Despite a relative lack of love from his North Side Chicago fan base (emphasis on “relative,” and also I very much expect this to change after 2018), Jose Quintana is arguably the Cubs’ top starting pitcher heading into next season.
He has as much (if not more) upside as anyone else in the rotation, plenty of youth on his side, and a long tack record of proven, high-quality success in the Major Leagues. But maybe even those of us who believe he’s one of baseball’s best are taking his production for granted.
At MLB.com, Andrew Simon undertook a project to discover the *single most* consistent pitcher in the Major Leagues over the past five seasons (2013-2017), and you’ll be happy to know Jose Quintana came out on top. Seriously. By at least this one measure, Jose Quintana has been the most consistent pitcher in all of baseball for the last half-decade. Let’s first see how Simon got there and then discuss the implications.
Starting with all qualified pitchers, Simon eliminated anybody who failed to reach at least 120 innings in each of the past five seasons. After all, being consistent necessarily requires you to be on the field an awful lot. At the same time, 120 innings/season allows for the occasional DL stint or missed time, so no one is unfairly dinged for one rough season. After this filter was applied, just 27 pitchers remained.
After accounting for quantity, Simon focused his attention on quality. To do so, he included only pitchers (from the remaining group) who were 20% better than league average year in and year out (either 80 ERA+ or 120 FIP- or better). This narrowed the field down to just 16 pitchers (including, just for reference, Chris Archer, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and ten others).
Beyond quantity and quality, Simon tried to account for range of production. To do so, he averaged the difference between the pitchers’ best and worst ERA+(s) and FIP-(s) and kept the top 50% (which brought us down to just eight names). To keep the rest of the project brief (and because reading along and watching the list actively dwindle is part of the fun here) Simon then accounted for strikeout ability and OPS+ allowed, and, boom: Jose Quintana is the last man standing, beating out a final four which also included Gio Gonzalez, Julio Teheran, and Max Scherzer.
To be sure, this definitely does *not* claim (or even mean to claim) that Quintana is the best pitcher in baseball – there are probably a handful of guys, including Scherzer, you’d probably take over him. HOWEVER, it is a relatively fair and comprehensive way to not only demonstrate that his production can stand among the league’s best, but to also point out that he offers much more than his final stat line shows.
Staying healthy or productive are the two biggest challenges all pitchers face, and most guys struggle to demonstrate even one of those qualities for multiple seasons in a career. And, yet, Quintana has been the best at optimizing both for five straight years. That’s the sort of dependability that can make an actual difference to a front office or manager, when it comes time to plan out the rest of a game/season/offseason.
The Cubs paid a pretty hefty price to acquire Jose Quintana from the White Sox at the trade deadline last summer, but with each passing start and subsequent analysis, we’re reminded that what they bought is one of the most durable, dependable, high-quality starters out there. Those guys do not grow on trees.