July 5th was a day of tremendous temptation for everyone still avoiding the Jose Quintana bandwagon. His masterful eight inning, two-hit outing against the Texas Rangers offense--on a hellishly hot day--wasn't simply another triumph for his strategy of busting hitters inside with his perfectly located 90 mph fastball, it was far more promising that.
Quintana used the breaking stuff widely dismissed as undeveloped and unremarkable, and dominated the Rangers with it, striking out eight batters with 14 swinging strikes. It's hard to rely on pinpoint command every time out, and it's hard to dominate on stuff every night, but Quintana showing that he could occasionally do either one gave his success a lot better chance of being sustainable.
Since that eight-strikeout day, Quintana has struck out seven batters...in his last four starts.
Not to place all the blame for Monday night's mess on his shoulders, because it could certainly be shared, but it continued a negative trend for Jose. Rather than see a continued development of his breaking pitches and incorporate more swing-and-miss in his game, he's depending on the kindness of opposing bats more than ever. Only Boston rewarded his trust.
Jose still has the good sense not to give himself extra baserunners; he has just five walks in 26.1 innings over his last four starts. But in that same time his swinging strike rate has been 5%.
Extrapolated over a whole season, that would put him in the bottom five of the league for full-time starters, and since Jose--for all of his 'weak-contact generating', 'just knowing how to pitch' qualities--still had a 8.7% swinging strike rate going into the night, it can't be written off as just being his personal style. Even Mark Buehrle (7.2% career rate) would say that Quintana's looked hittable lately.
Most directly, the culprit is Quintana losing a feel for his breaking stuff. Each of the last four starts has been marked by either his slider or curve being off to the point where he has had to abandon it completely. The larger looming factor is the same problem his colleague Mr. Sale is facing--Quintana threw a career-high 102 innings in High-A last season. Between the Sox and AA this year, he's already accumulated 132.1.
It'd be nice if fatigue could take all the blame for Quintana's slide. It may yet still. But the notion that his deceptive stutter-step delivery may be figured out upon repeat viewings still hasn't been tested. These recent back-to-back outings against the Twins have been the only time he's made multiple starts against the same team (we're excluding his bullpen outing versus Cleveland here), and his handle on his off-speed stuff Monday was so poor it didn't offer a fair test
And unlike with Chris Sale with his changeup and slider, neither of Quintana's off-speed pitches look strong enough to sustain him when one goes down. The large inning count could certainly be a factor, but there's no velocity loss to back that up at the moment.
He's definitely in a command slump no matter the cause, and if there's any credence to be given to all the scouting assessments that place him as a back-end starter, someone who can't hope to override his lack of stuff with impeccable precision all the time, it's one that's owed to him.
Burying Quintana for this stretch doesn't make any more sense than carving out his bust during his hot streak did, but the concerns with him should be clear. At present, they are mounting.