There’s always a Cub, for however long a period of time during a season, is that portion’s goat or target of ire or villain. For the past few years, Jason Heyward has taken that belt for most of the time. John Lackey was on there for a bit. Addison Russell probably has permanent claim to it. Kyle Schwarber has been there. The pen as a whole, sometimes Maddon, this could go on for a while.
At the moment, it’s Jose Quintana. Some of that is his doing, as his last six starts haven’t been particularly pretty. And some of that isn’t, as it’s been accentuated by Eloy Jimenez’s game-winning homer (even though Eloy wouldn’t have a place to play here but whatever), or that the money saved on Q’s contract was used to buy Yu Darvish, who is only just now seemingly getting going, or that Darvish’s injury problems led to the option being picked up on Cole Hamels, which stripped cash from everything else. None of that has anything to do with Quintana, but he’s also not going to duck all of the annoyance people have about some or all of that. It isn’t fair, but no one deals in fair in sports. Especially when you have bullhorns like David Kaplan fanning the flames for their own enjoyment.
So what’s the deal, here? What’s been going on with Quintana in his last six starts?
I don’t know if it is important, but I think it’s important, to point out that in the eight starts before this stretch, Q carried a 2.34 ERA, with just a tick below 3-to-1 K/BB ratio. He was the Cubs best starter for a few trips through the rotation there. While he might not be that guy, he’s also not this guy. Perhaps the truth is right in the middle, though I tend to believe it’s closer to those eight good starts than these six bad ones.
So we’ll split the season right at May 25th, between those two stretches. I’ve remarked in series wraps that he’s gone away from his change of late, and that is true. He was throwing it 11 or 12% of the time in April and May, and that’s down to nine in June. By strict counts, he would throw it between 12-15 times per game in the first half of this season completed, and he’s only done that once in the past six starts (at the Dodgers, and I don’t know if we should count anything that happens against that collection of mutants).
When Q doesn’t throw his change much, he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher, which makes him pretty predictable. But the problem here is…that change-up hasn’t been very good of late. To wit…
In the season’s first 10 appearances, Q got 27% whiffs on the swings taken on the change. Since, that’s down to 9%. The fouls are up 12% too. Of the change-ups put in play, those first 10 appearances saw them only become line drives at a quarter of the time. In the past six starts, that’s doubled to 50%. Batters were hitting .294 off it then, which isn’t great. It’s .500 in this stretch, which REEL BAD. So did something happen to it?
According to BrooksBaseball.net, it has lost some of its horizontal movement, or what you might think of as “fade,” as on a change from a lefty it will fade away from righties or to the arm-side of Quintana. Here:
So in the early point of the season, he was getting five or six inches of fade, and is this last bit that’s down to four and a half or so. That’s certainly enough to keep the pitch on bats and on barrels of bats. It’s the same story with vertical movement, as the change is getting less drop than it was in his first 10 starts, and if your change isn’t sinking, that’s going to be a problem. And it has been.
You might think this has something to do with release point, but Q’s release point on it has bounced between 5.9 feet and 6.5 feet all season, so it’s hard to pinpoint on that. Same with his horizontal release point. So it could just be a feel thing. As far as how it all pans out, here’s the difference in locations between the two segments of the season with his change:
It’s not a huge difference, but it is a difference. From being consistently below the zone where you get weak contact and whiffs and fool people, it’s staying in the zone where it can still be reached and reached well.
This probably isn’t everything. Q has seen a slight dip in his velocity. Before the split on this, his fastball never averaged below 91.5 MPH. In the six starts after the split, it’s only been above that once. It’s not fallen off a table or anything, but the loss of dip and fade on his change could also coincide with a little less “finish” on his pitches. But that’s just a guess.
Hopefully it’s something in his mechanics and not something physical, and he can correct that to get his fastball back just a touch and a little more finish on the change. It doesn’t feel like it’s all that far away, but a few more starts like the last and it just might.