Over the last three seasons, FanGraphs’ pitching WAR leaderboard has been peppered with Cy Young winners, recipients of multi-year megadeals and monumental trade deadline acquisitions. And then there’s Jose Quintana, toiling away in relative national anonymity — the kind of guy your friend brings up to look smart in a discussion of baseball’s best pitchers.
Those top 10 pitchers: Clayton Kershaw (23.4 WAR), Max Scherzer (17.7), David Price (16.9), Chris Sale (16.4), Corey Kluber (15.7), Felix Hernandez (14.4), Jon Lester (14.0), Zack Greinke (13.6), Quintana (13.4) and Cole Hamels (12.9). Now consider the win totals for these 10 pitchers: 53, 53, 43, 36, 38, 45, 42, 51, 27, 30. The last two on these — Quintana and Hamels — have been massively unlucky, but even for Hamels, at least he has 60 decisions in 95 starts. Quintana only has 55 decisions in 97 starts, and is 27-28 in those.
No matter how irrelevant you think win-loss numbers are for evaluating players, it’s a stat that’s absolutely tracked inside major league clubhouses. It’s become a frequent occurrence over the last few years for Quintana to stand in front of his locker and tell reporters how he didn’t pitch well enough to win, even if he fired seven innings of two or three-run ball.
In historical context, though, Quintana’s bad luck ranges from standard to outlandish.
In each of the last three seasons, Quintana has made at least 32 starts but has had 20 or fewer decisions (9-7 in 2013, 9-11 in 2014, 9-10 in 2015). That’s something that’s happened 128 times in MLB history, but over half of those occurrences (69) have happened sine 2000. Only five of those such seasons happened before the save became an official statistic in 1969; in 2015 alone there were six players who started at least 32 games and had 20 or fewer decisions.
There’ve only been 22 instances in MLB history of a pitcher having an ERA below 3.40 and nine or fewer wins, and Quintana is responsible for two of them (2014 and 2015). So we’re getting a little more rare here — Quintana was joined in that designation last year by then-Braves righty Shelby Miller, who had a 3.02 ERA and went 6-17. It could be worse.
Since 1901, 1,053 pitchers have had a season in which they’ve thrown at least 200 innings with an ERA below 3.55. But of those, only 129 (12 percent) have had nine or fewer wins.
Of those 129 pitchers, a handful have had that kind of rotten luck in two seasons: Bob Groom, Buster Brown, Elmer Jacobs, Gus Dorner, Jack Powell and Tully Sparks. You probably haven’t heard of any of them, because they all pitched in the dead ball era. There’s one pitcher who’s had three such seasons: Jose Quintana.
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
There’s some good news for the soon-to-be 27-year-old Quintana, though. He enters the 2016 season with a 33-34 record, a 3.46 career ERA and 743 innings pitched, and in major league history, there have been 158 pitchers pitchers who’ve finished their careers with/currently have over 1,000 innings pitched and an ERA below 3.50. Only nine in the live ball era have a win-loss percentage below .500, a group headlined by Johnny Vander Meer (1937-1951) and Matt Cain (2005-present). Eventually, Quintana’s win-loss luck should turn so long as he continues his year-to-year consistency.