We’re now two starts into Jose Quintana’s Cardinals tenure and it appears there’s already an arsenal adjustment in the works. You all should know by now that I love arsenal adjustments.
I find it fascinating when a pitcher tweaks his pitches in an effort to improve. And I find it especially fascinating that Quintana may be changing his arsenal.
Tere’s two reasons why. The first is that he’s a successful pitcher. He had a 3.24 FIP and 2.1 fWAR with the Pirates. You all know how the old saying goes: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Well, Quintana certainly isn’t broke but he might still be getting fixed. We’ll look into how in a minute.
The second reason I am fascinated by this arsenal change is that it gives us an idea of the St. Louis Cardinals organizational strategy. We’ve seen an emphasis on sinker, groundballs, and balls in play recently, but there’s more to every strategy than just the surface level talking points. Changes like Quintana’s give us a glimpse into the deeper portions of that strategy.
So, without further ado, let’s begin.
I’ll start with a question. Where did all the changeups go? They have disappeared on hitters like a Waino curveball. Here’s what I mean. As a Pirate, Quintana threw his changeup a little over 23% of the time. Now, as a Cardinal, he has thrown it just under 6% of the time. It’s gone from his third most common pitch to an afterthought. It’s basically been a show-me pitch in his first two starts.
And maybe that’s what it should be because the pitch has been hammered when it’s been thrown. Hitters are batting almost .300 against the pitch with a .349 wOBA and the expected numbers are basically the same. It simply hasn’t been a good pitch.
Let me put it another way. Quintana’s changeup has a run value of 13 (remember, positive run values are bad for pitchers). That ranks as the 12th worst individual pitch in all of baseball, and it’s actually slightly worse than Patrick Corbin’s fastball.
To make things even worse, he doesn’t even throw the pitch in the zone very often. And by very often, I mean ever. He literally throws it in the zone 24.3% of the time. That less than 1 in 4. And it’s not like it’s a mystery where the pitch will land.
That’s 58.3% of changeups thrown in the same region. And that region is out of the strike zone. Normally I might say this is bad since it takes all the mystery out of things for the hitter, but I’ll make an exception in this case. Just look at how hitters have fared when he’s thrown the pitch elsewhere.
He needs the pitch to be low and outisde to right handers (who almost exclusively see his changeup) or the pitch will get crushed.
Quintana gets a lot of chases with the pitch (30.6% chase rate) so he’s fine with throwing so many changeups outside the zone. The real problem is when he throws it is the zone. And if you can’t get away with throwing a pitch in the zone, then it’s probably not worth throwing.
This is where I come clean. Here’s what I wrote after the trade deadline.
Some pitchers have changeups that are weapons (think Devin Williams). Some have changeups that aren’t really that good but set up their other pitches. I think that’s really the purpose of Quintana’s changeup. It’s a setup pitch. It’s not a results pitch. He’s throwing it more often to get hitters off balance and his other pitches are reaping the rewards.
In short, I was fine with him throwing the bad pitch to be a setup for his other pitches, none of which are super impressive in terms of movement, spin, or velocity. The pitch wasn’t getting great results but Quintana was so I was content with leaving things the way they were.
The Cardinals obviously weren’t.
Honestly, I’m a fan of the approach. I’m fine with a pitch being a setup pitch but it’s also foolish to keep throwing a pitch that’s clearly not a good pitch.
Quintana’s changeup doesn’t even appear to be good enough to be a setup pitch. It’s much more of a show-me pitch. I mean, it hasn’t ever been a good pitch and he’s 33 years old. From 2019-2021 it allowed a wOBA in the .390s, so it was a weird decision to throw it more this year.
I think Quintana will be just fine, if not better, if the pitch keeps disappearing. Sometimes tweaking is complicated, and sometimes it’s not. Taking a pitcher and removing his worse pitch is a pretty easy way to make that pitcher better. Sometimes it really is that simple.
With Quintana’s changeup disappearing, he’ll need to fill the void with another offering. Except it hasn’t been as simple as replacing one pitch with another.
The pitch that has seen the largest boost is his sinker. He’s thrown the pitch nearly 22% of the time in his first two starts with St. Louis. In his Pittsburgh tenure, he threw it just over 14% of the time. That’s an 8% difference, but he needs to fill a 17% void.
