After a tumultuous first full season with the Chicago Cubs, Jose Quintana’s performance in September could be definitive for his success in the postseason.
Between injuries to Yu Darvish and the struggles experienced by Tyler Chatwood and Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs starters have trended like a bell curve all year. While nearly every arm on the staff has had their highs and lows, perhaps none have been more volatile than Jose Quintana.
The 29-year-old had a brutal April, posting a 5.74 ERA in the month. However, a 3.09 ERA in May and mediocre June were followed by three consecutive quality starts at the beginning of July. Quintana’s ERA had dipped to 3.87 – the lowest it had been all season – and he seemed to be trending upwards. But Quintana lasted just three innings in his next start on July 28, giving up six earned runs on six hits and three walks.
These swings have not only occurred for the left-hander all season, but mid-game as well. In an Aug. 8 start against the Royals in Kansas City, Quintana gave up two early runs before settling into a groove, retiring the next 11 batters he faced and allowing just three hits through the first six innings. But he imploded in the seventh, allowing a pair of singles and a homer to end with five earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.
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This start is evocative of a season in which Quintana has struggled to break through. As of Wednesday morning, he was running career-high numbers in FIP, WHIP, HR/9 and BB/9, while his K/9 of 7.9 is a marked decrease from last year’s 10.5 that he posted after being acquired from the White Sox.
For the veteran to get back on track and find the effectiveness in his pitches, he must find his fastball. In Quintana’s best season (2016), his fastball ran a pitch value of 29.9 according to FanGraphs. This year, the fastball is running a 4.7 rating, which is a pretty drastic dropoff in the span of just two years.
The problem this year has been Quintana’s tendency to nibble, as evidenced by his BB/9 rate and pitch counts. In four starts this season, Quintana has thrown over 90 pitches in under six innings, which is hardly the model of efficiency.
Working the count is a tendency similar to Jon Lester, who also largely depends on his fastball in terms of effectiveness. The difference is that – more often than not – Lester has been able to get outs when he has needed them and not stretch innings out too long.
September is a critical month for Quintana. A run of good starts could give him confidence heading into October, where the Cubs will desperately need him to be effective. Continued inconsistencies, on the other hand, could make way for some tentativeness and unease in the postseason.
Quintana will get his first chance to ramp things up in a start against the Brewers in Milwaukee on Wednesday evening.