Chicago White Sox: Appreciating the Underappreciated Jose Quintana

Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

Jose Quintana has quietly been one of the most effective pitchers in baseball throughout his career for the Chicago White Sox.

For whatever reason, Jose Quintana doesn’t receive nearly enough recognition that he deserves.

Perhaps it’s because he’s been the second best left-handed pitcher in the Chicago White Sox rotation. Perhaps it’s because there are still folks around baseball who consider wins as a relevant stat. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t have overwhelmingly dominant stuff that you typically see from a front-line starter. Perhaps it’s a combination of all three.

When you think of the White Sox, the first player that likely comes to mind is Chris Sale considering he’s been, by all accounts, a top five starting pitcher in the big leagues since 2012. During that span, the five-time All-Star is third in strikeouts while ranking fourth in both WAR and WHIP among all starting pitchers – a resume that has largely overshadowed Quintana’s.

Because of all the attention that Sale has deservedly warranted, Quintana has flown under the radar despite being the fourth-best pitcher in the American League in terms of WAR the last three years. He’s been the model of consistency and durability since becoming a fixture in the rotation in 2013, posting a tidy 3.32 ERA while logging at least 200 innings pitched – a feat he’s on pace to accomplish yet again this year.

Speaking of 2016, the numbers that the two southpaws have put up have practically mirrored each other; yet Sale is the one mentioned as a Cy Young candidate and Quintana remains in national anonymity. The knock on Quintana is that he doesn’t accumulate the wins necessary to thrust him into the conversation, which is unfair considering it’s a meaningless and arbitrary stat.

Quintana tends to miss out on wins no matter how well he pitches, as he’s received the least amount of run support of any starting pitcher the last two seasons at 3.58 runs per game. In fact, he’s earned a win in fewer than half of his career starts in which he hasn’t allowed an earned run. Over that same span, the average pitcher has won more than 75 percent of those games.

In historical context, there have been just 22 instances in MLB history of a pitcher having an ERA below 3.40 with nine or fewer wins, and Quintana is responsible for two of them (2014 and 2015). As you can see, Quintana has run into some horrible luck, making his 44-44 career record completely misleading.

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Quintana’s profile is also limited to Chicago having just one winning season since he’s worn a White Sox uniform, with their most recent postseason appearance coming in 2008 when they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS. The unfortunate reality is that good players on bad teams typically go overlooked. Just ask Nolan Arenado.

Quintana’s relative obscurity also stems from the lack of an overpowering arsenal that primarily consists of a fastball and curveball. He’s not going to get many swings and misses, but what he does is use his pinpoint command to place the ball where he wants to while mixing speeds to get the hitters off balance and induce weak contact. During Quintana’s first few years in the big leagues, he had roughly a 10 mph difference between his heater and his curve. This year, it’s over 15 mph, making it even tougher on hitters to keep their weight back.

What’s interesting is that Quintana has spotted his fastball in the zone more often than he has in years past, throwing it over the plate 60 percent of the time; yet his in-zone contact rate for the pitch is the lowest of his career. So he’s throwing more strikes and getting less contact with his fastball, which is certainly a nice recipe for success. As such, his fastball has gone from being an average pitch to the second most effective fastball in baseball this year despite sitting at only 91-92 mph regularly.

His bread-and-butter pitch, though, has always been his curveball, which held opponents below a .200 batting average in each of the past two seasons while ranking as the fifth most valuable curve. Because he gets ahead in the count – he’s finished in the top 10 in first pitch strike percentage every season he’s been in the league – he’s able to throw that devastating curve more frequently with more confidence and keep the hitters honest.

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All things considered, it’s time to start mentioning Jose Quintana among the elite pitchers in baseball.