Let’s play a game based off statistics between the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Consider the following:
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:
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) .
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:
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:
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.
For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site: ProspectDigest.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey