Jose Quintana is The Ace No One Knew About. He dominated opponents, but was derided for his winning percentage. Now with the Chicago Cubs, it’s clear that fault rests with his former team, not Quintana.
Jose Quintana delighted in his debut with the Chicago Cubs over the weekend, dazzling the crowd gathered in Baltimore as he went seven innings, striking out 12 Orioles batters and walking none, all without allowing a single run.
There was not a little bit of worry surrounding Quintana, who was acquired from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for prospects Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and two others. Irrespective of his early struggles in 2017, Quintana was a bit of an unknown commodity around baseball, with a few pundits labeling him one of the more underrated starters in all of baseball.
Despite All-Star—even Cy Young at times—caliber peripheral metrics like FIP and WHIP, Quintana couldn’t shake one of the last vestiges of baseball stats arguments: win-loss record. Indeed, despite being comparable to Jon Lester or for spurts, former teammate Chris Sale, Quintana sports a winning percentage below .500 for his career, never having once finished a season more than two wins above the mark.
Sadly, it seems likely that those who scoffed at the dominance of Quintana in other, newer areas of baseball metrics were decrying his performance in a statistical category that is in part dependent on something over which he has no control: run support.
For all of its faults as an accurate indicator of skill, none are more egregious and arbitrary than the fact that a pitcher’s winning percentage requires his offense to perform not only throughout the standard nine innings, but while said pitcher is actually in the game. For most of his career, Quintana was actually the recipient of historically bad run support from the White Sox, which would help explain his career winning percentage.
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According to Fangraphs, there have been 173 starting pitchers since 2005—the first year full run support data was available—who have thrown at least 700 innings. Of those 173, Quintana is 164th in run support per start, at 2.76. Run support per start measures the number of runs a pitcher’s team scored while he was in the game, and thus eligible for a win, loss, or no decision.
Meaning Quintana, who had spent his entire career save for this last start with the White Sox, was more likely than not to receive two runs or less of “help” in any given start. For his career, Quintana got two runs or less in 57 percent of his starts with the White Sox. In nearly three out of every five starts, Quintana was forced by his White Sox lineup to throw a two-run gem, just for a chance at a no decision.
Quintana’s deficiency in winning percentage was not the result of some unseen malady in his motion, nor did the statistic suss out some pending doom for the starter to which other statistics were blind. It was simply the result of the White Sox, for most of Quintana’s career, fielding below-average offenses, and at times historically bad offenses, which did not help Quintana meet the arbitrary and capricious standards of a metric that has long since been passed by.
Quintana received six runs of support in his first start with the Cubs. If the team can muster even a league-average offense when Quintana is on the mound, we will see a meteoric rise in his winning percentage, and perhaps then all of baseball can rejoice at The Ace No One Knew About.