Last season, the Cubs made a number of high-profile additions before the July 31 Trade Deadline, most notably adding starting pitcher Jose Quintana.
Before coming to the Cubs, Quintana pitched in five-and-a-half seasons with the Chicago White Sox, after coming up in the Yankees’ system since 2008. Among other things, Quintana’s always been an American League cat.
Prevailing wisdom suggests that pitching in the National League should be easier than the American League – after all, you get to subtract a designated hitter and add a pitcher – but it’s not guaranteed, and it’s not always immediate.
Quintana, for example, dominated in his Cubs debut against the AL Orioles (7.0 IP, 3H, 0BB, 12Ks), but had a rough month of August. In six starts (33 IP), Quintana earned a 5.73 ERA (4.82 FIP). He was still striking plenty of batters out (25.3 K%), but watched his career 6.5% walk rate balloon to 8.3%. Obviously, Quintana finished the season strong (2.51 ERA, 1.98 FIP in five September starts), but there was definitely a period of adjustment.
“That was one of the things that affected him,” Cubs catcher Willson Contreras told the Tribune about Quintana’s unfamiliarity with the Cubs scouting reports and other ways of doing things. “When he got here, I asked him what he used to do with the White Sox. There’s no scouting report like this one. That’s why it took me a while to get used to him.”
Moving from the South Side to the North Side might not’ve been much of a change, but going from the American League to the National League, and to a team that is notorious for building complex, advanced scouting reports is certainly a big change. And, of course, it’s not as though Contreras is a multi-team veteran – he, too, is only familiar with the way things are done in the NL and with the Cubs.
In any case, as the season went on, Contreras told Mark Gonzales at the Chicago Tribune, the duo grew more comfortable with each other and Quintana began to better grasp the terminology in the Cubs’ scouting reports, which Contreras believes will show up as a big plus this year.
There’s no doubt that trying to learn an entirely new system is a difficult enough task, but when you try to do it on the fly, in the middle of a tight divisional race, with a young, somewhat inexperienced catcher, it can be downright daunting. Fortunately, the two sides were able to make it work by September of last season, and now they have a whole offseason and Spring Training to get things just right.
This also reminds me of Justin Wilson and the trouble he had adjusting to the Cubs, despite an excellent first-half/career with the Tigers, Yankees, and Pirates. Obviously, things never came together for him the way they did for Quintana in September, but maybe with some extra time this winter/Spring, he’ll be right back on the horse as soon as the regular season begins. And at that point, who knows? Maybe the Cubs will look to keep him beyond this season (when he becomes a free agent).
You can’t always know what’s keeping guys like Quintana or Wilson from dominating immediately upon a trade, even when speculation can too easily run wild. But for at least one of these guys, it sounds like his struggles last August were directly related to something that can only get better with time: familiarity.