How’s that trade looking now, huh? Okay, so giving up Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease will never not be a very steep price to pay for a mid-rotation starter, but José Quintana is looking as good as he ever has in either Chicago team’s uniform. With his domination of the Marlins Tuesday night, Q now has 18 strikeouts to just one walk in his last two starts.
It’ll take a while to deflate the stats from his first start in Milwaukee, but the lefty has changed tack since then and has really used the change to attack. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Tuesday’s start was how Quintana pounded the zone early and often for strikes, a large number of which were called. By putting an already weak Marlins lineup in holes early, he was able to manipulate the game as he saw fit.
Of the 27 batters he faced in Miami, 21 saw first-pitch strikes. Only three put the first pitch in play, which means the southpaw was ahead 0-1 on 18 batters. And what’s even more impressive is how many of those came on a called strike.
Quintana threw 63 total strikes in the game, 22 of which (35%) were called. And 15 of those 22 (68%) opened at-bats, including six consecutive to close the 1st inning and open the 2nd. He got those calls primarily with the four-seam, but began sinking his fastball and using the curve as the game wore on. Inferior opponent or no, it was a clinic on how to pitch with intelligent aggressiveness.
And remember the mid-rotation thing? This is a guy who now slots in as the Cubs’ fifth starter. You think a few other teams might be dreaming about having a guy at the back of the rotation who puts up 12.43 K/9 and just 3.0 BB/9? Even with the awful outing included, he’s at a 3.43 ERA with a 3.24 FIP and 2.53 xFIP. That’s really damn good.
Expect identical encore performances at your own peril, since some of this may well normalize moving forward. Still, there’s ample reason to believe Quintana can indeed carry over a good portion of what’s made him so successful over the past two starts. His renewed confidence in the changeup, for instance.
But the biggest factor may be as simple as going out there and throwing strikes right out of the gate. Quintana had never posted a BB/9 rate higher than 2.77 in five full seasons on the South Side and averaged just 2.42 over his White Sox career. That includes a 3.45 mark prior to his trade to the Cubs in 2017, after which he’s averaged 3.09 BB/9.
Getting back to those earlier numbers means not just fewer baserunners, but fewer deep counts as Quintana works more efficiently. And that means less pressure on the bullpen and the rest of the rotation, so I guess you could say a rising boatload of first-pitch strikes lifts all ships.