Chicago Cubs: Are people overreacting to Jose Quintana’s overall line?

(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Jose Quintana‘s line through his first eight games have Chicago Cubs fans in a full-blown panic. But are we overreacting to his purported struggles?

On the heels of Jose Quintana’s clunker Monday against the Atlanta Braves, I can’t count how many times I’ve seen bad takes on Twitter related to the team’s acquisition of the lefty. Apparently, it’s already a foregone conclusion: Eloy Jimenez is a future Hall of Famer. Oh, and Theo Epstein is leading the Chicago Cubs into the fiery abyss.

Good times on #CubsTwitter. Good. Times.

And, to be fair, the left-hander didn’t look great. Ozzie Albies tagged him for a leadoff opposite field home run right out of the gates. He needed 33 pitches to get through the first inning alone. Q allowed two more blasts before departing with two outs in the fifth. His final line? Six earned on nine hits and three walks.

Hardly awe-inspiring – something even Joe Maddon acknowledged.

"“To this point, Q’s just not been on top of his game with his command,” the Cubs skipper said after the game. “Honestly, his delivery is good. He’s got a clean line to the plate. His ball spins well. I just think it’s a matter of trusting himself. That’s it. He’s going to pitch well. He has pitched well."

Maybe, just maaaaaaybe Maddon is onto something. Here’s why.

A pair of bad outings proving costly

Take away a pair of starts against Atlanta and Quintana has been an above average pitcher this year. A sub-3.00 earned run average and a 31-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio? Yes, please. May I have some more?

Related Story: Revisiting the Jose Quintana trade nearly a year later

When the Cubs pulled the trigger on the trade that brought Quintana from the South Side to the Friendly Confines, it felt like the right move. You knew John Lackey wasn’t up to take the ball in the postseason – not without throwing BP in the process. At season’s end, we knew not only Lackey, but former Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta was as good as gone.

Chicago needed long-term control over a young, quality starter. They got just that in the now 29-year-old southpaw. His struggles on the North Side not withstanding, his overall body of work in a Cubs uniform have been pretty much what you’d expect.

  • W/ CWS: 8.8 H/9, 3.53 FIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.250 WHIP
  • W/ CHC:  8.4 H/9, 3.84 FIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.265 WHIP

Granted, in a much smaller sample size with the Cubs, he’s been essentially what he was for six years with the White Sox. But two bad starts against the Braves have fans losing their minds this season.

More concerning, at least to me, is how much he’s relying on his fastball.

Pitch selection a bigger problem for Quintana?

So far this season, the veteran lefty is relying on his fastball more than he has since 2014, throwing it 48.3 percent of the time. (By contrast, he used it only 35.5 percent of the time last season).

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His sinker usage has plummeted nearly a full 10 percent as well, while his cutter rate is down from 28.2 percent a year ago to 21.8 percent in his eight starts this season. At least at face value, this looks like a problem. Why? Because, according to Fangraphs, his heater is now a below-average pitch for the first time in years.

Furthermore, opponents aren’t chasing his offerings outside the zone – at least not as frequently as they have in the past. His swing rate on pitches outside the zone is down four percent year over year. And when they do square him up, its for much harder contact (his hard-hit rate up 40.3 percent from 32.6 percent).

What does it all mean?

Based on the numbers, Quintana has managed to be largely the same guy he was for years in Chicago. But, for whatever reason – either by design or personal choice – he has changed how he’s deploying his arsenal on the mound.

Next: Where does Joe Maddon rank amongst all-time Cubs skippers?

Take two bad starts against Atlanta away and he’s in the midst of a very nice year. Unfortunately, that’s not how baseball works. Q needs to get back to what got him here – pounding the bottom of the zone with his sinker, mixing in the heater to change the eye level of the hitter and doing everything he can to keep the ball in the yard.