Yesterday, Jose Quintana threw a 28-pitch bullpen, his first time stepping on the mound since he lacerated his thumb while washing dishes, as first reported by Jordan Bastian.
Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy went on to say that Quintana was able to throw his entire arsenal of pitches well, with his thumb not being much of an issue. This means that the time it takes Quintana to pitch meaningful innings for the Cubs is more about his arm-readiness and less about his thumb injury. While it would likely take around 3-4 weeks to get Quintana’s pitch count to where it needs to be for a starter, I propose an alternative: groom him for a two-inning bullpen role for this season. Not only would this significantly cut down his ramp-up time, but there’s also a myriad of other factors as to why it makes sense.
The Bullpen Needs Immediate Help
First, the bullpen has been nothing short of horrifying through the first six games of the season. Based on fWAR, the Cubs’ bullpen ranks dead last in all of baseball, sitting at -0.7. The starting rotation, on the other hand, has been excellent, as it ranks fifth in baseball in that same category. The only two losses of the season have come with the only two below-average performances from the starting rotation. This should be a concerning trend for fans, as it shows the Cubs are set up to lose any game in which their starter isn’t excellent. That is not a recipe for a postseason birth. Adding Quintana, who has actually been very valuable since the Cubs acquired him at the 2017 trade deadline, would provide this bullpen with some much-needed long-relief help.
Quintana Can Streamline His Arsenal
Second, assigning Quintana to the bullpen would allow him to focus solely on throwing his fastball and curveball, which is when he’s at his best. Per FanGraphs, his fastball’s pitch value ranked 23rd in baseball in 2019. This value would only increase if he’s moved to the bullpen, which would also set up his curveball more effectively. His changeup and cutter/slider have never been plus pitches and a bullpen role allows him to exclude them from his arsenal.
The Starting Rotation is Already Set
Third, both Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills looked pretty damn good in their first outings this past week. And since they’ve already brought their arm and pitch count up to what is needed for a starter, why would it make sense to move one of them to the bullpen and wait a full month for Quintana’s arm to get up to speed? That’s not rational.
This brings me to my final point: The Cubs need bullpen help NOW. In a shortened season that is already 10% complete, they cannot afford to give any more meaningful innings to James Norwood, Dillon Maples, and others (I could go on and on with names). They need a known commodity in that pen, which currently features exclusively unknowns. As I wrote last week, Quintana’s fWAR ranks 24th in baseball since the Cubs acquired him. He’s as much of a known commodity as any pitcher in the game. You know what you’re going to get out of him.
At the moment, there are only about four trusted guys in the bullpen: Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan, Jeremy Jeffress, and maybe Ryan Tepera. That’s it. Adding a guy like Quintana, who could potentially eat up two innings every two or so games, would do wonders for the bullpen’s depth. All of a sudden you have a perfectly reliable guy to bridge the gap from the starter to Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick in high-leverage games.
While many may think moving Q from the rotation to the bullpen would serve as a “demotion” of some sort, it’s quite the opposite. The pen is far and away this club’s biggest weakness, and if Quintana can mask that weakness, he should welcome this role change with open arms. Not only could it very well keep postseason hopes alive, but it could also be crucial for the ability of the Cubs to make a run in said postseason.