Back before they finally won the World Series, jokes about the Cubs were a thing. My favorite was one attributed to Pete Rose, who allegedly asked, “What did God say to the Cubs?
“Don’t win until I come back.”
Anyway, if 2016 never happened, we could make some jokes about the Cubs and Jose Quintana. After several good years with the White Sox, the Cubs picked up Quintana in a deadline deal. And while he pitched well for the Cubs in his partial season in 2017, he quickly fell apart after that. He went from a consistent 4-WAR hurler to a guy struggling to be league average. Thumb and shoulder injuries were at least partially to blame for his downturn. Then, in 2022, Quintana bounced back to his 2013-2017 form. How do the computer models forecast his 2023 season?
ATC – 153 IP, 3.77 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 143 Ks, 16 HR
Marcel – 140 IP, 3.73 ERA, 1.314 WHIP, 129 Ks, 13 HR
RotoCh – 162 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 143 Ks
Steamer – 158 IP, 3.81 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 146 Ks, 19 HR
THE BAT – 153 IP, 4.27 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 136 Ks, 18 HR
ZiPS – 134 IP, 4.03 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 123 Ks, 15 HR
That’s a decent-sized swing for a veteran pitcher. We have IP totals with a 28-inning difference from high to low and a range from 3.33 to 4.27 in ERA. While the WHIP totals are fairly close, that ERA difference is huge. Mets fans would be happy if Quintana matched that ERA from Roto Champ, while if he produces what THE BAT projects, people will be calling for Tylor Megill to replace him in the rotation.
But it’s easy to see the doubt with some of these projections.
Quintana went from a 6.43 ERA in 2021 to a 2.93 mark last year. You might hope that the computer models would take into account that he had just 63 IP in 2021, compared to 165.1 last year. But 2021 wasn’t an outlier. What Quintana did in 2018-2020 was closer to ’21 than 2022.
Which prompts the question: Should fans disregard what he did from 2018-2021, just because his 2022 resembles what Quintana did from 2013-2017? It’s not an easy answer. Even the ERA estimators give up conflicting information. Quintana’s 2.99 FIP last year was nearly a perfect match for his 2.93 ERA. But his xFIP, which normalizes for HR rate, was 3.72, which is nearly identical to the ERA projections from ATC and Marcel.
Quintana had a 5.3 HR/FB rate last year, easily his best mark since 2014’s 5.1 mark. For five straight seasons, he had a double-digit HR/FB rate, including a 21.4 mark in ’21. It’s not that he was getting significantly more groundballs, as his GB% was virtually the same in 2021 and 2022. It’s not that he was getting significantly fewer flyballs, as his FB% has been between 31-32.2% the last three full seasons. It’s just for whatever reason, batters stopped taking him deep.
Looking at his pitch breakdowns, Quintana added a slider to his repertoire in 2019, where it was a slight plus pitch. In 2021 it was a lousy offering. But last year it was as good as his curve and fastball. While it was only his fourth pitch in terms of usage, it was something else that batters had to be anticipating. Was that enough to explain the decrease in HR? Eh, probably not.
The optimistic take is that finally being healthy, along with improved performance with his two-seamer and slider, drove Quintana’s strong 2022. The pessimistic take is that a fluke year in HR/FB rate drove his performance last year. My totally biased forecast for Quintana in 2023 is:
165 IP, 3.45 ERA, 1.250 WHIP, 135 Ks, 13 HR