The rest of that gap has been filled with more four-seamers and curveballs.
His four-seamer and curveball have been solid this year but his sinker has not had much success. In fact, it’s been even worse than his changeup. That begs the question — is this a change worth making?
Let’s see if we can find an answer to that question.
For starters, it’s a pitch that has allowed a .402 wOBA. That’s definitely not ideal. It’s also a pitch that hasn’t been that bad traditionally. In 2021, it allowed a .318 wOBA. In 2019 that number was a bit higher at .338.
It’s not a great pitch, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s simply a third pitch, and it’s one that has historically been better than his changeup.
It also gives him a pitch with a different profile. Quintana’s four-seamer is almost as straight as it gets with just 2.2 inches of run. That’s 67% less than the average four-seamer. The four-seam fastball isn’t a pitch that typically gets a lot of run anyways, but Quintana’s four-seamer is exceptionally straight.
His curveball also doesn’t get a ton of horizontal movement and it profiles as much more of a 12-6 curveball than other breakers.
It was Quintana’s changeup that brought a profile with a lot of run. It was less than average, but still more than his two most common pitches. Now that he’s not throwing it, the sinker takes that role. It has 12.4 inches of run, the most of any offering, which allows a pitch with horizontal movement to remain in his arsenal.
That’s about as far as it goes. Quintana’s sinker gives him a second fastball with a different movement profile and the pitch is (probably) better than his changeup. More sinkers and fewer changeups should be fine.
The best part about the change isn’t the increased sinker usage. It’s the increased everything else usage. The same way that Quintana may expect better results by cutting out his worst pitch, he may expect better results by throwing his two best pitches more often.
Take a look at these results.
Jose Quintana’s Best Pitches
|Pitch||wOBA||xwOBA||Chase Rate (%)||Whiff Rate (%)|
|Pitch||wOBA||xwOBA||Chase Rate (%)||Whiff Rate (%)|
Now, I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of throwing those pitches more.
Fewer changeups and more everything else has been a winning formula for Quintana in his first two starts with the Cardinals, but it’s important to keep in mind that he’s still only 12 innings into his St. Louis tenure.
I’m taking an early look into a change he’s made, but anything can still happen. It’s entirely possible that his changeup usage will rebound or that everything I’ve already talked about will stop happening. I don’t think that’s the case, though.
Consider this. Quintana throws his changeups almost exclusively to right-handed hitters. He has also faced a ton of right-handed hitters in his first two starts. Nobody (except for Joe Maddon) stacks a lineup full of left-handed hitters to face a left-handed pitcher.
(As an aside, The Danks Theory is the idea that a manager should occasionally stack his lineup with same sided hitters when facing pitchers who have a dangerous pitch that is only thrown against opposite-sided hitters. This is usually the case with changeups. Many pitchers won’t throw same-sided changeups. So, The Danks Theory states that it may be better to sacrifice the platoon advantage to get a pitcher to not throw one of his best offerings.)
My point is that Quintana has had plenty of opportunities to throw his changeup in his first two starts and he hasn’t taken them. That feels intentional. I think it’s a pretty safe bet to assume that his changeup is a thing of the past now.
I’m excited to see how well Quintana pitches without his changeup. I like the adjustment because generally I’m generally a fan of throwing good pitches more and bad pitches less. I think it will be a positive change for Quintana, though it’s not like he needed much help.
This isn’t the first time that a Cardinals pitching acquisition has made a large arsenal adjustment. Luis Garcia dropped his four-seamer after joining St. Louis last year and T.J. McFarland began throwing his changeup more than his slider for the first time in his career.
The difference is that those two were bargain bin acquisitions while Quintana cost Johan Oviedo and Malcom Nunez. It’s not rare to tweak bargain bin guys but it is somewhat rare to tweak a pitcher with over 2 fWAR at the trade deadline.
Perhaps the Cardinals saw hidden value in Quintana and targeted him specifically because of that because they wasted no time in making the change. The Cardinals certainly aren’t shy about bringing in pitchers who they believe can be unlocked with a better pitching strategy. Quintana may be the latest example.
The next Quintana bump day is on Tuesday. I’ll be watching to see if his changeup remains an afterthought. Hopefully by then the Brewers will be an afterthought too.
Thanks for reading! Enjoy your Sunday!