We’ve talked about what’s going on with the Mets and Carlos Correa enough for now, folks. Let’s instead focus on Jose Quintana for a few moments, shall we?
It was easy for his two-year, $26 million contract with New York to fly under the radar. The agreement happened after the Mets came to terms with Justin Verlander, and before deals with Brandon Nimmo and Kodai Senga materialized.
However, this has the potential to be an absolute steal for the Amazins. So long as Quintana can sustain his 2022 form, of course.
Quintana’s past track record and bump in the road
Between 2014 and 2017, Quintana was probably one of the most underrated starting pitchers in baseball. He accumulated at least 3.0 fWAR in each of those campaigns, all while pitching at least 188 frames per year. From 2018-21, he got himself over 3.0 fWAR once and surpassed the 170-inning plateau twice. The southpaw also combined to toss just 73 frames from 2020-21 due to left lat and shoulder inflammation.
But in 2022, he was back to himself while splitting time between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. Through 165.2 innings, Quintana posted a 2.93 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, leading to 4.0 fWAR.
That 2.93 ERA is a single-season career-best mark for the left-hander. This was accompanied by a 20.2% strikeout rate, though — his lowest since 2013 (19.7%).
What the Mets are looking for with Quintana
Upon looking at all these statistics and knowing the current state of baseball, wondering if Quintana can come close to replicating this performance is valid.
Advanced ERA metrics say he encountered some good fortune, but not a ton. Quintana’s expected ERA checked in at 3.86, his FIP was 2.99, and his xFIP was 3.72. As a projected backend starter for the Mets, he doesn’t need to twirl a sub-3.00 ERA to be a success (although New York would take that). If he lands closer to the other advanced metrics and finishes with a sub-4.00 ERA once 2023 is in the books, that’s a huge win.
One of the things the Mets wanted was an innings eater. They had that last year in Chris Bassitt, and Quintana will take his place. New York’s rotation is either on the older side (Verlander, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco) or unproven in the big leagues (Senga). Quintana debuted in 2012. The only times he didn’t toss at least 130 innings in a season were in 2020 and 2021.
New York will be hoping for a mixture of both — consistent innings at an above-average level.
Keys to sustaining this bounce-back performance
We know Quintana doesn’t throw super hard. His average fastball velocity last year was 91.3 mph. We also know he’s not a big strikeout guy. So, what does this hurler need to do to have a successful first year in Queens?
One specific thing is important because it’ll impact other areas: his control.
Between 2016 and 2018, Quintana was throwing his fastball more than 60% of the time. His usage crested in 2017 when he leaned on that pitch at a 68.2% clip. It’s gone down each year since, with last year’s 52.4% usage rate being his lowest since 2015 (52.2%).
This has allowed him to rely more on secondary pitches. He’s added a slider within the past couple of years while leaning more on his curveball (22.4% in ’22) and changeup (19.5% in ’22).
As a soft-tosser, he needs to have pinpoint accuracy at all times, but especially early in counts. He threw balls inside the strike zone 35.5% of the time last year — the second-lowest mark of his career. That was combined with a 61.4% first-pitch strike rate and a career-best chase rate of 36.0%. His walk rate went from 11.8% in 2021 to 6.9% in 2022.
Despite batted-ball events being mostly in line with his career norms, the above numbers helped Quintana post a career-high 18.9% soft-hit rate allowed and a 28.9% hard-hit rate allowed which was nearly a new career-high mark.
Knowing all of this (plus the baseballs getting de-juiced), it’s not surprising to see his home runs allowed per fly-ball ratio drop from 21.4% in 2021 to 5.3% last year.
Quintana won’t be lighting up the radar guns or snatching a bunch of headlines for the Mets in 2023. But his presence at the back of the rotation could be huge for this club in the coming months.