After a dazzling performance against Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, White Sox fans had high hopes for their beloved ace, Jose Quintana, and his quest to up his trade value in the 2017 season. However, three starts into the season, Quintana is sporting an 0-3 record, a 6.75 ERA, and an ugly 1.615 WHIP.
Though obviously very early into the season, some Sox fans are stressing over Quintana, and predicting a great decline in his trade value. Others are vehemently denying that anything could be wrong with Quintana. Everything considered, I believe that Quintana’s struggles deserve a little concern, but outright panicking is completely unwarranted.
WHY NOT TO PANIC
Later I’ll delve into the concern portion of my thesis, but I begin with this point because it’s the most important. So, let me make myself clear: DO NOT PANIC ABOUT JOSE QUINTANA. Time and time again, Quintana has toed the rubber, knowing full-well his offense probably won’t support him much, and delivered great start after great start. He has essentially put the team on his back every five games, and often they’ve dragged him and his record down, but he still persists.
Through just over five seasons with the White Sox, Quintana has posted a solid 3.47 ERA, and amassed a WAR number of 20.3. Since 2013, he’s been the seventh best pitcher in the league according to Fangraphs WAR. Finally, he complements his talent with durability, as only two other pitchers (Madison Bumgarner, Max Scherzer) have finished with 200+ IP and a sub-3.55 ERA over the last four seasons.
Many of you have seen statistics like this already, but it’s imperative to understand my argument: Jose Quintana is a consistently excellent pitcher, and there’s no reason to panic about three measly starts. So, to start believing that he has entered a career-altering regression has no basis if you consider the situation.
The fact is that Quintana has only experienced one similarly bad stretch in his career since 2012, his rookie season. For four years since that campaign, Quintana’s only once had a three-game span in which he allowed more than five runs in two of the three games. So, there’s two ways to look at this slump. The first hypothesis: He almost never gets these stretches, so something must have happened recently that changed him permanently. The second hypothesis: He almost never gets these stretches, so it’s simply an outlier, and he’ll return to form soon.
Believers in the former hypothesis: What happened? You are the ones who have to prove that something long-lasting and negative changed within Quintana recently. Were there any prior indicators? Quite the opposite. In his World Baseball Classic and spring training outings, Quintana pitched 14.2 innings, yielding only 2 runs. That comes out to an ERA of 1.27. There were no issues with Quintana in the preseason, so hypothesis 1 fails there. Additionally, Quintana is only 28 years old, so regression could not be a result of aging.
So…what then? The only explanation is that out of nowhere, Quintana just lost his form. For no specific reason. In the span of a week. You can see why I don’t agree with this viewpoint. Yes, there is an incredibly slim likelihood that that’s actually what happened. It happened to Dallas Keuchel last year, but that can be partially attributed to a decrease in velocity and command. However, Quintana’s velocity is just fine, and the command has been solid except for a few poor innings.
That brings me to my next point, which is regarding the minutia of Q’s starts this season. The vast majority of his high ERA comes from two bad innings in his first and third starts, where he gave up five runs in both. Aside from those blemishes, his innings breakdown looks sparkling, with 13 of them resulting in no runs, and only three allowing 1 run. In the two ugly starts, Quintana got rattled early but settled down. He let a few hits get to him, and the damage increased before he got out of those frames.
To me, this is a positive sign. Rather than Quintana wearing down and hitters figuring him out, the veteran lefty got shelled early, but made the correct adjustments. He recovered mentally, and basically shut the teams down for the next four or five innings. So, Quintana is the one adjusting properly, instead of the first, more worrying scenario, in which teams adjust to Quintana and eventually solve him.
All in all, the randomness of the stretch and the makeup of the innings point to these letdowns being a bump in the road. Soon enough, Quintana should be back on smooth ground, chugging along and dishing out quality starts. It might take some time, because his confidence isn’t at its peak right now, but eventually, it will get there.
WHY TO BE A BIT CONCERNED
(Disclaimer: The Loop Sports apologizes in advance to anyone with lactose intolerance for the upcoming metaphor)
Jose Quintana is a hot fudge sundae from your favorite ice cream shop. Most of the time, he’s wonderful, and for years you’ve enjoyed him. The ice cream is good, but the decadent, rich fudge is what you come for. Quintana’s excellence is the hot fudge, which sinks a bit towards the bottom of the cup like any hot fudge sundae. You might get a few substandard spoonfuls in there without much hot fudge, but once you reach the fudge, it’s amazing. Recently, several hungry suitors have inquired about paying for your hot fudge. However, they’ve noticed that you’re sundae has been lacking a good amount of fudge the past few times you’ve had it.
This brings up two concerns for your potential customers:
Although they know that most likely, they’re going to get to a heap of fudge, how many spoonfuls will it take to get there? Will it be a while before they reach the heart of the sundae, the fudge? In other words, they’re worried about how long it might take for Quintana to break out of his slump. They know there’s a high probability he’ll return to form, but when exactly will that take place?
Justin Verlander is a great example here. For every year since 2008, JV has shined, putting up a sub-3.50 ERA, except for one campaign. He’s finished in the top-2 of Cy Young voting three times, winning it once and getting snubbed last year. But don’t forget about that one campaign. In 2014, he worsened drastically, as he posted a 4.54 ERA over a full season, while his WHIP ballooned to an uncharacteristic 1.398 mark.
If the Tigers tried to trade him that deadline, no one would have surrendered much in return. Similarly, a contending team won’t pay for Q if they think he won’t settle down this season. Like I said earlier, it’s logical to assume he will at some point, but for Verlander, that process took a whole season. As a result, Rick Hahn and fans would be justified in worrying that Quintana doesn’t regain form quickly, because at the deadline, teams are looking for an improve-now addition. They want that hot fudge immediately and clearly present.
Secondly, your hot fudge sundaes have recently stopped coming with a lot of fudge. Your teams of interest know it’s unlikely that this is a meaningful indication, because for many years now, the fudge presence has been top-notch. But there is that worry that things have changed permanently. Just maybe, the sundaes have stopped coming with a good amount of fudge on them. Maybe that slim likelihood of doom I talked about earlier is coming to fruition.
A quality example of this lies in the career of Jake Peavy. After three excellent seasons from 2007-2009, he suddenly declined. From 2010-2013, the former Cy Young winner had three years with an ERA over 4.15, with only one good season. Occurrences like this are relatively rare, but it’s a possibility your trade partners have to consider. If Quintana followed this path, his team would be dealing with a longer-term issue, and not just a one-season problem like in concern #1.
Surely, this would be a big trade for both sides if a deal were to go down. With a swap of that much magnitude, teams have a strong desire to avoid a high-risk situation. If opposing general managers can’t get over the fear that Quintana will be incompetent forever, they won’t pull the trigger.
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED
Now is not the time to swap out your #TankForBeer bottles with panic buttons, White Sox fans. With no real basis to presume that Quintana is losing his elite form, it would simply be illogical.
On the contrary, concern is reasonable. Though intelligent rival GMs, Rick Hahn, and many of us are correct in forecasting Q will stabilize himself, there does exist the small possibility that he doesn’t. Those GMs are very cautious, and there are a decent amount of past examples of randomly declining pitchers to fuel their concern. And so, in the name of trade value, I accept that minor concern is correct in this situation.
The next few months are crucial to Quintana’s trade value. Probably, we’ll be joyfully watching Quintana go back to his normal, wonderful self. But just maybe, we’ll be watching a troubling decline, whether short-term or long-term. Either way, White Sox fans should be watching every time Q takes the hill. The prospects we’d get in return for him are too important to the rebuild to ignore.