Jose Quintana is the unluckiest pitcher alive


After opening the game with six scoreless innings, White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana was the victim Wednesday when Tyler Flowers’ plate block opened the floodgates for the Giants. It turned what should have been a clear out into the Giants’ first run of the game, and they went on to score seven times in the seventh inning, with four of those runs being charged to Quintana. Since it couldn’t even technically be ruled an error on Flowers or anyone else, all of the runs were earned.

It was just the latest bad break for baseball’s unluckiest pitcher. Quintana is 6-9 this year despite a 3.14 ERA that ranks 14th in the AL (he’d probably be 10th instead if Flowers could have waited to shift his foot over).

In 2013, Quintana was 17th in the AL with a 3.51 ERA, yet finished just 9-7 in his 33 starts.

As a rookie in 2012, Quintana was 6-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 22 starts and three relief appearances.

Add it all up and we have a guy with a sub-.500 career record, despite a 3.46 ERA. That ERA translates into a 119 ERA+, making him one of the six best starters since 1901 with at least 40 decisions and a sub-.500 record.

Johnny Rigney – 122 ERA+ – 64-64, 3.59 ERA from 1937-47
Jim Scott – 121 ERA+ – 107-114, 2.30 ERA from 1909-17
Ned Garvin – 120 ERA+ – 39-65, 2.70 ERA from 1901-1904 (58-97, 2.72 ERA from 1896-1904)
Thornton Lee – 119 ERA+ – 117-124, 3.56 ERA from 1933-48
Jhoulys Chacin – 119 ERA+ – 38-48, 3.78 ERA from 2009-14
Jose Quintana – 119 ERA+ – 21-22, 3.46 ERA from 2012-14

It must be something about the White Sox. Rigney and Scott spent their entire careers with the team, and Lee was there throughout his prime. Even Garvin spent most of 1902 with the team. Chacin seems destined to land there eventually… or maybe he’ll just turn into a winner.

For Quintana, though, wins and losses aren’t the whole picture. It’s also all of the non-decisions. He’s been involved in the decision in just 43 of his 80 starts, which is unique throughout history. Among active starters, only Brandon Beachy joins Quintana in getting a decision in fewer than 55 percent of his starts, and Beachy has started barely half as many games (25 decisions, 46 starts).

Quintana has received a decision in 54 percent of his career starts. AL starters as a whole this year are at 71 percent. The next lowest mark of anyone active with more starts than him belongs to Chris Young, who has received a decision in 62 percent of his 182 starts. And most of the high no-decision guys get that way because they don’t work deep into games. Quintana, though, has averaged 6.05 innings per start in his career. The AL average this year is 5.94 innings per start.

So, with all of those no decisions, Quintana has won just 26.25 percent of his career starts, something that really sets him apart from the earlier group. Even Chacin has won 35 percent of his career starts.

Quintana is far and away the best pitcher ever to win fewer than 30 percent of his starts.

Quintana – 119 ERA+ – 21 W, 80 GS
Henderson Alvarez – 108 ERA+ – 23 W, 80 GS
Tomo Ohka – 105 ERA + – 51 W, 178 GS
Tom Cheney – 104 ERA+ – 19 W, 71 GS
John Thomson – 104 ERA+ – 63 W, 212 GS
Masato Yoshii – 101 ERA+ – 32 W, 118 GS

But it’s also the remarkable consistency. Quintana hasn’t won 30 percent of his starts in any of his three years to date. Since 2000, there are 45 pitchers, minimum 120 innings pitched, to win fewer than 30 percent of their starts with an ERA+ of 110. Quintana is three of them. Ranked by ERA+, his 2014 is 13th on the list, his 2013 is 19th and his 2012 is 27th.

New tax law could affect MLB trades

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Jim Tankersley of the New York Times notes that a tax law passed by Republicans could affect trades in Major League Baseball. The law added the word “real” to a certain line of tax code that now only allows real estate trades to qualify for tax immunity. Previously, certain assets like trucks and machinery could have been traded tax-free.

A perhaps unintended consequence of that change could mean baseball teams could have to pay capital gains taxes when they trade away and acquire players. MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said, “There is no fair market value of a baseball player. There isn’t. I don’t really know what our clubs are going to do to address the issue. We haven’t fully figured it out yet. This is a change we hope was inadvertent, and we’re going to lobby hard to get it corrected.”

Tankersley wonders how players would be valued for the purposes of this tax law:

Mr. Verlander, for example, was clearly a more immediately valuable asset to the Astros than the three prospects they traded to get him. He gave up only four runs in his five regular-season starts for the team, then won four straight starts to begin the playoffs. In very simple terms, he brought value to the Astros in a trade, and had the new law been in place last year, the team would have owed taxes on that added value.

But what, exactly, was that value? Was it the size of his contract? Mr. Verlander earned $28 million last year, while the players traded for him drew minor-league salaries. Was it the additional wins he brought to the team? Statisticians estimate Mr. Verlander gave the Astros nearly two more wins last season, a value that, depending on the statistician, could reach $20 million. Or was it some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?

Complicating matters further is that teams value players differently, and one player might help a certain team far more than another team. A struggling club with a surplus of starting pitchers might trade one to a playoff contender in desperate need of one, in exchange for position players who could improve a struggling lineup. In that case, both teams could, reasonably, be considered to have gained value in the trade, and thus would owe taxes on it.

Republicans said they weren’t trying to hamstring sports teams, but that’s exactly what they might have done here. It seems likely that the law will eventually be amended to exempt sports teams, given that leagues like the MLB and NBA are enormous and worth so much money. Whether that will be done in a reasonable amount of time is another question entirely.