His 9-11 record may not reflect it, but 2014 was a breakout season for Chicago White Sox starting pitcher, Jose Quintana. What’s even more impressive is all signs point to the southpaw showing more improvement in the years ahead. Quintana cemented himself as the staff’s number two starter, and looks poised to help the White Sox boast one of the most formidable 1-2 starting pitching combos in the league.
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Quintana finished the 2014 season with a 3.32 ERA in 200.1 innings, 13th best out of all qualified American League starters, according to ESPN.com. Quintana and the organization are likely encouraged by the fact he posted a lower ERA, year over year, for the second consecutive season. If that trend continues in 2015, we could expect an ERA around 3.10. More on that soon.
Quintana stymies batters with pinpoint placement of his fastball. He typically doesn’t hit higher than 92 on the radar gun, but he can spot the fastball on the outside corner as well as any pitcher in baseball, using placement over power to send batters back to the dugout. He also has a knack for running the pitch upstairs on two-strike counts, which works perfectly, as hitters are no doubt leaning towards fending off his off speed offering.
Jose Quintana Strikes out Detroit Tigers’ shortstop, Jose Iglesias, at US Cellular Field
However, it’s an adjustment that he made with another pitch that has propelled Quintana to new heights. Alec Dopp, from Gammons Daily, noted Quintana is not only utilizing his curveball more, but has begun locating it differently to right-handed hitters. The heat map comparison below, provided by Dopp, illustrates the shift.
Jose Quintana Curveball Location Heat Map
As a left-handed pitcher, it’s important for Quintana to go all the way in on right-handed batters if he is going to come across the plate with his delivery. In his first 14 starts of the year, the curveball was ending up low in the strike zone, but near the middle of the plate. The adjustment he made was to move the pitch inside on right-handers, forcing them to chase by throwing it outside of the zone more frequently. The heat map on the right shows Quintana to be less concerned with throwing the pitch for a strike, as he is with making hitters swing and miss.
Unfortunately, Quintana’s arsenal and ERA were not good enough to earn him a double-digit victory total for the first time in his career. Jose has earned the reputation as a hard-luck pitcher the last couple years, frequently receiving a no-decision for his impressive efforts. In 2014 only eight major league pitchers totaled more no-decisions than Quintana, who finished with twelve, according to teamrankings.com. It doesn’t help that he and Chris Sale both ranked in the bottom third of the American League in run support, benefitting from less than four runs per game.
Moreover, Quintana improved nearly every pitching metric despite being victimized by the highest BABIP of his short career.
What may be even more impressive than his ERA, is his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). Quintana’s 2.81 FIP is not far from Chris Sale’s mark of 2.57 in 2014. Quintana’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) of .318 was well above the league average of roughly .300, per fangraphs.com, meaning more balls were dropping or getting through for hits than normal. Reading those stats together, it’s easy to see that Quintana pitched far better than his record, or even his ERA, suggests. Moreover, Quintana improved nearly every pitching metric despite being victimized by the highest BABIP of his short career. Compare that to his 2013 BABIP of .283, or his .299 BABIP in 2012, and it’s exciting to think how well Quintana will perform if his BABIP regresses closer to the mean in 2015. That 3.10 ERA I mentioned earlier will certainly be within reach.
If you watched Jose Quintana out duel Felix Hernandez on July 5th at US Cellular Field in 2014, allowing only four hits and striking out 10 in 7.2 innings of work, you saw the youngster at his best. If you saw the White Sox go on to lose that game in 14 innings, then you also saw why he has quickly earned the hard-luck reputation he has. Jose had an excellent 2014 season and seems to be making positive strides each year.
Thankfully, Quintana is under club control until 2020, so there will be plenty of opportunities for Jose to add to his major league win total in a White Sox uniform. With any luck the question next year will not be whether or not Quintana finishes with a winning record, but which White Sox pitcher, Quintana or Chris Sale, is more deserving of a Cy Young Award.