clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

How the New Guys Can Improve or Maintain Their Results

J.P. took a look at the new players yesterday. I took a similar approach with a different angle. Come find out who I expect to be the best performer and how I think each can improve.

MLB: Game Two-Chicago Cubs at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, I’m writing a trade deadline piece too. J.P. wrote an excellent piece yesterday, and I would recommend that you go read it if you haven’t already, but I promise this won’t be a boring article that simply rehashes points that have already been made.

A Tuesday trade deadline and Sunday article deadline has give me plenty of time to think about these trades and look at the numbers. The more I look at, the more I like the deals.

I love the players that the Cardinals brought in but I also think they’re super interesting. Take Jose Quintana, for instance. Did you know that he only throws 42.4% of his pitches in the zone? If that seems low, that’s because it is. The league average zone rate is 48.5%, a whopping 6 percentage points higher.

Yet Quintana has a 7.3% walk rate while the league average is 8.2%. Should we expect more walks from him down the stretch?

How about another question. Will Jordan Montgomery or Jose Quintana will be better for the Cardinals? I’ll answer these questions and plenty more. Keep reading for my expectations and analysis of the three new arms that the Cardinals brought in at the deadline.

J.P. and I had similar article ideas, but there will be very little overlap between the two pieces. If anything, I think they complement each other well. At the very least, all of you VEB readers should have plenty of knowledge of the new guys after this week’s detailed analysis of them.

Jose Quintana — 3.50 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 20.6 K%, 7.3 BB%, 2.1 fWAR (Pirates)

Those are some pretty good numbers. He’s actually 30th in the league in fWAR among pitchers. Extrapolate his 2.1 fWAR in 20 starts across a full season (32 starts) and he’s on pace to finish the year with 3.4 fWAR. Again, that’s more than solid.

His Baseball Savant page doesn’t look that good, though.

That’s not as much red as I was expecting to see from someone on pace for 3.4 fWAR. It looks decidedly average and 3.4 fWAR is certainly not average. So, will Quintana be an average pitcher the rest of the way or can he continue his 3.4 fWAR pace? Let’s try to find out.

We’ll start with the first question I posed. Should we expect Quintana’s walk rate to rise? A 42.4% zone rate is really low after all. Still, my answer is a firm no.

So, how does Quintana get away with throwing so few pitches in the zone? It’s because he induces a ton of swings on pitches outside the zone. And that actually appears to be even more important than simply filling up the zone.

Getting hitters to expand the zone is important for pitchers, but it’s the key to survival for Quintana. His 82nd percentile chase rate has allowed him to thrive despite below average velocity, below average spin, and below average movement.

That brings us to an even deeper question — how can a pitcher with such underwhelming stuff get so many hitters to expand the zone? That answer is less clear, but I suspect is has to do with his effective pitch mix.

Here are Quintana’s usage rates.

Four-Seam Fastball - 35.7%

Curveball - 27.2%

Changeup - 22.7%

Sinker - 14.4%

Let me just point out that Quintana’s chase rate is the highest it’s been in his entire career. Perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps not, he’s also throwing his changeup more than he ever has. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, or at least not entirely. Look at last year. His 2021 chase rate was the third highest of his career, finishing about half a percent behind his 2015 chase rate and 3% behind his 2022 chase rate. That year also saw him throw his changeup more than ever.

The interesting thing is that his changeup hasn’t been super effective (.396 wOBA in 2021 and .344 wOBA in 2022). I don’t want to look at his changeup in a vacuum, though.

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.

Quintana’s four-seamer has allowed a wOBA of just .274. And that’s a pitch that averages 90 mph and doesn’t move all that much. It’s not just luck either. Hitters have an average exit velocity of just 85.2 mph against the pitch. Now, I haven’t seen enough of Quintana to definitively say that’s because hitters are off balance but that certainly seems logical.

Hitters are also batting below the Mendoza line against his curveball. The sinker hasn’t been as successful but it is his fourth pitch.

As we discuss how much hitters chase against Quintana, I should point out that it’s not like there’s one pitch that they can’t resist.

Notice how the chase rates against every pitch (except the sinker) are bunched together. That only adds fuel to my thought that it’s really Quintana’s arsenal as a whole that causes each pitch to work well despite below average stuff.

The other thing he has working in his favor is a well below average meatball rate (4.7%). He hardly ever throws pitches down the middle, instead leaving hitters to chase pitches off the plate or swing at pitches on the black.

So, I do think his walk rate is maintainable despite the fact that he doesn’t fill up the zone. And that’s the key for him. His stuff is below average but it’s harder to hit when it’s outside the zone and he seems to do a great job of keeping hitters off balance and enticing them into expanding the zone. That will make him an effective arm for the Cardinals.

Chris Stratton

I know Jordan Montgomery was the bigger get but I had to mention Chris Stratton next because he fits perfectly into what I just discussed with Quintana. I expect to see improvement in his walk rate with the Cardinals.

Chris Strattton has a zone rate that is 4% higher than Quintana’s. He also has a chase rate that’s over 1% higher. Yet he has an 8% walk rate on the season and Quintana has a 7.3% walk rate. At the time of the trade they were almost even.

I think Quintana’s above average walk rate is sustainable, so I think Stratton’s walk rate should get even better in St. Louis.

He also has a .364 BABIP that should be due for some regression. He generally runs higher BABIPs than most pitchers, with a career average of .319, but that’s still much lower than the current figure.

