As Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease begin making their impact with the Chicago White Sox, the Chicago Cubs will be enjoying the services of Jose Quintana for at least one more season following the 2019 campaign.
A deadline deal in the summer of 2017 helped to gut the Cubs’ farm system, but landed the North Siders a cost-controlled, reliable starting pitcher. Prior to joining his new club, Quintana had earned a reputation for being a work-horse, racking up season-after-season with 200-plus innings.
From 2013-2016, Quintana hit that plateau every season, turning in a 40-40 record with a 3.35 ERA in 129 games. His 119 ERA-plus over that same time frame helped the southpaw earn his first All-Star Game nod during his last full season with the White Sox and finish 10th in the American League Cy Young award voting in 2016.
While the White Sox were struggling to win ballgames in ’16, the Cubs strung together 103 regular season wins, advancing and winning the World Series, ending the longest championship drought in professional sports. With that distinction passed to another club, the Cubs realized starting pitching would be an area of need moving forward.
Having recognized that, the Cubs swung a trade with their cross-town rivals, sending Quintana to the North Side and stabilizing a starting rotation. Down the stretch in 2017, Quintana was very much like himself, posting a 3.74 ERA across 14 starts and 84.1 innings. During that time, the southpaw’s 10.5 SO/9 ranked as the best of Quintana’s career while his 2.2 BB/9 rate fell just below his career average of 2.6.
Heading into 2018, Cubs fans were feeling mixed reactions about the trade. Both Jimenez and Cease continued to rack up accolades with the White Sox while Quintana posted the worst full season of his career.
For Quintana, the problem was not centered around his health as he made 32 starts during the ’18 season, replicating his consistency with the Sox. Still, the southpaw racked up just 174.1 innings, posting a 4.03 ERA and seeing his SO/9 rate drop back down to 8.2. In addition, Quintana’s BB/9 mark ticked back to 3.5 as the left-hander allowed 68 free passes, sitting a career-high for the veteran.
Still under 10 percent, however, it’s not like Quintana’s walk rate presented a huge problem. What did present a problem was the amount of hard contact allowed by Quintana, a number that was at 33.1 percent in ’18, sitting a new career mark. In addition, opposing batters clubbed Quintana’s sinker to the tune of a .260 batting average and .418 slugging percent last season, whiffing at just 12 percent of the offerings.
That mark represented the lowest whiff rate on Quintana’s sinker in his career while hitters slugged .476 on the southpaw’s change-up in 2018, basically limiting him to just his fastball and curve-ball.
This season, through his first seven appearances (six starts), those numbers have shifted, bringing out the best version of the left-hander. On Quintana’s sinker in 2019, opposing batters are batting just .225 with a .375 slugging percentage while whiffing at a 16.5 percent clip. Likely due to that success, Quintana has increased the usage of his sinker, entering play on Friday tossing the pitch 29.8 percent of the time. If that holds, it would be a new career-high for Quintana, a welcomed sight if he continues to see results from the offering.
While Quintana entered the 2019 season having not thrown his change-up more than 9.7 percent since 2015, the left-hander has increased the usage of the pitch to 11.3 this season. Still getting a healthy amount of swing-and-miss (whiff rate of 29.5 percent) on the pitch, batters have saw it well, hitting .304 with a .478 slugging percentage. Those numbers are no where near what they should be, but looking at the expected figures, there is a glimmer of hope.
Opposing hitters own an expected batting average of .292 on Quintana’s change-up entering play on Friday, with a .434 expected slugging percentage to accompany that. While those numbers are still lofty, they suggest the left-hander should begin to see better success on the offering as the season deepens.
Nevertheless the numbers on his change-up, Quintana has been turning in sparkling outing after sparkling outing, improving his stock with the fan-base and front office alike.
Since starting the season off with a 10.29 ERA through his first seven innings, Quintana has posted a 1.93 mark over his last 32.2 frames. In that stretch, the southpaw has held opposing batters to a .221/.252/.311 slash line while posting a 22.7 percent strikeout rate and tiny 3.9 percent walk rate.
