The third-best player for Cleveland year was a pitcher who rose from the ashes of a five-alarm fire in the rotation
March 28, 2021: Cal Quantrill is informed that he will start the year in the bullpen, having lost his spring training competition with Logan Allen for the final spot in the starting rotation.
July 10, 2021: Quantrill makes his final start before the break, allowing three runs in six innings pitched against the Royals and raising his season ERA to 4.23. I have the audacity to Tweet that “Cleveland will be much better off when Cal Quantrill is not in the rotation.”
Sept. 27, 2021: Quantrill makes his final start of the season, finishing the year with a 2.89 ERA and leading all Cleveland starters in innings pitched (149.2). His ERA since July 10: 1.94.
Oct. 10, 2021: I am compelled to issue a mea culpa:
You couldn’t have scripted a more compelling season arc for Quantrill. He was an also-ran coming out of spring training, relegated to the bullpen. Then, as injuries mounted and Cleveland’s starting rotation became more ramshackle by the day, Quantrill got an opportunity to prove himself as a starting pitcher and pitched like one of the best in the game in the back half of the season.
His final line as a starter this season: 3.12 ERA, 12.9 K-BB%, and 1.15 WHIP.
The key to his success was his command of his slider. Though, according to an interview with The Athletic, Quantrill thinks of it as more of a cutter. I’ll let him explain his reasoning behind that:
“I’m calling it a cutter, not sure it’s a stereotypical cutter. I’m just trying to change the plane of the slider a little bit and throw it harder, so I guess it’s a cutter,” the pitcher said. “It’s still a slider grip, but imagine that you’ve shifted your palm underneath the ball, rotated it back so it’s more square. Throwing it to a location more than I ever threw a slider to a location because the movement is more consistent, and I can do more with it.”
In the month of July, Quantrill’s slider only accounted for 24.5% of his pitches, behind his sinker (28.7%) and his four-seam fastball (25.8%). Flash forward to September, during which the slider accounted for 40.3% of his pitches that month, pulling ahead of his sinker (34.9%) and his four-seam fastball (6.9%). His four-seamer was abominable in July, with opposing hitters batting .333 and slugging .619 against it, so the decision to decrease its usage makes complete sense.
By the end of 2021, hitters were batting .204 and slugging .315 against his slider, which boasted a run value of -13 according to Baseball Savant. Just two years ago in San Diego, Quantrill’s slider had a run value of 2. The bottom also fell out on his slider in terms of horizontal movement, dropping from an average of 2.6 inches in 2020 to -2.7 inches in 2021.
His improved slider almost certainly helped drive his stellar second half of the season, during which he allowed 19 earned runs over 88 innings, good for a 1.94 ERA.
The question now is whether he can sustain this success. FanGraphs is not so sure, pointing to his .267 BABIP and 4.06 FIP as warning signs that he could be in store for a regression similar to what we saw from Zach Plesac this season. For now, we can at least appreciate the stability Quantrill provided a Guardians rotation that was unwatchable at times.
We also can’t forget when he wore a Cobra Kai cutoff to his postgame interview:
Just Cal Quantrill sporting a Cobrai Kai cutoff postgame pic.twitter.com/Iz4C8WObXW
— Blake Ruane (@blakeruane) September 10, 2021
- Shane Bieber: 96.2 IP, 3.17 ERA, 33.1 K%, 8.1 BB%, 3.21 SIERA, 2.6 fWAR
- Aaron Civale: 124.1 IP, 3.84 ERA, 19.9 K%, 6.2 BB%, 4.41 SIERA, 0.8 fWAR
- Andres Gimenez: .218/.282/.351, 5 HR, 11 SB, 5.2 BB%, 25.7 K%, 73 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR
- Triston McKenzie: 120.0 IP, 4.95 ERA, 27.5 K%, 11.7 BB%, 4.36 SIERA, 1.1 fWAR
- Eli Morgan: 89.1 IP, 5.34 ERA, 21.4 K%, 5.8 BB%, 4.51 SIERA, 0.4 fWAR
- Zach Plesac: 142.2 IP, 4.67 ERA, 16.7 K%, 5.7 BB%, 4.73 SIERA, 1.1 fWAR
- Franmil Reyes: .254/.324/.522, 30 HR, 4 SB, 9.2 BB%, 32.0 K%, 125 wRC+, 1.3 fWAR
- Amed Rosario: .282/.321/.409, 11 HR, 13 SB, 5.3 BB%, 20.4 K%, 99 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR
- Myles Straw: .285/.362/.377, 2 HR, 13 SB, 10.8 BB%, 18.7 K%, 108 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR