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Is Jose Quintana a Top AL Lefty? Numbers Say He’s Close

After Jose Quintana’s outing against the Cubs last week, Frank Thomas said during the postgame show that he believes “Q” is the fourth-best left-handed starter in the American League behind Chris Sale, David Price, and John Lester.

I’m as enamored with Jose Quintana just as much as the next guy, and probably even more than most. However, when I heard The Big Hurt make that statement, I stopped and thought it had to be a bit of a stretch and wanted to dive into the idea.

Quintana’s been in the bigs since the middle of the 2012, as he helped stabilize the White Sox rotation after being let go by the Yankees (man, do they have to be kicking themselves right now). Yet, even though he’s just 25 years old, no one around baseball has seemed to take notice.

Sox fans like to point to a lack of run support for that, which is a valid point, as his 4.16 RS/9 (run support per nine IP) ranks him 19th in all of baseball since he entered the MLB. However, if Quintana received that run support, would he really be viewed as a top lefty around baseball?

Let’s start by taking a look at the basic numbers of some other prominent left-hander starters in the AL (aside from Price, Sale, and Lester, who are in a class by themselves) compared to Quintana since the start of the 2012 season.

NAME STARTS IP W-L ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Q.S.

C.J. Wilson (Angels)

75

468.1

34-20

3.61

7.98

3.75

0.77

50

CC Sabathia (Yankees)

68

457

32-23

4.21

8.27

2.34

1.18

37

Jose Quintana (White Sox)

63

378.1

16-16

3.69

6.71

2.59

0.98

34

Felix Doubront (Red Sox)

63

352

23-19

4.45

8.28

3.89

1.07

34

Tommy Milone (A’s)

63

379

26-22

3.99

6.67

2.14

1.23

30

Wei-Yen Chen (Orioles)

62

370.2

23-20

4.03

7.04

2.55

1.19

33

Derek Holland (Rangers)

60

384.2

22-15

4.00

7.81

2.67

1.22

38

Matt Moore (Rays)

60

337.3

28-17

3.54

8.64

4.32

0.88

28

When you look at the basic numbers, it’s difficult to make an argument for any of these guys over C.J. Wilson. He’s been the most durable out of the group, won the most games, has the most quality starts, and has the second lowest ERA. While he’s walked more than a full batter per nine than Quintana, he’s has 12 more quality starts over this timeframe than the next closest pitcher (Derek Holland) and has allowed the fewest homers per nine out of anyone.

We can dive into the advanced stats (and we will), but the basic numbers show what we need to see in regards to C.J. Wilson. Jose Quintana is good, but we can’t put him ahead of C.J. just yet.

So what about the rest of this group? Is Quintana above the more popular CC? Or a young stud like Matt Moore? Well, while Moore’s showed flashes of dominance, he hasn’t gone as deep into games (as evidenced by his lack of quality starts compared to the rest of the group) based on higher walk totals, and he’s now out for the year after undergoing Tommy John. Based on that, we can dismiss Moore at this point as well.

Taking Wilson and Moore out of the equation, it’s really hard to separate anyone from the rest of the group. So, let’s dive into some more advanced numbers:

Name

WAR

BABIP

GB%

FB%

HR/FB

FIP

xFIP

tERA

SIERA

CC Sabathia (Yankees)

7.6

.304

46.5

31.7

13.8%

3.83

3.45

4.48

3.52

Jose Quintana (White Sox)

6.3

.295

44.4

33.7

10.5%

3.92

3.94

4.65

4.08

Felix Doubront (Red Sox)

4.8

.303

44

34.7

11.7%

4.17

4.05

4.79

4.11

Tommy Milone (A’s)

4.2

.296

37.2

40.6

10.6%

4.16

4.20

4.53

4.15

Wei-Yen Chen (Orioles)

5.3

.295

36.7

40.5

10.6%

4.14

4.18

4.87

4.15

Derek Holland (Rangers)

6.4

.287

41.8

38.1

12%

4.03

3.86

4.59

3.84

CC Sabathia starts to separate himself a bit now, as he’s rolling the highest percentage of ground balls and tops every metric category (aside from HR/FB ratio, which is likely a byproduct of playing in the phone booth that is New Yankee Stadium) despite having the highest BABIP (batting average of balls in play), suggesting that he’s had the worst luck out of the group. He also checks out the best in all four of the adjusted ERA statistics: FIP, xFIP, tERA, SIERA. Fangraphs can explain them much better than I can (click the links on each one to see a description), but here’s the cliffnotes version of each one if you’re not familiar with it.

  • FIP- adjusted ERA if batted ball performance was the league average, essentially putting every pitcher’s luck and defense on the same playing field
  • xFIP- same as FIP except adjusts a pitcher’s homer total to what it should have been based on fly ball rates
  • tERA- adjusted ERA so strikeouts and groundball outs are more valuable than flyball and linedrive outs, which have a greater chance of becoming hits
  • SIERA- attempts to put a number on the intangibles of pitching and illustrates how pitchers are able to limit run production

Based on all accounts, Sabathia’s the best pitcher out of the group when we level the playing field.

Compared to the rest, the numbers suggest that Quintana or Derek Holland would be next. While three of the four adjusted ERAs of Holland tops Q’s, including SIERA (regarded as the most accurate metric out of the four), Quintana rolls more ground balls, has a higher BABIP, and most importantly, is healthy. Texas is still waiting for Holland to return after a freak knee injury he experienced in the off-season, so right now, it would be hard to justify taking him over Quintana with how even the numbers are.

In addition, Quintana has shown improvement from year-to-year in almost all of these categories:

Season

WAR

BABIP

GB%

FB%

HR/FB

FIP

xFIP

tERA

SIERA

2012

1.6

.299

47.2

31.1

10.5%

4.23

4.33

5.10

4.57

2013

3.7

.283

42.5

37.4

10.2%

3.82

3.86

4.23

3.85

2014

1.0

.299

42.5

30.8

8.9%

3.32

3.46

4.68

3.72

His groundball rate has actually dipped since his rookie campaign, but a big reason for that could be because his strikeout rate has increased each year: from 14.3% in 2012 to 19.7% in 2013 to 19.9% this season. That’s probably the biggest reason why he’s seen all of his advanced metrics fall, despite the velocity of his entire repertoire remaining the same give or take a few tenths of a MPH.

Based off of that, we can conclude he’s missing more bats and inducing more lazy flyballs (as his decreasing HR/FB rate suggests) for one real reason: Q’s becoming a smarter and smarter pitcher with each passing game.

As for Big Frank’s proclamation, it may be a bit too premature to put Quintana fourth in terms of left-handed American League starting pitchers, as C.J. Wilson and CC Sabathia’s track records since Quintana has entered the MLB are a bit better. However, with the rate Q is improving, there’s no question that he can meet Frank’s statement very, very soon.

lukestanczyk

About lukestanczyk

Broadcaster for BenU Sports in Lisle, Illinois as well as a Sports Information jack-of-all-trades for the Athletic Department, baseball ADDICT who played one year in college and still plays in two men's leagues in the Chicagoland area, spent my early childhood living minutes away from The Cell, parents met through the Sox Supporters group in the left field bleachers in the 70s. Yeah, White Sox baseball is in my blood.

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