Jose Quintana’s Steady Improvement

It’s been an improbable ride for Jose Quintana. After signing with the White Sox as a minor-league free-agent last season, Quintana held his own in 22 starts in the majors. While nothing about his game stood out, and the advanced stats were bearish on his ability to repeat, it was nonetheless a win for the club. Quintana entered 2013 as the team’s fourth starter, a position he was capable of filling given his skill set. But a the midway point, Quintana has emerged as the team’s second-best starter. While that may not be impressive given the club’s injuries, it’s clear that Quintana has taken a significant step forward.

Quintana succeeded in 2012 with a solid, yet unspectacular, skill set. He wasn’t able to strikeout many hitters, instead relying on solid control and a steady diet of ground balls. That approach can be effective, but is generally reserved for back-of-the-rotation starters. That was Quintana’s future unless he magically started striking out hitters.

That’s exactly what happened this season. Quintana’s strikeout rate his jumped from 14.3% to 19% due to an improved fastball. The biggest reason for Quintana’s effectiveness with his heater is a rise in velocity. This was actually somewhat evident last season, as his average fastball velocity increased every month, ending up at 91.42 mph in September, according to Quintana didn’t stop there. The pitch has been even faster this year, with an average velocity of 92.25 mph.

The increased velocity has helped Quintana garner more strikeouts. His whiff rate with the four-seamer has jumped from 6.75% to 10.57%. That’s hardly an elite rate, but it’s a significant improvement. Looking at his pitch usage numbers, it’s clear Quintana is aware of his increased effectiveness with his fastball. He’s started using his four-seam fastball more often in two-strike counts.

Year FB All Counts FB Two Strikes
LHH 2012 46% 34%
LHH 2013 47% 47%
RHH 2012 49% 40%
RHH 2013 44% 49%

The biggest change can be seen against left-handed hitters. Quintana shied away from using the pitch with two-strikes against lefties in 2012, with his usage falling to 34%. That’s jumped 13% in 2013. Quintana’s overall fastball usage has dropped against righties, but not in two-strike situations. His usage has jumped nine percent in those situations. Hitters performed well against Quintana’s fastball in 2012, hitting .283, with a .474 slugging percentage. Those numbers have dropped to just .205 and .351 respectively. Quintan’s PITCH f/x pitch type value with his four-seamer is 10.7, making it the ninth best fastball this season. In 2012, the pitch rated 41st among pitchers who tossed at least 100 innings.

In the grand scheme of things, Quintana’s outlook has only improved slightly. Instead of being a back-of-the-rotation guy, Quintana has shown enough ability to probably survive as a three-starter. On a White Sox team lacking young pitching talent, Quintana has emerged as a viable future contributor. Given that he isn’t set to be a free-agent until 2019, Quintana can be a mainstay in the rotation as the team rebuilds, or can be used as a controllable asset in a trade. Considering Quintana wasn’t worth a major-league deal last offseason, his rise is nothing short of meteoric. His overall upside may not be significant, but that shouldn’t take away from what he’s already been able to accomplish.

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Chris is a blogger for He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Chris, thanks for this. Keep watching him but have yet to pick him up. In a 12-team 5×5 redraft, can you please rank Hudson, Griffin, Erasmo and Quintana ROS? Thanks so much.