Of the many surprises the Baltimore Orioles provided in 2022, the success of their starting rotation was near the top of the list in terms of magnitude. The unit posted a collective 5.99 ERA in 2021 that was worst in baseball, over a half run higher than the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation that ranked next to last. Staff ace John Means made just two starts in April before undergoing Tommy John Surgery. O’s starting pitchers were straight up not having a good time. But when things were looking bleak, a cast of characters including Jordan Lyles, Dean Kremer, and Spenser Watkins stepped up.
While their efforts should be commended, Mike Elias and the Baltimore Orioles front office would be remiss if they didn’t explore the free agent market to improve the quality and depth of the rotation headed into a season wherein the club intends to push for a Postseason place, especially now that Jordan Lyles is a free agent and Means likely won’t return until around the all star break. Austin Voth was converted into a starter overnight and exceeded expectations, though his profile better fits the role of reliever (or an intriguing opener in a pinch).
Elias should (and likely will) explore the trade market for options, but the free agent crop is filled with intriguing arms that won’t cost the club Minor League assets. Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, and Carlos Rodon are the headliners whose decisions will most certainly dictate the pace of the market and the Orioles could theoretically target all three, but left hander Jose Quintana is another enticing option that would come at far less of a cost than one of the three marquee names.
LHP Jose Quintana would be an ideal fit for the Baltimore Orioles.
Quintana was traded from the Pirates to St. Louis at the deadline and spearheaded the renaissance of a Cardinals rotation that had struggled prior to his arrival. An antithesis of modern pitching, the 33 year old crafty lefty (they’re still alive!) had an average fastball velocity in 2022 similar to the average velocity of Andres Muñoz’s slider. His strikeout rate has ranged from respectable to great over his career despite the lack of premium velo, but the two infinity stones in Quintana’s gauntlet are clear: consistent weak contact and generating swings and misses on pitches outside the strike zone.
Jose Quintana’s effectiveness with his four-seam fastball is extraordinary not just because he lacks premium velocity. Pitchers of his ilk generally compensate for their soft tossing by generating spin and above average movement, but Quintana does neither. In fact, his fastball spin rate placed in the bottom fifth among qualified pitchers, so how on Earth did he limit batters to a .215 average against it? I present to you Exhibits A and B, courtesy of our friends at Baseball Savant:
On the left is the league-wide heatmap showing the batting average in each zone when four-seam fastballs are thrown. On the right is Jose Quintana’s personal heatmap showing where he located his four-seamers. Batters struggle with fastballs reaching towards eye level and Quintana kept throwing them there. The healthiest red on his heatmap is within the upper left quadrant of the strike zone and displays how effectively Quintana jammed right handed hitters and stayed away from left handed hitters. The lack of quality contact is starting to make a little sense!
Like his fastball, Jose Quintana’s curveball doesn’t bring gravity to its knees – its spin rate was also in the bottom fifth of qualified MLB pitchers, though it functioned as his second best pitch. A torrid September in which Quintana allowed just three earned runs coincided with an increase of curveball usage to nearly match that of his four seam fastball. Correlation doesn’t always equal causation, but there might be something to this.
It’s amazing what hitting your spots can do. Quintana force-fed curveballs to the bottom third of the strike zone, allowing just one home run on the pitch all season and getting batters to swing through nearly one third of all the curveballs he tossed. In total, batters produced a meager .625 OPS when Quintana went with the hook.
Baltimore Orioles: The Case For Jose Quintana
Quintana’s batted ball profile has potential to be an excellent fit at Camden Yards. In 2022, batters either pulled or hit the ball to dead center 74.5% of the time when facing him. Quintana’s dexterity, the cavernous new confines in left field at Camden Yards, and the giant wall protecting it could be an immensely effective formula for Quintana and the Orioles. Like one of the couples in the eHarmony commercials that actually made it.Spotrac
Quintana recovered immaculately to post a 4.0 WAR campaign after a disastrous 2021 season that suggested the 33 year old was headed into the twilight of his career. The lefty will always be operating with a razor thin margin of error given his stuff, but Camden Yards couldn’t be a more nurturing place for a pitcher with his skillset. If the Orioles pursue one of the big fish and fall short, or if they want to add multiple arms, Jose Quintana is an ideal candidate.