Jose Quintana burst onto the scene with one of the best starts of his career, striking out 12 Orioles and instilling mad confidence in the Cubs’ decision to part with two top prospects to land the cost-controlled lefty. The results since that start, however, have left people scratching their heads and wondering what the hell happened.
And I’m not talking about the same kind of fallacious logic that led to questions about the value of a pitcher with a sub-.500 lifetime record. Rather, this is a matter of seeing Quintana struggle in an entirely different way from what we saw on the other side of the city.
As our Brendan Miller pointed out prior to his last start, Quintana has been going to the sinker much more with the Cubs than at any previous stage of his career, presumably in an attempt to limit the 12.8 percent home run-per-fly ball rate he had posted in the first half with the White Sox. Presented in a vacuum, it figures that more sinkers would result in more grounders and fewer flies.
Except real life doesn’t always work with direct correlations and we can’t always follow the crow’s flight path from Point A to Point B. To that end, a pitcher can’t simply shift pitch usage from one offering to another and expect that it won’t have all kinds of unintended consequences. In Q’s case, that may mean having a more distinct difference in the release points of his sinker and curve, something Miller pointed out after the southpaw was shelled early in Philly.
While his four-seamer and curve come out of a similar tunnel, the sinker has a noticeably different release point. Given that he’s throwing more sinkers out of the gate, hitters are getting a good look at it and are better able to differentiate between that and the breaking ball. Not to mention the sinker isn’t necessarily a great pitch, certainly not good enough to merit heavy usage.
As he gets deeper into the game and starts mixing in other peripherals, Quintana’s results get better. Like, a lot better. But when he’s going sinker/curve, he may well be tipping the pitches. That’s all stuff we either know or can pretty reasonably assume, so here’s where I get to a little bit of conjecture. Pitchers are notorious creatures of habit and I find it hard to believe a guy who’s been really successful doing what he does ups and decides to make big changes to his pitch mix all on his own.
Ever since I first saw that he’d been throwing more sinkers, my initial thought was that pitching coach Chris Bosio and/or catching coach and chief strategist Mike Borzello had worked with Q to make the change. That’s not based on any kind of inside knowledge or anything, just an assumption based on how Boz and Borz work.
Surely they were privy to all the stats we were, saw the increased HR/FB rate and know how balls can jump off the bat at Wrigley, Cincy, and Milwaukee in particular. Their suggestions — which I am only guessing were actually made — would have been made with all the best intentions, but the results are not at all what was intended.
Quintana’s sinker doesn’t have much bite and he’s leaving it too far up in the zone to generate a ton of grounders. Sure, 48.1 percent isn’t bad, but the 30.2 percent line-drive rate is not at all good. And then you’ve got the astronomical 39.3 percent HR/FB rate against it, which means that hitters are crushing the ball every time they get under it at all. Mixed with the decreased efficacy of the curveball, Quintana’s increased reliance on the sinker has actually resulted in an overall 18.4 percent HR/FB rate with the Cubs that is literally double what he’d posted in his career on the South Side.
So my suggestion — which I’m sure all those involved will surely read and take to heart — is that whoever decided it’d be a good idea for Quintana to become a sinker-baller changes their mind. Whether it’s a coach or the catchers or Q himself, the reduced efficacy of his hook has him getting the hook after allowing too many runs too early.
But that brings me to another point, which is the shifting batterymates he’s dealt with in a relatively short period of time. It can’t be easy to establish a rapport with these guys when you can’t work with them consistently. I’ll be really interested to see what happens with Quintana’s pitch mix moving forward, and you should be too.
There’s a sense that when the Cubs score a boatload of runs in a game it means they’ll come up short in the subsequent game(s). I have done no actual research on the topic and can’t say whether it’s at all legit, but it’s probably just happenstance.
And now since I was dumb and stayed up to watch the fight at a friend’s house, I’m about to crash out. Sorry for the abbreviated post. Or maybe that’s a good thing.