Things have been going downhill for our friend Jose recently. There have been three outings for him in between this fine morning and his last quality start, which was also the last time he made it through the sixth inning.
Even factoring in that last quality start, Quintana has walked 11 batters in his last 17.2 innings, while striking out 12. That’s not a ratio one goes about building a career off of.
More immediately, Quintana’s completely fallen apart in his last two starts, well before they became full-form outings.. Against Baltimore, the familiarity of the second time through the order made him hittable, and Tuesday night it didn’t even last that long–he was Twinned for seven runs before he could even get two outs in the second inning.
There are, a ton of possible explanations for his struggles:
- He’s tired after having thrown 50 more innings this season than any year in his career
- He’s a low strikeout pitcher going through a slump in command, and Tuesday night was the classic death of a pitch-to-contact approach. Too many baserunners, and no swing-and-miss stuff to limit the jam with.
- He’s still raw. He lacks a counter-move to his basic approach of busting righties inside with cutters and heaters, his change-up is hittable, his curve is a show-me offering.
- He’s bad. He’s a bad pitcher.
The fourth option seems mean and short-sighted, but it’s digging at a larger point – Quintana’s pitching poorly enough to get yanked just on merit, especially if the team he was on had better options, and especially for a team in precarious playoff positioning. Jose can deny the notion of fatigue being an issue…
“Definitely this is uncharted waters with the innings, but I don’t feel it’s anything with my arm not being strong or being weak,” he said. “It’s just some things I’m not actually doing right and I just need to analyze video and see what that is and correct those things.”
…but his performance begs “Why not check and see if that’s the problem anyway?”
Well for one, Quintana isn’t seeing any velocity drop-off–if anything we’re seeing more 93’s hit the board than before. But mainly, the answer to that question is ‘Hector Santiago and Dylan Axelrod’.
Shuffling between the two for spot starts is one things, plugging them both into the rotation–and potentially placing one of them into the Detroit series–is very much another thing.
Axelrod’s compliment of pitches is no more complete than Quintana’s, and Santiago has better raw materials, but just made his first career start on Monday. That’s a pretty low bar of expectations for Quintana to have to slide under.
Ideally, there’d be enough of a stable group for management to not only be able to pull back Quintana for a bit, but to say “Yeah, he’s not sore or anything, but Chris Sale’s velocity has been down a bit and we thought he could use a day off. Better to have him at his best.”
That appears to be a luxury just for the Washington’s of the world. Looking down the line of Liriano, Quintana, Santiago, and Axelrod, and wondering what madness will come of each really underscores why the Sox were willing to pony up big dollars for Floyd and Danks to be slightly above-average for 190 innings a year, and how disappointing it’s been that they have suddenly been unable to do that.
This is no way to shake out a playoff rotation–I’m not sure if the notion of Dylan Axelrod walking out from the bullpen for Game 4 of the ALCS makes me want to laugh or swallow my teeth–but here we are after all, with few games left and a simple value judgment to make, of whether Santiago and Axelrod are both better bets than a broken Quintana.
I’d say yes, but would hardly besmirch anyone–even a manager, who gets paid to think about these sorts of things–for sticking with an adaptable youngster who dragged their rotation to this point.
It’s a sport with high degrees of randomness, played by painfully young men with physical peaks of unknowable lengths, with millions of extra dollars in playoff revenue at stake. I wouldn’t fault Robin if he had long since resigned himself to drawing names from a hat.