When the Pirates inked left-hander Jose Quintana to a one-year $2M salary in the offseason, the goal was to get some stability from a veteran presence to help anchor a mostly young and inexperienced rotation.
The deal was similar to the signing of Tyler Anderson prior to the 2021 season, but Quintana came with the more impressive track record. For his career, the 33-year-old Quintana entered the season with an 83-80 record and a 3.84 ERA in 283 career games (257 starts). He was an All-Star in 2016, one of only two previous All-Stars on the Bucs current roster, and he held a career fWAR of 28.8.
Hampered by injuries the last two seasons, Quintana pitched just 73 innings between 2020-21. Expectations weren’t necessarily that Quintana would regain the form from his impressive run from 2012-19 between his time with the White Sox and Cubs, but through four starts with the Pirates, Quintana has done just that.
Through those four starts, Quintana has a 3.32 ERA/3.91 FIP across 19 innings. His best start of the season came in Thursday’s loss to the Brewers when he allowed one run on four hits and struck out nine in five innings.
Diving into the numbers, there’s a lot to like about Quintana’s early success. For starters, he’s been tough to square up. Opposing batters are averaging just an 86.e exit velocity against him, a few ticks below his career mark of 88.7. The hard hit percentage against him this season is 35.8%, just about his career average and down ten points from the 46% mark from 2020-21.
There has also been major adjustments to his his pitch usage. For his career, Quintana has been a fastball pitcher, thrwing it about 60% of the time. This year, he’s throwing his fastball less than half the time, he’s using his changeup three times more than his career usage of the pitch and his breaking ball has been quite effective.
Pirates starting pitching has been a disappointment early in the season, sitting with the third-worst ERA from the rotation in the Major Leagues (6.09). Quintana has easily been the de-facto ace of the staff. He’s one of only two starters with an ERA under 6.00 — Bryse Wilson has a 4.70 ERA on the season.
It’s early, and the sample size is small, but the Pirates to this point have gotten more than they bargained for from the veteran lefty. They’ll need that to continue, and the other members of the rotation to step up if they want to make a step forward this season.