Yesterday, Jose Quintana made his eighth start of the season and it certainly wasn’t his finest in a Cubs uniform: 4.2 IP, 9H, 6ER, 3BB, 6Ks, 3HRs.
Woof. There’s just about nothing to like there – even the six strikeouts amount to just a 21% K-rate – so, you know … what the heck happened?
Well, on a surface level, nothing really went right for Quintana:
- He lasted just 4.2 innings because it took him 99 pitches and 28 batters to record just 14 outs.
- It took him 99 pitches – in part – because he allowed three walks (10.7%) and nine freakin’ hits.
- He allowed nine hits because he induced soft contact on just 5.3% of the balls in play. In addition, he had a very high line drive rate of 27.8% and a very low ground ball rate of 33.3%.
Which brings me to the homers.
Sure, Quintana might’ve had a ridiculously high 42.9% HR/FB ratio yesterday, and sure, the wind was blowing out for his portion of the game, but when you allow a 38.9% fly ball rate and a 42.1% hard-hit rate, you’re sorta asking for balls to leave the park, aren’t you?
Altogether, there was some weird/flukey stuff (elevated infield hit rate, elevated BABIP, elevated HR/FB ratio, Jose Bautista’s sky high homer that almost never leaves the park), but like I said: when you’re giving up that much hard contact and missing the strike zone otherwise, bad things can happen.
NOW, before we go any further, I do want to point out that the Atlanta Braves are second only to the Cubs in positional WAR, and they are first in the NL in runs scored and wRC+. Thus, they are among the best offenses in baseball right now, and that can’t go un-said when dissecting a pitcher’s performance.
Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out that Quintana’s worst two starts – BY FAR – this season, were his two against the Braves. It’s entirely possible, then, that they are not only a great offense making things tough, but that they are on him in some particular way.
Versus Braves (Two Starts):
Innings: 7.0 IP
Results: 16.71 ERA, 11.57 FIP
Slash line: .410/.523/.848; 4 HRs
Walks and Strikeouts: 15.2 BB%, 15.2 K%
Versus Everyone Else (Six Starts):
Innings: 34.1 IP
Results: 2.88 ERA, 3.69 FIP
Slash line: .227/.305/.378; 3 HRs
Walks and Strikeouts: 9.9 BB%, 21.8 K%
That doesn’t necessarily mean the concerns aren’t still there, but that sure is a stark contrast. But it’s not like the Braves were cheating, so it’s still worth trying to figure out why they were able to blow him up yesterday. And for that, we need to go into the numbers behind the numbers.
One issue for Quintana yesterday is that he wasn’t fooling anyone. According to FanGraphs, Braves batters were swinging at pitches out of the zone at just an 18.2% clip and pitches in the zone at a 65.9% rate. The latter is about league average, but the former is over 11 percentage points beneath the league average. When hitters are sizing your pitches up that well, you’re going to have a hard time 1. missing bats and 2. inducing weak contact.
And, well … Quintana netted a meager six whiffs, plus this:
I know the Braves have a good offense right now, but all this red – very hard contact – is what concerns me about Quintana. We know his velo is slightly down, but this also due to his inability to locate the fastball at all. pic.twitter.com/R6RVXo9gr9
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) May 14, 2018
As I mentioned earlier, Quintana allowed a well-above-average 42.1% hard-hit rate, and filled out most of the rest of his game with medium contact (52.6%). That’s rough, and, once again, indicates the Braves’ hitters were sizing him up very well. And that’s especially true, when you consider that his velocity was normal for the year (though still down from last year). So the Braves were 1) not getting fooled and 2) not facing especially slow stuff.
I’m really-really-really not suggesting anything like cheating (or even pitch-tipping on the part of Quintana), but clearly the Braves have his number right now and abused him for it over the first 4.2 IP of that game.
And, listen, it’s not like he was getting squeezed. At Brooks, I count just one definitely-should-be a strike called a ball and three others that are on the border, while at least three should-be balls were called strikes. It wasn’t really the strike zone causing issues yesterday. Quintana simply wasn’t quite putting it where he wanted consistently, and the Braves were taking advantage by taking balls and crushing strikes.
For what it’s worth, Quintana is both frustrated and “ticked off,” but that’s to be expected. For now, I’m remaining hopeful that the Braves are just uniquely good against him (for whatever reason), and thankful that he’s healthy. Maybe he’ll just get right back on the horse and take that sub-3.00 ERA against non-Braves teams with him.