Cal Quantrill Cares More About Outs Than Stuff+

© Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Cal Quantrill epitomizes the term “pitcher.” Twenty-seven years old and in his fourth big-league season, the Cleveland Guardians right-hander not only attacks hitters with a multi-pitch arsenal, he does so with a combination of aggressiveness and guile. Mixing and matching with aplomb, he’s won 23 of 32 decisions and logged a 3.16 ERA in 336 innings over the past two seasons. As my colleague Michael Baumann pointed out just last month, Quantrill isn’t overpowering, but he gets the job done.

Drafted eighth overall in 2016 by the San Diego Padres out of Stanford University, Quantrill was acquired by Cleveland at the 2020 trade deadline as part of the nine-player Mike Clevinger deal. He’s expected to start against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday if their Wild Card Series requires a deciding Game 3.

Quantrill discussed his evolution as a pitcher and his it’s-all-about-getting-outs approach this past weekend.

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David Laurila: We discussed your repertoire in spring training of 2018 when you were in the Padres system. How have you changed as a pitcher since that time?

Cal Quantrill: “If we’re looking at it from a literal standpoint, I flattened out the slider and turned it into a cutter. I went to more of a 50/50 mix with the two-seam and four-seam. I’ve kind of kept a little curveball wrinkle to keep them off the hard stuff.

“In terms of how I go about pitching, what I’ve basically done is try to find a way to throw as many pitches as I can control. What we learned pretty quickly is that I may not have as much swing-and-miss as some other players, but I know that I can keep my pitches out of the middle. That’s kind of our approach.”

Laurila: Have the changes all come here, or did you start making any of them while you were still in San Diego?

Quantrill: “I’ve made most of the changes here, but San Diego prepared me to make those changes. It’s been misinterpreted a couple of times that I had something bad to say about my time in San Diego. I loved it there. They have great pitching coaches. I thought that I was taught very well in San Diego.

“A lot of the strides I took right before I got traded here kind of opened me up to the ideas that the Guardians had. So it was kind of a combination. With Ruben Niebla last year — he’s now with the Padres — and with Joe [Torres], Carl [Willis] and Brian [Sweeney] this year, it’s been great.”

Laurila: Why did you go from a slider to a cutter?

Quantrill: “When I was throwing the depth-y slider, I found that I had to throw it too often to the middle of the plate. I wasn’t getting swings and misses, and if it hung, it was middle/middle. The risk/reward wasn’t good. The cutter I can throw to either side of the plate.”

Laurila: Why did you have to throw the depth-ier one to the middle of the plate?

Quantrill: “I was having a hard time throwing it down and [glove side]. It would change… the metrics weren’t the same as they are on the one that’s down-middle. Now, there were times when I could throw that one — I’m not ruling out bringing it back — but what we’ve found these last couple of years is that it takes a lot of singles to score runs. If I can keep the slug out of their bats and not walk guys, I stand a very good chance of winning most games.”

Laurila: What is the movement profile on your cutter?

Quantrill: “It’s not a sweeping cutter, but it does carry; the ride is pretty high on it. I think it’s a tough at-bat when you have a guy throwing you a 16-inch vertical two-seamer and then a 12-inch vertical cutter. They look the same, but the swing path is very different to hit them. You kind of just negotiate them back and forth. If you’re ready for this one, I’m going to throw that one.”

Laurila: You said you’re throwing a more equal mix of two- and four-seamers.

Quantrill: “Yes. When I was in the minor leagues, I was throwing almost exclusively four-seamers. My first year in the big leagues was probably 75% four-seamers. Since then it has progressively declined to a point where now it’s about 50/50.”

Laurila: Are either of them plus from a metrics standpoint, or are they effective primarily because they play well off of each other?

Quantrill: “I think they’re both plus, but it’s easy… I don’t want to say this in a jaded way, because there are guys with great pitches, but sometimes we get caught up in putting a Stuff+ number on a pitch. That’s not what’s important. Stuff+ doesn’t equal outs. I think what’s important is how your pitches work together. As long as my two-seam and my four-seam are drastically different, it doesn’t matter if either of them are above average. You can’t be ready for two 94-mph pitches that do different things.”

Laurila: By and large, it’s about being a pitcher and not a thrower?

Quantrill: “What I’ve bought into here is, instead of worrying about trying to achieve a certain number, why don’t we just try to achieve outs? What is getting all those outs? How are you getting them consistently despite numbers that maybe suggest you shouldn’t be getting them? Let’s do that over and over again until we figure out who you are as a pitcher. Once you have that… it doesn’t stop you from trying to improve your stuff. I’d love to throw a harder fastball with more ride. I’m going to continue to work towards that, but what I’m going to focus on is getting outs.

“At the end of the day, I’d love to do an interview where you said, ‘Oh my god, you throw the four best pitches in baseball.’ That would be great. But for now, I’d like to do interviews on winning baseball games. If this is the way to do it, this is the way to do it.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Joe Joemember
1 month ago

Thanks for the article about Quantrill. Guys with drastically different ERAs than FIP over more than season always interest me to see if it is an actual skill or randomness. His xERA causes me to think luck, but do think how a pitcher gets outs has some influence in xERA (e.g., I think elite GB pitchers get a ton of GIDPs that get treated as just one out).