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Breaking Down The Two Most Underrated Pitchers in Baseball

Breaking down the two most underrated pitchers in baseball, and finding one strikingly similar approach on the mound.

Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

Let’s play a game based off statistics between the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Consider the following:

Player IP K/9 BB/9 ERA fWAR
David Price 405.2 8.74 1.33 3.33 9.6
Player A 378.2 7.51 2.52 3.45 8.4
Madison Bumgarner 398.1 8.99 2.28 2.89 7.1
Cole Hamels 395.2 8.51 2.39 3.14 7.1

Name Player A.

Here’s a hint: By FanGraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement, the aforementioned quartet of pitchers have been the fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, and seventh-most valuable southpaws, respectively, in baseball over the last two years.

Now, can you name Player A? Probably not.

Let’s play another game. This time, though, we'll look at right-handers during the same time period. Consider the following:

Player IP K/9 BB/9 ERA fWAR
Stephen Strasburg 372.0 9.82 2.32 3.22 6.8
Player B 378.1 8.42 3.4 3.43 6.5
Zack Greinke 356.0 8.44 2.2 2.68 6.1
Jeff Samardzija 404.1 8.64 2.65 3.81 5.9

Same thing: Name Player B, who was a supplemental first round pick in 2008 and owns some run-of-the-mill minor league numbers (3.69 ERA, 7.8 K/9, and 3.3 BB/9) .

Give up?

Player A is none other than the White Sox’s second-best left-hander – and possibly third-best once Carlos Rodon makes his debut – Jose Quintana. Player B, who slots in right behind Adam Wainwright in the Cardinals' rotation, is Lance Lynn. Quintana, according to fWAR, has been the tenth-best pitcher in baseball since the start of 2013; Lynn, the 23rd.

And the funny thing, however, is that the sum of the parts far exceed the expectations of the individual pieces. Neither owns a dominant fastball. Quintana will never pile up many whiffs, but has shown above-average control/command; Lynn’s the opposite – he has missed a solid amount of bats, but his control has been below-average.

Neither has thrown a ton of groundballs, but both rank in the top 15 for lowest homerun rates over the last two seasons. Lynn’s surrendered just 0.53 HR/9, the sixth lowest total. Quintana’s given up 0.72 HR/9, and that includes a wonky 1.04 HR-rate from last season.

Oh yeah, and neither cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects at any point in their minor league careers. Plus, in Quintana’s case, his first organization – the New York Yankees – released him just one year before his MLB debut.

So, how has each pitcher gotten it done? Well, a lot of it has to do with their curveballs. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Quintana features a four-seamer, two seamer, changeup, curve, and cutter. Three of those have been rather pedestrian – or even below-average – over the last two seasons. Consider the following:

Pitch Type Total K BB BAA SLG ISO
Four-Seam 3146 179 57 0.246 0.369 0.124
Sinker 481 19 6 0.291 0.470 0.180
Change 724 19 14 0.321 0.436 0.115
Curve 1340 78 12 0.203 0.334 0.131
Cutter 498 10 3 0.292 0.389 0.097

Quintana’s two most used pitches – his fastball and curve – have, to no surprise, been his best pitches, with opponents slugging just .369 and .334 respectively. But it’s his curve that’s been the most lethal.

And where has he thrown it? In a nearly unhittable part of the plate, of course, for both LHs and RHs.

Quintana has started the pitch in the left-handed batter's box, and has let it finish down-and-in on LHs or low-and-away as a backdoor breaking ball to RHs.

As for Lynn, well, the results are strikingly similar.

Opponents have hit a lowly .221 against his four-seamer and a barely-there .206 against his curveball over the last two seasons. And look where he has located his curveball the majority of the time:

Down-and-in to RHs and low-and-away to LHs.

An intriguing piece to note for Lynn is that his curveball has been far from his go-to offering in his repertoire:

Pitch Type Total K BB BAA SLG ISO
Four-Seam 3406 215 81 0.221 0.351 0.130
Sinker 1501 54 38 0.297 0.371 0.074
Change 215 6 7 0.326 0.435 0.109
Curve 623 34 7 0.206 0.290 0.084
Cutter 755 52 11 0.251 0.374 0.123

Quintana and Lynn have had a tremendous amount of success throughout their brief Major League careers, and given their respective ages – Chicago’s southpaw is just 25 and St. Louis' unsung starter is 27 – both could conceivably improve in the coming seasons, especially if they keep locating their curveballs as effectively as they have.

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphsBaseball-Reference, and BrooksBaseball.net.

For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site: ProspectDigest.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey