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What Does Jose Quintana Do?

Take a look at Jose Quintana‘s collection of pitches, and there’s not much there to appreciate. Kind of makes you wonder how he does what he does, even if that creep can roll. His ERA is in the top 40 over the last two years, and yet none of his three most important peripheral stats rank in the top 40… how has he become more than the sum of his parts?

There is one peripheral that makes Quintana a top fifty guy — his 2.62 walks per nine over the last two years are 47th among qualified pitchers. Actually, the guy next to him looks remarkably similar in terms of peripherals. Paul Maholm struck out 6.45 per nine, walked 2.63 per nine and got grounders 51.3% of the time. Quintana’s work in those three stats — 6.56, 2.62 and 44.5% — are hardly superior. And yet people probably value Quintana higher.

That might have something to do with his higher strikeout rate last year. His 19.7% strikeout rate in 2013 was actually above average for an American League starter (18.8%). His swinging strike rate (8.8%) was barely above average (8.6%), though, and there is the problem of his pitch peripherals. Only Quintana’s fastball got above-average whiffs last season. By that stat, his curve (12%) is meh, his change (9%) is terrible, and his cutter (9%) is eh.

You can live on the fastball, that’s fine, for a while. But we know that a pitcher’s velocity starts declining from the minute they enter the big leagues. And though Quintana added a tick on his fastball — and added 50% whiffs on the pitch with that one tick — he’s going to be 25 this season and there’s no reason to think he’ll add more going forward. Any reduction in velocity, back to the 91 mph he had in his rookie year, will likely reduce his strikeout rate to below average.

All that would be fine if he had ground-ball stuff. The overall rates don’t suggest he does, but there is some hope in his pitch peripherals. His sinker and change, when seen together, offer almost 60% ground balls. As Quintana loses some gas on the four-seam, he could decide to throw more two-seamers and get grounders along with his hard changeup.

Still, a package like that — a good but not great fastball, a hard change for ground balls, and a meh curve — that’s not a package that would normally produce sub-four ERAs, especially in a park like The Cell. Consider that Paul Maholm‘s slider gets more whiffs, and his sinker and change get more grounders than Quintana’s, and all that separates the two is a couple ticks on the fastball and seven years of age. In 2007, Maholm was throwing almost 91 and had better stats than Quintana did last season, too.

If you’d like a young Paul Maholm, then it’s all systems go for Quintana. That’s great in real life, where the player represents a great scouting find for the White Sox — he was released from the Yankees as a six-year minor league free agent — and a late bloomer that only came to baseball after his local soccer teams filled their rosters too quickly when he was 14. If you thought he’d be more than that for your fantasy team, you might be disappointed.