Despite the presence of Jon Lester and Yu Darvish on the roster – and all the history and past successes attached to their names – I pegged Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks as the two Cubs starters most likely to make the biggest impact by the end of the the 2018 season.
Each had been very good, but very underrated before this season (Quintana, because consistency isn’t very sexy, and Hendricks, for a lack of premium velocity), and both were still in the middle of their prime. In my mind, there was no way they were gonna let 2018 get the best of them.
But for a while, it did.
Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana have both failed to live up to the standards they’ve set for themselves this season, as a lack of command, too many fly balls, and plenty of hard contact have combined to cost them from time to time.
But two nights ago, the Professor called class back into session with a stellar 8.1 IP performance in the opener against the Giants, and last night, Jose Quintana followed up with a scoreless 6.0 innings of his own.
Jose Quintana recorded only six whiffs and three strikeouts last night, but don’t let that muddy the waters, because he had the good stuff working. His velocity was up across the board after taking a dip his last time out, he got a ton of ground balls (50%), walked just two batters, and was a contact-managing king:
Soft Contact: 25.0%
Hard Contact: 31.3%
Compared to the league average of 18.1% and 35.5% respectively, Quintana’s numbers last night were fantastic. Clearly, he was keeping hitters off balance, because they were not squaring him up. Heck, his 78.3% zone-contact rate last night is well below both his season average (87.9%) and the MLB average (85.5%), so even when he was in the zone they weren’t just not squaring him up, they couldn’t touch him at all. So what was working for him?
According to Joe Maddon, Quintana’s fastball had great carry, but it was his breaking stuff that made the difference (Cubs.com): “The curveball, much sharper. The difference for me was the curveball strike, the curveball command, the curveball chase. That was a part of his repertoire tonight, whereas that has not been part of it.”
For the season, Jose Quintana has thrown his curveball for a strike just 24.8% of the time. Last night, however, it fell in for a strike 36.4% of the time – that’s a pretty big difference and could be the reason hitters were kept off balance (when the hook is working, it’s easier to breeze fastballs past hitters).
But it would be unfair to Quintana to pretend like last night was his first good start in a while, like we did with Hendricks. Because in reality, he’s actually been on a bit of a roll lately:
3.00 ERA over last 14 starts #Cubs
— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) July 11, 2018
Quintana may have only finally got his ERA under 4.00 last night, but he’s been rocking a 3.00 ERA since APRIL 28! Yes, his 4.49 FIP during that stretch doesn’t look nearly as promising, but the results are there. So, sure, Quintana still has some work to do in the second half to make this season anywhere near as impressive as his last five, but if last night was any indication, he’s on his way. And if he and Hendricks can really, truly turn things around, the entire Cubs team will be instantly elevated.
Plus, with Yu Darvish not likely back before August, Jon Lester’s flirtatious relationship with potential regression, Mike Montgomery’s tenuously successful transition, and Tyler Chatwood’s continued problems with everything, this couldn’t come at a better time. So here’s to hoping.