Jose Quintana has probably lost his chance to win over Chicago Cubs faithful now, given that the return for him has washed up on the shores of Comiskey Bay. It’s hard not to cast longing eyes at Eloy Jimenez’s bat, even if I’m skeptical that Dylan Cease will ever have enough control to be as effective as the stuff promises. And even if Q had one more season to create a legacy, you can certainly see a scenario where that season will be shipped somewhere else. Let’s take a look at Q, and where it went wrong for him this season.
31 starts 171 innings
4.68 ERA 3.80 FIP
8.00 K/9 2.42 BB/9 1.39 WHIP
44.5 GB% 38.1% Hard-Contact rate . 12.1% HR/FB
107 ERA- 3.5 WAR
Tell Me A Story: I hadn’t really looked at Q’s season closely until now, and what’s kind of weird is that even with the last third of it being so bad, it was still a way better season in terms of WAR or FIP than 2018. Which I’m having a hard time reconciling. It might have to do with luck, as Q was laced with a .326 BABIP this year whereas he had .282 one the previous season, both of which nestle comfortably 20 points either side of his career norms. So while his ERA was markedly better in ’18, what the underlying numbers are telling us is that it probably shouldn’t have been. Q cutting his walks and homers significantly this year also speak to that.
Q came into the season saying he wanted to use his change-up more, and for the most part he did. He had never used it more than 6% of the time in previous seasons, but was up near 12% this time around. He got gun-shy with it at times early in the year, but overcame that. The problem was it became less effective as the season went along, and was pulverized by hitters in September where everything went wrong. The whiffs-per-swing rate on it in the season’s final month was a paltry 16%, and hitters ran up a .462 average against it. The problem was that it lost its sink as the season went along…
That’s one reason Q’s September looked so horrible, with an ERA nearing 6.00. Another was that in the last month, when the Cubs really needed him, Q had a BABIP of .447. And that’s with his contact numbers remaining the same. I can recall off the top of my head two starts, against the Nats and the Padres, where he couldn’t get his defense to make an out if they had that Bugs Bunny glove.
But still, Q gave up way more hard contact this year than we’d seen in the past. Then again, that was the story for most pitchers this year. There was a change in approach from Q, who went to a sinker more this season than ever before and also tried elevating his fastball more when he did throw it. Q used to try and Lester it by burying his four-seam on the hands of righties, but maybe he didn’t feel he has quite the hop on hit anymore to get in there. The zone-look on his career and this year’s fastball due bear that out.
Which makes you wonder where he goes from here, as it’s unlikely that his fastball is going to pick up a tick in his 30s. He’s a pretty smart pitcher, so you’d have faith he’ll come up with something. As September showed, hitters could just start leaning out and taking balls on the outside corner wherever they wanted, which is noted by the 43% pull-rate hitters had in that month even though Q was concentrating most of his stuff on the outside corner.
Contract: $11.5M team option for 2020, $1M buyout, then free agency in 2021
Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Even if the Cubs would rather move on from Quintana or upgrade in the three or four spot, to be more kind, picking up his option is a no-brainer. Even half-dead fifth starters make more than $11.5M, so Q remains an absolute bargain. He would have some trade value simply due to that, and then add whatever bounce-back an interested team would anticipate on top of that.
There are obviously big warning signs. The decreasing velocity and the inability to get inside on righties. His durability isn’t what it was, as he hasn’t come near 200 innings in the past two seasons. That was one of the draws. The WHIP and contact numbers are headed in the wrong direction.
Still, the Cubs need an upgrade in the rotation even with Q in it. Moving him along means they would have to fill two spots, and Q as a #4 or #5, which is what he was really supposed to be this yea before Hamels got hurt and basically was, it a good spot to be in. If the Cubs can find one other starter to slot ahead of him and Lester and up among Hendricks and Darvish, they’ll be just fine. If Q can find a way to get inside on righties or find a way around not being able to, he’s an excellent candidate for a return-year.
The urge to upgrade is reasonable. The path to doing so isn’t so easy, and considering what he costs and what the Cubs might have to spend, having him slot at the bottom of the rotation is nowhere near a death sentence.