’s pretty clearly been one of the best 15 pitchers in baseball here over the last half of the 2017 season (and, frankly, a lot longer than that). Hopefully, he can rein in some of this hard contact while maintaining his stellar K/BB ratio, and the Cubs ride his hot hand deep into the postseason.
Also: the Cubs have him for three more years. Smiley face.