To help post those numbers, Quintana has induced a 51.1 percent ground ball rate over his last 32.2 innings, resulting in a 26.1 percent fly ball rate. Due to that tiny fly ball rate, Quintana is allowing a HR/FB rate of just 8.3 percent, a number that has helped mitigate his 37.2 percent hard contact mark.
This stretch of outstanding play allowed Quintana to enter play on Friday sporting the 18th best ground ball rate among all qualified pitchers in baseball. At 50.4 percent, Quintana is exactly six percent over his career average in that category, helping the left-hander to be on track to post the lowest fly ball rate of his career.
That is good news for Quintana, because entering play, the veteran had allowed a 41.7 percent hard contact rate, the 19th highest mark in the majors currently. Still, Quintana has been able to post some really solid peripheral numbers, kicking off play on Friday with a 24 percent strikeout rate and 6.6 percent walk rate. Both of those marks are better than Quintana’s career numbers as his 17.4 percent K%-BB% rate would be the best of his career.
After allowing eight earned runs over three innings during his first start of the season, Quintana began this incredible run. Oddly enough, that start was against the Milwaukee Brewers, Quintana’s and the Cubs’ opponent on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field.
For his career, Quintana owns a 2.51 ERA against the Brewers, a number that was no doubt tainted by the three home runs allowed on April 5. Nevertheless, Quintana posted a 2.13 ERA across 42.1 innings when facing the Brewers in 2018, a mark that was stabilized by his 0.921 WHIP and healthy 3.70 SO/W rate.
On Friday, Quintana looked to bounce back against a team that he has found so much success against over the course of his career. For the Cubs, they were looking to move to 10 games over .500 and win their 11th win in 12 tries.
Bringing his healthy ground ball rate to the ball park with him, Quintana was excellent against the Cubs’ National League Central rivals. Sticking to what has provided him success, Quintana induced seven ground balls through the first three innings. Following a lead-off single to begin the game, Quintana got reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to erase the early base runner.
After that twin-killing, Quintana induced a ground ball off the bat of Ryan Braun to end the frame before inducing two more in the second and three more in the third frame. Having cycled through the Brewers’ lineup by the end of the third, Quintana had yielded just that one single in the first while throwing first pitch strikes to eight of the first nine batters.
To further emphasize Quintana’s command and strike-throwing ability on Friday, the left-hander racked up just 11 balls through his first four innings of work, amassing three strikeouts in the process without a free pass. Two of those strikeouts came in the fourth inning as the left-hander was able to retire both Lorenzo Cain and Yelich via the strikeout.
The above chart is Quintana’s pitches from the fourth inning. As you can see, Quintana found success working the edges of the strike zone, keeping the baseball out of the heart of the plate. Unfortunately, in the fourth, Braun took advantage of a Quintana fastball, depositing it into the left-center field seats at 109.4 MPH.
Despite the Brewers grabbing a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning on a long ball, Quintana has actually improved in that department since last season. In 2018, the left-hander allowed an average of 1.29 HR/9, a mark that represented a career-high for the veteran. This season, that mark has dipped back to 1.13, but is still well higher than his career average of 0.92.
As some as Braun’s home run cleared the fence, the southpaw went back to work, pitching into the seventh inning without further damage. In the fifth and sixth innings, Quintana racked up three additional strikeouts, giving him six on the evening. While Quintana jumped out to a quick start in the strikeout department, he had been struggling to garner them of late.
Over his last two outings prior to Friday, Quintana had posted back-to-back outings in which he struck out just two batters apiece, totaling four in 11.2 innings. With an aggressive nature on Friday and a good fastball working, Quintana once again worked deep into the ball game, racking up strike outs along the way.