Fewer walks and a better BABIP should add up to a better pitcher. The final piece is a better defense. The Cardinals are fifth in defensive runs saved (43) and third in outs above average (19) as opposed to the Pirates who are 20th in DRS (7) and 24th in OAA(-13). The improved defense could be mentioned for all these pitchers, so even though I mentioning it here with Stratton, keep that in mind for Quintana and Montgomery too.

That’s three areas where I’m expecting to see improvement from Stratton. His 5.09 ERA was nowhere near his 3.61 FIP in Pittsburgh and I think his ERA will be much closer to the mid-3s than the low-5s in St. Louis. For somebody who seemed like a throw-in piece, he should be a solid reliever and a good replacement for Johan Oviedo.

Jordan Montgomery — 3.69 ERA, 3.91 FIP, 20.7 K%, 4.9 BB%, 1.4 fWAR

The thing that stuck out to me about Quintana was his walk rate but the thing that stands out to me about Montgomery is his strikeout rate. He has a career strikeout rate of 22.7% and the past two years he’s been above 24%. This year he’s only at 20.7%. So what’s gone wrong for Montgomery? The short answer is nothing. Literally nothing. His strikeout rate should simply be higher than it is.

HIs 33.4% chase rate is 5% higher than the league average and just below his career high and his 29.4% whiff rate is a career high. It’s also almost 5% above the league average. There’s literally no reason for Montgomery to have such a low strikeout rate.

Let’s look at things on an individual pitch level and see if we can divulge why his strikeout rate is lower than it probably should be.

In 0-2 and 1-2 counts, Montgomery heavily favors his curveball and his changeup. I would call those his putaway pitches. Those are what he goes to when he’s ahead of hitters and wants to put them away.

Both of those pitches have whiff rates above 40% yet they haven’t been super effective put away pitches. Take a look at this table to see what I mean. I added his sinker rates too. We won’t worry about those immediately but I’ll get to them.

Jordan Montgomery Whiff Rates and PAR

Pitch Year Whiff Rate (%) Put Away Rate (%)
Pitch Year Whiff Rate (%) Put Away Rate (%)
Changeup 2021 39.2 22.8
Changeup 2022 41.5 12.8
Curveball 2021 42.9 26.1
Curveball 2022 43.0 22.8
Sinker 2021 11.7 10.2
Sinker 2022 19.0 22.8

Now Put Away Rate is something I’ve always just glossed over when looking at a player on Baseball Savant. I’ve always known it was there but I usually focused on things like whiff rate, hard hit rate, chase rate, velocity, movement, and spin.

The Montgomery conundrum has caused me to expand my horizons. Something I’ve never really considered now seems to be the reason why the left-hander’s strikeout rate is down.

For those of you who don’t know what Put Away Rate is, let me explain. The formula is the number of strikeouts with a particular pitch type divided by the numbers of two strike pitches of that pitch type.

PAR = number of Ks / number of 2 strike pitches

For those of you who aren’t mathematically inclined, I’ll explain it differently. Let’s say Jordan Montgomery got to a two strike count on a hitter. Then, let’s say he throws three curveballs in a row. The first two are fouled off and the third one is strike three. That’s a Put Away Rate of 33.3%.

Going back to the equation, he threw three 2 strike curveballs and got one strikeout with the pitch. That’s gives the result 13, which equals 33.3%.

Essentially, Put Away Rate measures how efficient a pitcher is at finishing off hitters with two strikes. And Jordan Montgomery hasn’t been great at doing that this year. At least not with the two pitches that should be putting hitters away at a high rate.

With whiff rates of over 40% on his curveball and changeup, he should be more efficient at putting 2 strike hitters away. Why he’s not, I don’t know. Maybe he’s trying to hard to get hitters to chase and throwing way outside the zone.

Regardless, he’s due for some better luck. He gets chases with both pitches, in fact they have the two highest chase rates in his arsenal, he gets whiffs above 40+% on both pitches, and he throws both of them heavily in pitcher’s counts. He should get more strikeouts and I absolutely expect him to in St. Louis.

Now, if you remember from the above table, it appears that Montgomery’s sinker may be overperforming. That’s a pitch that has seen more whiffs and a better PAR than it did last year. If he’s going to get more strikeouts then he needs to maintain his sinker results, or at least not see them decline too much. I think he’s safe, though, because, as I mentioned on the podcast, he’s gained a ton of movement on the pitch this year.

He’s getting an extra two inches of drop and two inches of run on his sinker, and that was already a pitch with well above average run. Now it has 24% more run than the average sinker. That should cause better results so I don’t think the increased whiff rate and PAR is a fluke.

I expect his changeup and his curveball to have increased put away rates with the Cardinals while his sinker pretty much stays constant. That should lead to more strikeouts. J.P. already discussed how we should expect his home run rate to drop. More strikeouts and fewer long balls sounds like a good recipe for improvement, and improvement is exactly what I expect from Montgomery.


So, let’s go back to the beginning. Who will be better - Quintana or Montgomery?

I’m choosing Montgomery, but it’s close. I feel pretty strongly that his strikeout rate will improve and his home run rate will drop. For an arm with a sub-5% walk rate and an above average groundball rate, that’s enough for me to expect better performance.

That’s nothing against Jose Quintana, though. I wrote above that I’m not expecting an increase in Quintana’s walk rate despite his low zone rate. J.P. covered the rest pretty well. I think he can maintain his production. I know his Baseball Savant page looks unappealing but he’s a solid arm who should provide solid production.

The St. Louis Cardinals grabbed two arms at the deadline who I expect to give the Cardinals really good production and a third who should be strong in the ‘pen. Don’t confuse really good with ace-caliber because it’s definitely not that. But they could, and probably should, be really solid mid-rotation arms.