When the pirates signed Jose Quintana to a one-year, $2 million contract over the winter, it was clear from the start that if he performed well, he would be one of the surefire trades on the market. Fast forward seven months, and Quintana has done just that, delivering a vintage similar to his peak years with the White Sox. Unsurprisingly, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweets that Quintana is among the “most popular” names being discussed in the fledgling stages of the summer trading market.
This was probably always the plan for the pirates: buy cheap from a pitcher with some track record who could potentially sneak into a trade chip. It’s a common tactic for club rebuilds, and one the Bucs have tried in the past under GM Ben Cherington (though Quintana is slightly better known than either Tyler Anderson or Trevor Cahill were at the time of their dealings with Pittsburgh). So far it could hardly have gone better.
In 16 starts, Quintana has a 3.33 ERA with a 21.6% strikeout rate, 7.3% walk rate, and 43.2% ground ball rate. Those numbers stack up quite well with Quintana’s rates from his 2013-16 peak (20.8% strikeout rate, 6.0% walk rate, 43.7% grounder rate). He’s getting by with less life on his fastball than in the past — 91.1-mph average in 2022, 92.4-mph average from 2013-16 — but that’s hardly unexpected considering a pitcher’s season aged 23 to 26 years old compared to his campaign at the age of 33 years. And while some of the improvement in his plate discipline trends probably reflects the overall surge in strikeouts over the past few years, it’s still noteworthy that Quintana is sitting at an 11.7% swinging strike rate and a 35, 6% of the opponents sits – both career- best as a starting pitcher.
The Pirates have been reasonable about Quintana’s workload and the frequency (or lack thereof) with which they allow him to change a lineup for the third time. The veteran left-hander is averaging just over five innings per start (81 innings, 16 starts), and only 54 of the 342 hitters he faced this season have seen Quintana for the third time on any given day. He’s done reasonably well in those situations, hitting just a .208/.296/.313 batting line when he hit batsmen a third time, but the Bucs have only allowed him to pitch past the fifth inning in seven of his 16 starts .
On occasion, Quintana will force her hand early with a rough performance, but those breakaways have been rare. Quintana has allowed more than three runs in just three of those 16 starts, and in one of those instances, three of the runs were unearned. The Bucs were apparently willing to give them more leash after keeping his pitch count low earlier in the season. He averaged 79 pitches per start in his first five rounds, but has since averaged 90 pitches per start in 11 outings.
There’s little point in speculating on specific fits when it comes to Quintana as the majority of the competition could use a solid arm to tuck into the middle or back of their rotation. And with just a salary of $2 million for the season – of which about $995,000 remains to be paid out at the time of this writing – even the poorest clubs can pick up the rest of his salary without much trouble.
Notable trades so far ahead of the deadline are becoming increasingly rare in the modern game, as teams often wait until the final few days to decide how aggressively to add — or whether to add at all. Even clear sellers are often reluctant to make significant trades as demand numbers pick up closer to the deadline. However, there is no doubt that the 33-47 Pirates (-113 runs difference) will be open to switching short-term veterans this summer. So if a team wants to make a notable offer sooner than usual, the Bucs might be less hesitant to move than other, more borderline sellers might be.