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Exit Interviews: Jose Quintana


These “exit interviews” will be going over the entire 40-man roster and looking to see how each player does or does not fit into the White Sox future.

The term “exit interview” is usually used when an employee is leaving the company. I took that into consideration…and kept it.

Jose Quintana – Swoon-worthy consistently good left-handed starter deserving of multiple swoons [Ed. note: SWOON]

Age by 2014 Opening Day: 25

Contract: Entering his second pre-arbitration year. Two more season of making around the league minimum.

Relevant stats: 33 games (all starts),  200 IP, 3.51 ERA, 188 H,  23 HR, 164 K, 56 BB, 2.93 K/BB, 122 ERA+.

Interpretation: I’m not calling Quintana a No. 2 starter, but this is production you would ask for from a No. 2 starter.

Emblematic split: Right-handers hit just .242/.296/.392 against Quintana. Lefties were a bit better, but there are more righties in the world and managers emphasize them when they see Quintana coming.

Pre-season expectations: The intensity of his second half fade in 2012 (more earned runs than strikeouts over his last 12 starts) had me wondering why the Sox were so quick to declare Quintana the winner of the battle for the No. 5 spot over Hector Santiago.

It’s odd to think about Quintana improving upon last season because even with tweaks and adjustments, his pedigree and raw materials suggest last year’s 3.76 ERA should rank among his best performances and six years of team control is probably more than the Sox will find use for. But this line of thinking presupposes that we understand completely why Quintana was successful last season. “Variance” is always a great bet to be the underlying cause, but lacks the certainty it had with such incidents as “Brent Lillibridge” and “Zach Stewart’s near-perfect game.”

Quote of the year: Since it’s one of the few time he’s quoted directly:

“I feel great, I feel wonderful, because my team won tonight,” Quintana said. “Every time I have the opportunity for a win, I’m happy for that.”

Jose’s story: In his first start of the year, Quintana faced the Seattle Mariners (a poor offensive club that the Sox have traditionally hammered for whatever reason) and set off all his personal alarm bells. He couldn’t snap off a curve of a breaking ball worth offering at and his changeup was just a more hittable version of his fastball, which became unremarkable when couldn’t spot it flawlessly. He gave up a home run to the first batter he faced all season, and moved on to allow six runs (five earned) and didn’t make an out in the fifth inning.

And that was the last time he was worried about.

The next 18.2 innings Quintana threw were scoreless, and his ERA never raised above 4.00 for the rest of the season. When Quintana turned up in Toronto for his third start of the season, he brought a fastball that touched 93-94 mph with him, and despite rumors of hot radar guns in the Rogers Centre, brought it home to Chicago where it stayed all summer. His fastball velocity average for the season was up a mile from 2012, making every step in his transition to being a reliable starter easier.

Quintana’s strikeout rate leapt up 5% from 2012 while he tentatively upped the involvement of his curve and changeup yet stiuck with his tested formula of busting right-handers inside. Being able to offer more than “hard in” and “hard on the black outside” allowed his high fastballs to play up as a putaway pitch, on top of the great control he’s boasted since arriving in the majors (7% walk rate).

There’s no single element, skill or pitch to rave about, it’s Quintana’s total package–and his body after an offseason in the weight room–that is simply solid. The five earned runs he allowed in his first start was one of two times all season he allowed five. It was four earned runs or less for the other 31. There were standout moments of dominance such as his taking a no-hitter into the seventh against eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox, or striking out 11 Baltimore Orioles while allowing two hits through seven innings on Independence Day, but mostly Quintana got the ball on the days assigned to him, threw six innings, gave up a couple of runs and handed the game over for his teammates to ruin (seventh-worst run support in the AL and a MLB-leading 17 no-decisions).

Assessment: Above-average starters making the league minimum are a fine feature of any playoff team, but Quintana lies in an odd middle space for a team like the White Sox that, to borrow the line that Kenny Williams sings to himself in the shower every morning, is trying to make a dollar out of ten cents.

He’s good, but he’s not at Chris Sale‘s level, where his elite talent might prove ultimately irreplaceable. His statistical profile suggests that 2013 was the best he can do and he should return to being a mid-rotation guy or worse going forward, but it said the similar things about him last year. Quintana’s development is not following any kind of predictable path. Very real changes about how we think and assess him as a player are happening in real time. At some point the rules are going to apply to him, but God knows when or even how.

If Sale remains off limits, Quintana is obviously the biggest trade chit in an organization badly in need of a shakeup, but moving him probably means abandoning any real hopes of a rotation capable of dragging the team into a Wild Card berth in 2014.  Which is fine, but not a position this franchise comes to lightly.

Also, we’ll miss Jose.

Swoon.

 

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan

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