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How Jose Quintana has changed since joining the Cubs

It has a lot to do with his changeup.

Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

The Cubs acquired Jose Quintana to stabilize a faltering rotation with his controllable, top-of-the-line talent. After paying the high price for Quintana in July, the Cubs now sit poised to make another run at the World Series, a run in which Quintana will surely play a big role. In his time with the club, Quintana has proven himself to be a perfect fit after turning his season around.

Quintana had been rock solid throughout his career with the White Sox. With multiple seasons over the 4.5 fWAR mark, he established himself as one of the best starters in the major leagues. The duo of Chris Sale and Quintana was as formidable of a top of the rotation pair as any in the Major Leagues.

His 2017 on the South Side, however, was not quite up to the standard he had set. Prior to the trade, he was posting career worsts in walk rate and HR/9, leading to his highest FIP since his rookie year. His dip in performance in most areas was also accompanied by a massive spike in his strikeout rate, which made the stretch a bit confounding. All in all, he never quite figured it out with the White Sox prior to his trade, as he seemed to go through quite a few ebbs and flows of good and bad.

Fast forward to the end of the season, and Quintana looks like a top of the rotation starter again.

Jose Quintana Season Comparison

Quintana ERA DRA FIP K% BB% HR/9
Quintana ERA DRA FIP K% BB% HR/9
Pre-Trade 4.49 3.83 4.02 24.6% 9.0% 1.21
Post-Trade 3.74 3.90 3.25 28.3% 6.1% 0.96

In his stretch with the Cubs, he extended the career high strikeout rate he was posting with the White Sox even further. On top of that, he’s cut the amount of walks and home runs he’s been allowing, which sparked that massive drop in FIP. Though DRA has not been as kind to Quintana, it also wasn’t as down on him before the trade, and it has been good enough throughout the season for him to post a 3.6 pWARP this season.

Quintana’s revitalization has its roots in his changeup. He had a lot of problems getting hitters to offer at the pitch, with a swing rate well below his 43.8% career swing rate.

Jose Quintana Changeup Comparison

Changeup Frequency HMov VMov Swing Whiffs GB%
Changeup Frequency HMov VMov Swing Whiffs GB%
Pre-Trade 8.25% 6.4 6.0 34.44% 8.61% 7.95%
Post-Trade 10.69% 7.8 5.6 54.35% 16.67% 14.49%

However, with the Cubs, it’s become the fourth premium pitch that he needed it to be. A modest increase in horizontal movement has nearly doubled the amount of whiffs and swings that he has generated from the pitch. On top of that, it is now more viable as a pitch to generate weak contact, with a huge spike in ground ball rate.

Quintana is set to start the third game of the NLDS against the Nationals. Without the changes he made to his changeup, it might have meant him being left out of the postseason rotation and the Cubs looking back on this trade with a particular level of shame. But, his ability to adapt and remain a high quality starter has made this deal a linchpin to the Cubs’ success this year.

Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.