By now, we’ve all surely heard about Jose Quintana’s exceptional debut for the Chicago Cubs. An incredible display of command and pitch location baffled the Baltimore Orioles’ offense into submission as the Cubs swept the opening series of the second half in Baltimore.
Quintana’s line from yesterday’s start: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 12 K
A few things to observe: He rested the bullpen by eating up innings, going seven strong. He struck out 12, tying a franchise record for most strikeouts in a debut. And he didn’t allow any runs. All that is great.
But, to boil it all down, what truly enabled all of his success yesterday? The simple yet refreshing fact that he didn’t walk anybody.
Sound cliché? Well, the Cubs’ pitchers have struggled with walking hitters for years. Sure, there are plenty of instances when they don’t. But far too often on the North side have we witnessed a starter falling apart or the bullpen imploding due to falling behind and getting into “hitters” counts, or just straight up handing out free passes.
I hope Cubs pitchers were paying attention yesterday. They could surely learn a thing or two from that performance.
Take the starters, for instance. Jake Arrieta has walked 38 hitters in 108 innings this year. That’s more than three per nine innings. Jon Lester has walked 37 hitters in 108 innings. Again, that’s more than three per nine innings. Eddie Butler has walked 28 in 54.2 innings. That’s almost five per nine innings!!! That’s literally unacceptable.
It’s also why we’ve seen so many four, five, and barely six inning starts from Cubs starters this year. Falling behind and walking hitters eats into the pitch count and limits how far they can really go. It also leads to stressful, workmanlike innings that can take a toll, not only over the course of a start but over the season. Last year, it seemed they had their command virtually every start. This year, it seems to be a blessing when they do.
Let’s also examine the bullpen, because walks can be even more killer when it comes to relief pitching. Hector Rondon has walked 13 in 35.2 innings. Over three per nine innings. Pedro Strop has 15 walks in 33.2 innings. That’s four per nine innings. Justin Grimm is also averaging over four per nine innings. And Carl Edwards Jr. is averaging over five per nine innings! Yes, Edwards has unhittable stuff. But still, it’s a recipe for disaster in the long run.
Remember the days of Ryan Dempster and Carlos Marmol in the back end of the bullpen? Remember how much of a heart attack it used to be? Cubs relievers are currently still playing with that kind of fire. They really need to turn it around if the Cubs want to continue to turn their season around.
Quintana struggled to start the season. But ever since he has reverted back to his usual self over his last eight starts, he’s averaging just 2.2 walks per 9 innings. And this is why he has been so dominant since. Getting ahead of hitters, putting them in a vulnerable position, and being able to finish them off with his nasty repertoire of pitches is exactly how a starter draws it up. It’s easy to talk about. But it’s hard to do. Yet Quintana has been doing it. And it’s time for the rest of the pitching staff to take notes and get on his level.