Given the massive free agents deals of Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon, and Wade Davis over the past 1.5 offseasons, every baseball fan knows that teams are placing a high value on their bullpens nowadays.
The disproportionate effect they can have on a short playoff series is certainly a part of it (it’s related, even), but it may have more to do with the rotation than anything else. Increasingly, as more data is made available, teams are becoming acutely aware of the difficulties in turning over lineups. In other words, the more times a pitcher sees a batter in a single day, the more likely it is that damage will be done (the batter is more familiar with the pitcher, the pitcher may lose velocity/movement/etc.).
Of course, this is no secret – the declining annual inning totals prove that teams have had quicker hooks lately – but it does make certain pitchers, ones who have more success later in ball games, uniquely valuable. Not only do those pitchers provide more scoreless (or low-scoring) innings, but they also help maximize the use of one’s bullpen both for that and future games.
With all of this in mind, Mike Petriello (MLB.com) undertook a project to find the most steady starting arms late in ball games, and, hey, whaddaya know, the Cubs have two of them:
Matt Moore, Rangers
Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox
Jacob deGrom, Mets
Michael Fulmer, Tigers
Jose Quintana, Cubs
Joe Ross, Nationals
Jeff Samardzija, Giants
Ricky Nolasco, free agent
Kyle Hendricks, Cubs
Jameson Taillon, Pirates
In order to get this list, Petriello gathered the 125 starters who faced at least 50 batters the first, second, and third time through the order over the past two seasons, weighted their 2017 numbers more heavily, and calculated the average deviation for each pitcher’s performance. You can read much more about their process and results here at MLB.com.
Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana are two of the most steady pitchers late into ballgames in all of Major League Baseball – and this is *particularly* interesting for Hendricks, who’s “primary” problem upon reaching the Major Leagues was facing batters the third time through. Remember that?
In 2015 (his first full Major League season), for example, Hendricks allowed just a .651 OPS the first time through the order, a .585 OPS the second time through, and then an .894 OPS the third time facing the same batter in a single game.
In 2016 and 2017, however, those numbers look like this:
1st Time (2016, 2017): .569 OPS, .701 OPS
2nd Time (2016, 2017): .580 OPS, .636 OPS
3rd Time (2016, 2017): .622 OPS, .646 OPS
This is basically as crazy as Javy Baez suddenly taking too many walks or Jon Lester becoming a pick-off artist – okay, maybe it’s not that insane, but you get the point. I’d imagine the improvement in his four-seamer and curveball (to pair with the killer two-seamer and changeup) has been a huge factor in this development.
And then there’s Jose Quintana, who, after being labeled as the single most consistent starter in baseball over the past five seasons, doesn’t need much more written than what we said then:
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.
I suppose it’s a bit of poetry that Quintana is both the most consistent pitcher year-to-year … and also inning-to-inning, eh?
And in case you’re not smiling enough already, I’ll add that both Hendricks and Quintana are still just 28 years old and come with a combined seven years of team control. Oh, also, one’s a lefty and the other is a righty. What a freakin’ awesome one-two punch at the top of a rotation.