This post is all about getting to know the newest Cubs’ starting pitcher, Jose Quintana.
That sounds weird to say out loud, doesn’t it? Not only were the Cubs finally able to pull off that elusive trade for a young (28) cost-controlled (owed roughly $32M through 2020) starting pitcher, but they did it with their cross-town rival Chicago White Sox … and he’s a lefty! Who saw that coming?
For the purposes of this post, we’ll tiptoe around any discussion about the merits/details of the trade itself, and instead focus on Jose Quintana, the pitcher. And to that end, let’s start with his cost-controlled contract.
Jose Quintana is under team-control through the 2020 season, which means the Cubs acquired his services for 3.5 years more years starting today. Here’s how his contract is broken out:
2017: ~$3 million (remaining)
2018: $8.35 million
2019: $10.5 million ($1M buyout)
2020: $10.5 million ($1M buyout)
That’s about as cheap as it gets (which is especially important given the MONSTER free agent classes after this and next season). But what about his performance? That’s what were really here for, right? Let’s dig in, starting with his performance up to and before this season.
Jose Quintana first debuted for the Sox as a 23-year old southpaw back in 2012 (after they snagged him from the Yankees for nothing). During that season, Quintana made 22 starts and 3 appearances out of the bullpen, earning a 3.76 ERA and a 4.23 FIP over 136.1 IP. It wasn’t until the following year, however, that he tackled his first full professional season in the Major Leagues. So for the purposes of getting to know him as he is today, let’s take a look at his numbers during that stretch (2013-2016).
Quintana eclipsed the 200 IP mark in each of the four seasons from 2013-2016. Those 814.2 IP ranked 12th most during that stretch, but he wasn’t just a prolific starter, he was also a very talented one. With a broad strike, that’s easy to confirm by Quintana’s 18.1 fWAR from 2013-2016, which ranks seventh overall in MLB. For reference, that’s just one spot behind Jon Lester and one spot ahead of Madison Bumgarner, which is very, very good company.
At a slightly more granular level, he kept a 3.35 ERA, 3.34 FIP, and 3.70 xFIP in those years. He only posted a 20.8% strikeout rate during that stretch, but he made up for it with pretty good command (6.0% walk rate). And, in any case, that strikeout rate has trended up in recent years, culminating in an above average 24.6% K-rate here in 2017. As for his batted ball data during that stretch, Quintana’s been just above average in terms of soft and hard contact allowed in each of those four seasons. Okay, history lesson over. Let’s get into his much more interesting 2017 campaign.
At first blush, Quintana’s 2017 numbers are not thrilling: 4.49 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 4.13 xFIP. His strikeout rate is way up during this stretch (24.6%), but his walk rate is up too (9.0%). But the good news is that in terms of K/BB ratio he’s almost exactly even with his mark over the last three seasons. As far as the “luck” statistics go, there’s actually some reason for optimism. Quintana’s 2017 BABIP (.301) is essentially right in line with his career numbers (.304), but he’s lowered his batting average against down to .244 (versus .255 for his career).
In addition, his strand rate this season is down to 70.6%, despite sitting at in the upper 70s in each of the last two seasons. In this way, you might expect some natural regression in his sequencing to lower his ERA closer to his FIP without any actual improvement at all. Unsurprisingly, Quintana’s home run to fly ball ratio has risen in each of the last three seasons (just like every one else in baseball), but fortunately, he’s never been a guy to give up too many homers (12.8% HR/FB ratio this year, compared to the 13.7% league average).
It’s a good thing that Quintana doesn’t have a very high HR/FB ratio though, because his fly ball rate over the last two seasons has gone up. And, thus, his 42.9% ground ball rate this season is lower than his career average of 44.1%. With that said, it’s still better than what he posted last season (40.4%) and he was an All-Star who received down the ballot (10th) Cy Young votes.
On the bright side, Quintana’s been getting a lot more weak contact over the past two years, as well. His 18.4% soft contact and 31.7% hard-contact rate this season are both just slightly below league average in 2017, but also both better than his career marks so far. In other words, he’s already had success with worse batted ball data, so these numbers are plenty encouraging.
But wait, there’s one last very promising bit.
Although Quintana’s overall numbers this season are underwhelming, he’s turned things around lately. Check out his stats from his first 11 starts of the season compared to his numbers in his most recent seven starts:
First 11 Starts (64.1 IP):
Pitchers Slash: 5.60 ERA, 4.39 FIP, 4.51 xFIP
Strikeout/Walks: 23.0 K%, 8.6 BB%
AVG Against: .262
Last 7 Starts (40.0 IP):
Pitchers Slash: 2.70 ERA, 3.40 FIP, 3.52 xFIP
Strikeout/Walks: 27.1 K%, 9.6 BB%
AVG Against: .213
In nearly every meaningful statistic, Quintana has improved in recent weeks. He’s lowered his ERA, FIP, and xFIP, raised his strikeout rate, allowed fewer hits and allowed even fewer home runs. His walk rate has risen, but control is arguably one thing we know he’s good at. All in all, it’s hard not to love his production since the beginning of June.
Jose Quintana may not be a true ace, but he is a very talented pitcher, who throws a lot of innings, doesn’t typically allow a lot of walks, and keeps balls in the park. He’s young, cost-controlled, and has had a ton of success over the past four seasons. He may have started off slow here in 2017, but has been his usual self over the past seven weeks. Barring any sort of injury or unexpected outcome, it’s hard to see how this move won’t pay off for the Cubs for the rest of this season.
And that’s without mentioning the three years after that.