Written by Elie Waitzer, Cole Nefsky, and Dave Church
Is Jose Quintana Still An Ace?
Big lefty Jose Quintana will bring an ugly 5.30 ERA into the series opener against Joe Biagini. Besides Masahiro Tanaka, you could argue that Quintana has been the most disappointing starter of 2017 so far. He’s pitched to a reasonable 3.48 ERA over two June starts, but still hasn’t looked right.
Before we look at some of the issues that have derailed Quintana, let’s establish the fact that he was definitely an ace coming into this season. That fact has never been in question in Chicago, but to outsiders his average strikeout numbers were a turn off. Here’s how you know he was an ace: there are only three pitchers who have recorded 200 IP+ with a sub-3.60 ERA in each of the past four seasons (2013-2016). Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, and Jose Quintana. He is an ace.
It’s been a completely different story so far, however, with Quintana struggling to average over 5 IP per start. It’s tough to go far into games when you’re running a career-high 9.2% walk rate, a career-high 11.2 HR/FB rate, and a career-low 66% strand rate. All of that points towards bad luck except for the walk rate. Despite pedestrian velocity, Quintana has always thrived on his fastball location. This year he’s been all over the zone with the heater, but if he can find his command there’s nothing preventing him from dominating the Jays.
White Sox Bullpen
While the White Sox have a pretty messy team overall with starting pitching either under-performing or living up to incredibly low expectations, a lineup made up of a little bit of pop, and the worst on base percentage in the league; the one thing they certainly have going for them is their bullpen. Tommy Kahnle has been leading a group of bandit relievers to strikeout success.
Much has been written of Kahnle’s added velocity and improved performance, but he isn’t alone at the back of their pen. Anthony Swarzak and David Robertson have both carried sub-3 FIPs so far this year. While there’s nothing new there with Robertson, it is encouraging for him and the team that he has bounced back this way after such a rough 2016.
Swarzak, on the other hand, has added a velocity and has made a good reliever out of himself. The biggest difference has been his slider, though. He has straightened it out a bit, and is throwing it more than ever. The offset between it and his fastball has also grown because of the added velocity, which hasn’t translated to his slider.
Their bullpen performing the way that it has isn’t entirely shocking, but who it has been is. Nate Jones has become one of the better relievers in baseball, when healthy, since 2013. That caveat is an important one, though, because he has not been healthy this year. Another high quality reliever that has been out is one of my favourites: Zach Putnam. Given their team construction, I don’t know when or how they’ll get a lead, but once the have it, the Jays will have a tough time fighting back.
Much was made of the return of the Blue Jays hitting during a successful month of May. Great months from Jose Bautista, Devon Travis, and Justin Smoak drove the offense, and the hot start of Kevin Pillar was still fresh in the minds of most. Josh Donaldson continues to be the best third baseman in the game on both sides of the ball. But it wasn’t just them: Veterans Kendrys Morales and Russell Martin supported the effort, notching OPSs of .930 and .839 respectively.
The calendar turning to June has cooled off some of the Blue Jays’ hot bats. Pillar’s blazing start is fading fast, Travis is hurt, and Bautista has cooled down. Smoak and Donaldson have continued to rake, but the lineup is ice cold after those two. So the team may look to the veterans to pick up the slack: Morales, Martin, and Troy Tulowitzki (who has struggled for the majority of the season). Thus far in June, none of them have had much success either.
While the Jays will take anything they can offensively at the moment, some signs of life from those three veteran bats would be very encouraging as they look to recover from their awful April. The White Sox are sending Jose Quintana, Mike Pelfrey, and James Shields to the mound this weekend and if we look hard enough, we can find some reasons to hope (in those small sample sizes that manager John Gibbons loves). Morales has a .929 OPS against Quintana in 39 plate appearances. Tulowitzki has a career .922 against Pelfrey in 25 PAs, and Martin a blazing 1.196 (in a scant 8 PAs, it should be noted). Russell Martin had some success against Shields in 2012, with an .896 OPS over 14 appearances. And it was only last year that Shields had an ugly 6.77 ERA for the Sox, though his three starts so far this year have been excellent.
This is certainly cherry picking, but the greater point remains. With some of the Jays hitters hurt or struggling, they need these guys to step up, and there may be opportunities for them to do so this weekend against a White Sox pitching staff that no longer has Chris Sale at its head. Morales is on the team exclusively for his bat, and Tulo and Martin are here at least in part because they are good hitters for their positions. The Jays have gone 6-6 so far in the month of June, which would be fine if they only needed to tread water. But with the way they started, and a competitive division and wild card race in front of them, they need to start making up ground, and some contributions from these guys would go a long way towards getting them some wins.
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