Of his 94 total pitches on Friday, 60 were either four-seam fastballs or sinkers. On those pitches, the left-hander garnered seven of his 11 swinging strikes, racking up an additional 11 called strikes on those offerings.
Still with a manageable pitch count heading into the seventh, Quintana was quick to work himself into trouble in what had developed into a pitchers duel. Prior to the seventh, the Cubs had amassed just two hits against Gio Gonzalez and remained unable to break through in a one-run game.
Staked to that advantage, however, the Brewers pulled away in the top half of the seventh. A hit, walk and wild pitch sat up the inning for Milwaukee as it was evident that Quintana’s command had eluded him. Even so, “Q” limited the damage to just two additional runs, tallies that scored on a fielder’s choice and sac-fly.
Following the sac-fly that moved the score to 3-0 Brewers, Joe Maddon pulled his starter in favor of Brad Brach. Brach needed just a handful of pitches to get the third out of the frame, guaranteeing back-to-back quality starts from Quintana.
His final line looked like this: 6.2 innings, four hits, three earned runs, three walks and six strikeouts on the aforementioned 94 pitches, 60 of which were strikes. While the left-hander did walk three batters in his outing, two of those came in the seventh inning with runners on base.
Like he has for much of this season, Quintana was around the strike zone a lot on Friday, helping to keep his team in the thick of things.
Unfortunately, the Cubs’ offense was hampered for much of the afternoon. As stated above, the Cubs had just two hits heading into the seventh inning, one of which was an infield single from Javier Baez. As one could imagine, with two hits, not much can be done and that is exactly what transpired for the Cubs over the first two-thirds of Friday’s contest.
In the seventh, however, the Cubs responded to the Brewers’ insurance by poking back-to-back singles through the infield. With two on and nobody out, though, Jason Heyward bounced into a four-unassisted double play, leaving just him on base.
Still, the Cubs fought to put a run on the board with Addison Russell doubling into the right field corner for his first major league hit since returning from suspension. That double gave the Cubs runners at second and third with two away for veteran Daniel Descalso.
Limited by an ankle injury, Descalso has garnered only a handful of at-bats this week. Perhaps because of that, or just the difficult nature of pinch-hitting, the veteran infielder popped out to the catcher, ending the frame and the run-scoring opportunity.
Descalso’s inability to register a hit moved the Cubs to 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position on Friday as they left eight runners on base over the course of nine innings.
Milwaukee, while held to a 2-for-11 clip with runners in scoring position, plated seven runs against the Cubs on Friday afternoon. With three of those runs coming against Quintana, the Brewers tacked on two additional runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth inning against the Cubs’ bullpen to stretch their advantage to 7-0.
That would remain the score as the Cubs’ bats went quietly in both the eighth and ninth innings. With the loss, the Cubs fall to 22-14 while the Brewers improve to 24-16 on the season, forcing a tie atop the NL Central.
Next Up for the Cubs
The Cubs will continue their three-game series with the Brewers on Saturday at 1:20 pm at Wrigley Field. Taking the ball for the Cubs will be southpaw Cole Hamels (3-0, 3.38 ERA). During the month of April, the veteran left-hander posted a 2.27 ERA across 31.2 innings, striking out 33 batters versus just nine walks. Those nine free passes came in back-to-back outings for Hamels as the new addition to the Cubs’ rotation ripped off three straight April starts in which he did not walk a batter, a streak that spanned 21 frames.
In his most recent outing, Hamels allowed three earned runs on five hits over six innings of work against the Miami Marlins, striking out seven batters versus two walks.
Opposing Hamels on the mound Saturday will be right-hander Zach Davies (4-0, 1.56 ERA). While Hamels was good during the month of April, Davis was even better. Across six starts, the 26-year-old posted a 1.38 ERA, but struck out just 21 batters while walking 13.
Most recently, Davies yielded two earned runs on six hits over 7.2 innings against the New York Mets, striking out five and walking only one batter in a 3-2 Milwaukee victory.
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