Last week over at FanGraphs, Dave Cameron looked at Jose Quintana and showed that he has quietly been the sixth-best pitcher in baseball over the past 365 days. Impressive, yes, but the past-year cutoff does Quintana something of a disservice, despite exposing the under-the-radar ace. Jose Quintana has been an elite pitcher for much longer than just the past calendar year.
By fWAR, Quintana (15.1) has been sixth-best in the league since the beginning of the 2013 season. That's better production than Jon Lester (15.0), Felix Hernandez (14.5), Madison Bumgarner (13.9), Cole Hamels (13.3), and, well, pretty much everyone not named Kershaw, Scherzer, Price, Kluber, or Sale. What's even more impressive is that Quintana has outperformed that list of aces despite pitching fewer innings.
Don't like using defensive independent metrics in pitcher WAR? Well, according to rWAR, Quintana has been the eighth-best pitcher since 2013. The names ahead and behind him fluctuate a bit, but the pattern remains the same. Seems safe to say, that creep can throw, man.
When you're evaluating a pitcher there are, you know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, a lotta strands to keep in your head, man. Part of Quintana's success has been his ability to avoid injury. Since 2013, he's accumulated innings with the best of them, hitting the 200 milestone the last three seasons, one of just nine players to do so.
Just eating innings is a good way to make it onto such multi-season leaderboards. Just ask Bartolo Colon, who ranks 25th over the same time span. But innings aren't the only reason for Quintana's sustained success. If you look at fWAR per inning over that period, Quintana slides to tenth best, overall, outperforming the likes of Strasburg, Greinke, Lester, Hernandez, Bumgarner, and Hamels.
So it's not just his durability that's made Quintana such a formidable pitcher. And it doesn't appear to be luck either, at least not on the surface. His FIP (3.19) since 2013 indicates that his peripherals back up solid performance (ERA 3.26). But what you don't see from fielding independent results is just how Quintana has changed as a pitcher over his reign. Quintana's strikeout rate is right around league average, and his walk rate is a bit lower and has been trending down since he broke into the league. But where he's really excelled is his ability to keep the ball in the yard.
For his career, Quintana's been essentially league average when it comes to the distribution of batted balls allowed, but his HR/FB has been below league average for each of his five seasons with the Pale Hose. Since 2014, it cratered. Over that period, Quintana has given up 425 fly balls, only 27 of which have left the yard. HR/FB rate stabilizes at around 400 fly balls. His expected number of home runs has also matched his actual total pretty closely so, while he can't possibly match his early 2016 HR/FB rate, it appears that his well below league average performance has legs.
This is also supported by batted ball data, which we've had access to through Statcast for the past two seasons. While Quintana's percentile rank for average exit velocity on all balls is middling, his average exit velocity on fly balls is among the best in the league. In this case, the higher the percentile, the weaker the contact relative to his peers.
|Exit Velo (all)||Exit Velo (FB)|
|2015||46th percentile (min 250 events)||84th percentile (min 50 FB)|
|2016||36th percentile (min 25 events)||86th percentile (min 10 FB)|
Between the chronically below league average HR/FB rate and exit velocity on fly balls, it seems like Quintana isn't likely to see the regression his xFIP may suggest. So I guess we can say that almost nobody has, or will, f--- with the Jose! To which you might say:
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Matt Jackson abides. He is also a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score and a staff writer for Royals Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu. He doesn't think Jose Quintana is, you know, a creep in real life, man.