More than a year removed from the trade that sent southpaw Jose Quintana across Chicago to the North Side, it’s safe to say the White Sox have received the better end of the stick. Both Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease were named to MLB Pipeline’s 2018 Prospect Team of the Year after the former hit .337 and the latter posted a 12-2 record and 2.40 ERA.
In the next year or two, the White Sox will see both of those prized prospects in the major leagues as the Cubs move into back-to-back years of $10.5 million team options with Quintana.
For the price of just six million dollars last season and another $8.8 in 2018, Quintana has pitched well. However, after shipping two top prospects to their cross-town rival last summer, the Cubs would have liked to see more from the once consistent, top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher they thought they would be getting from the White Sox.
Quintana Has Struggled in a Cubs Uniform
Most Cubs fans can remember Quintana’s first start with the Cubs. That took place on July 16, 2017 against the Baltimore Orioles, a game in which the southpaw tossed seven innings of three-hit baseball, striking out 12 and not walking a batter.
While that start gave the Cubs life to begin their second half push that ultimately allowed them to over-take the Milwaukee Brewers for the division title, Quintana struggled through much of August 2017. Across six starts spanning 33 innings, the left-hander posted a 5.73 ERA, giving up at least six runs in two of those outings.
Quintana ended the regular season with a 3.74 ERA in 14 starts for the Cubs, posting an ERA-plus of 119 and helping the Cubs get back to the NLCS for the third straight season. In that NLCS, the southpaw made two starts, outings that lasted just a combined seven innings as he allowed eight earned runs on eight hits for a 10.29 ERA.
That rocky series performance has seemingly followed Quintana into 2018, a bad sign for the Cubs who were hoping for more from the left-hander. Despite being one victory away from tying his career-high, Quintana currently owns a 4.14 ERA in 27 starts spanning 147.2 innings this season. Those numbers equate to 5.45 innings per start, on average, for Quintana in 2018, a number down from 6.31 frames per start from 2013 to 2016 when the southpaw averaged better than 200 innings per campaign.
Quintana’s lack of depth this season can be traced, at least in part, to his increased walk rate. Prior to this season, the 29-year-old had not posted a walk rate higher than 7.7 percent, a number that now sits at 10 percent. Additionally, Quintana’s strikeout rate has fallen back below his career average of just under 21 percent (20.4 percent), after he posted a sparkling 26.2 percent mark between the Cubs and White Sox one year ago.
Also trending in the wrong direction for Quintana is his hard hit rate. From 2012 to 2015, that number sat comfortably below 30 percent before spiking to 32.7, 32.6 and 33.3 percent in 2016, ’17 and ’18 respectively. That, of course, as led to less and less soft contact, a percentage that currently sits at 15.6, which would be lowest such mark — if it holds — for Quintana since his rookie campaign.
Even though his ERA sits more than half a run higher since the All-Star break, Quintana has actually been tougher on opposing hitters. In the first half of play, the southpaw allowed batters to slash .239/.326/.418 with a weighted on-base of .324. Since then, those numbers look like this: .242/.316/.396 with a wOBA of .307. The reasons for Quintana’s slightly better numbers have been a drop in walk rate (from 10.7 to 8.6 percent) and a dramatic reduction in hard hit rate (from 38.5 to 23.5 percent).
Those numbers bode well for Quintana and the Cubs as they gear up to play what is perhaps the biggest game of the season to-date.
Quintana Looks to Continue Success Against Milwaukee
It wasn’t too long ago that the Cubs owned a five-plus game lead on the Brewers in the National League Central. Well, after Monday night’s 3-2 loss, that lead is now just one game. With game two of a three-game series set for later on Tuesday night, the Cubs couldn’t have dreamed of a better match-up than Quintana taking the ball against Milwaukee.
On the surface, some would probably feel better with Cole Hamels or Jon Lester taking the ball with the chance to push Chicago’s lead back to two games in the division. However, Quintana owns some very solid numbers against the Brewers over a long track record of success against the club.
As mentioned prior, Quintana posted an ERA north of 5.50 in his first full month with the Cubs back in 2017. Following that August, the left-hander tossed up a 2.51 ERA across five September outings. One of those starts that got Quintana back on track came against Milwaukee, an outing in which the hurler fired nine innings of three-hit baseball, striking out 10 against just one walk.
That masterpiece was one of two sparkling performances the left-hander posted against the Brewers in 2017. All told, Quintana finished the season with a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings against the Brewers, striking out 16 of the 57 batters he faced (28 percent).
Quintana’s success against Milwaukee dates back even further than 2017 as he allowed just one earned run over 15 combined innings (two starts) between 2012 and 2015.
More recently, Quintana has shown his best stuff when facing the Brewers, pitching to a 2.64 ERA in five starts this season. Spanning 30.2 frames, the southpaw has struck out 26 of the 117 total Brewers he has faced this season, a solid 22.2 percent. With that shiny ERA, it’s no secret that Quintana has dominated Milwaukee’s hitters in 2018. When facing the Cubs’ hurler, Brewer batters are hitting .187 with a .621 OPS and .197 BABIP. In addition, Quintana has allowed an sOPS-plus of just 67, meaning he is 33 percent better than the league against the Brewers.
That is exactly what the Cubs need from Quintana on Tuesday, to be much better than league (and team) average. Like Jon Lester has done many times this season, Quintana will attempt to halt the Cubs three game losing streak, a streak that has put them in jeopardy of losing their division lead.
Standing at just one game, the Cubs can not afford to lose against the Brewers at Wrigley tonight. A loss would give the visiting team even more confidence than they already have and potentially put into motion a second place finish in the division for the Cubs. Jose Quintana will be on the bump this evening to make sure that doesn’t happen, and if history provides any insight, it won’t happen on the left-hander’s watch.
Follow Daniel Shepard on Twitter-Feature Photo Credit: Lifestyle Sports 101
Want to stay in the loop? Subscribe to exclusive The Loop Sports content via Patreon