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Off the top of your head, name the top five lefties in baseball. Most of you will have Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Chris Sale, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, and Madison Bumgarner among your top lefties. Now, name your top 10 pitchers in baseball. Was Jose Quintana in either of those lists for you? Probably not.
In 2006, at age 17, Quintana was signed by the Mets out of Colombia, but violated the minor league baseball drug policy. He was suspended for the start of his first minor league season, and was ultimately cut by the Mets in July. The Yankees then signed Quintana, where he played for their Dominican Summer League for two seasons, and ended up playing two seasons in the Yankees minor league system making it up to High-A ball in 2011 where he went 10-2 with a 2.91 ERA. However, he became a free agent after the 2011 season and was signed by the Chicago White Sox. He only appeared in nine games at the Double-A level before the White Sox called in up in 2012.
He has quietly been one of the most successful pitchers in baseball over the past two seasons. Take a look at his numbers compared to some of the highly touted lefties in the game from 2013-2014.
These are solely 2014 numbers:
Quintana isn't going to "wow" you with anything. His repertoire primarily consists of a fastball and curve, with a change and cutter thrown in here and there. According to PITCHf/x his fastball velocity is about 92 mph. He throws a very hard changeup at about 86 mph, and a curve that sits around 81 mph. If there's one word to describe Quintana, it's crafty. He's arguably the most crafty pitcher in baseball.
How has he been so successful with a repertoire that primarily consists of fastball, curveball, and changeup? Simply put, he's nasty and avoids the barrel of the bat with great location on his pitches. According to ESPN's Mark Simon and his hard-hit rate, Quintana only surrendered hard hits 13.3% of the time. This was good for 28th best in baseball.
Is there a reason his hard-hit rate is so low? Well, Quintana gets ahead in the count often with a first pitch strike. Getting ahead in the count is the goal for every pitcher, but few do it as often as Quintana. The past two seasons, Quintana has had the seventh highest F-Strike% (first pitch strike percentage) at 66.2%.
Getting ahead early in the count with a first pitch strike sets him up to throw his devastating curve. He's not an overpowering pitcher, so being able to get that first pitch strike, allows him to work outside of the strike zone and not give hitters good pitches to swing at. He's crafty and has a great feel on the mound. As you can see, of those in the top 10 for first pitch strike, Quintana operates in the strike zone the least at 45.2%.
Change in approach from 2013 to 2014.
Quintana threw his curve quite a bit more in 2014, especially when he was ahead in the count. He has tremendous success and location with it. Take a look at where he was able to locate his curve in 2013.
Tremendous location down-and-in against lefties, and low-and-away against righties. Hitters only produced a .235 average against his curve in 2013. With two strikes, hitters only produced a .195 average, yet he only threw it 19.63% of the time. He decided to throw it more in 2014, and threw it 24.53% of the time. This time, it resulted in batters hitting .187 against it overall, and only .115 with two strikes. His curve produced these numbers simply because his location was still astonishing.
Quintana was able to limit his home runs quite substantially.
Quintana does have a reason for concern. His HR/FB% was the second lowest in baseball, behind only Garrett Richards' 3.9%. Considering that Quintana posted a 10.3% HR/FB% prior to 2014, we can speculate that his HR/FB% is due to regress in 2015 simply because 5.1% is tremendously low, and extreme home run rates in either direction are likely unsustainable throughout multiple seasons.
Were there any factors that we can attribute to his significant drop in his home runs allowed? Take a look at his changes from 2013 to 2014 in his horizontal release point and horizontal movement on his fastball.
His horizontal release point on his fastball saw a rise of almost half a foot. His horizontal movement went up from 3.35 inches in 2013 to 4.39 inches in 2014. This could have played a factor in his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark last season simply because batters weren't able to put the ball in the air as frequently. Here are his numbers when throwing his fastball last season compared to 2013.
His FB% against his fastball significantly dropped in 2014, while his GB% significantly increased. We can reasonably assume that the increase in horizontal movement on his fastball played a role in this difference. His average and BABIP saw a very significant increase, but that can be attributed to his rise in LD% up to 25.49. Sure, his fastball surrendered more line drives, but it inevitably kept the ball in the park more. That is a fair tradeoff in my eyes. Although his LD% increased on his fastball, his fastball produced a lower LD% than Chris Sale, Cole Hamels and Madison Bumgarner.
To say that his ISO dropped in 2014 is an understatement. His average also saw quite the drop as well, even with a relatively high BABIP once again. Were there any changes that could have affected his drop in ISO and home runs? Let's take a look once again at his horizontal release point and horizontal movement changes in 2014.
Let's not forget that his location (once again) is also outstanding:
We've seen the changes in his pitches from 2013 to 2014. It's not that he wasn't successful in 2013, it's just that he was that much more successful in 2014. His repertoire may not have the best velocity or movement among big league pitchers, but he made improvements in 2014, and the results showed. Quintana undoubtedly has tremendous location paired with a very high IQ and approach on the mound.
Quintana has produced an fWAR in the top 10 among all qualifying starting pitchers since 2013 and what a bargain his salary is for the White Sox. He was able to file for arbitration as a Super 2 player this offseason, but will still only cost the White Sox $3.4 million in 2015 since his contract is backloaded. A top 10 pitcher in terms of WAR, 26 years young, and will likely be overlooked once again this season, not only in all of baseball, but even on his own team with Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija in front of him in the rotation.
All data courtesy of Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, and Baseball Prospectus.
Brandon Decker is a contributor at Beyond The Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @bdeck02.