As someone who once knocked the sunglasses off the face of their junior high crush with a football by airmailing my best friend (the tallest kid in the eighth grade) by nearly 20 yards, I cannot in good conscious impugn anyone for a misfired throw in even the lowest-intensity situations. However, if the Sox want to snap out of their open to the season that's seen them cough up 16 runs and four homers to the no-hit, small ball Royals in their no-hit, small ball ballpark, they might want to stop hanging meat over the heart of the plate.
After Jeff Samardzija made his White Sox debut absent any kind of meaningful slider, Jose Quintana followed it up Wednesday by dumping his curveball unconvincingly into the dirt and getting diminishing returns on pumping his fastball into the zone. Like Samardzija, the velocity and health seems to be there, but the fineness on the corners, and the ability to lead hitters up just above the zone with high fastballs, simply was absent. He avoided walking the park with his off-speed stuff (one), but the lack of snap shows up in only securing one swing-and-miss in 23 attempts with his curveball.
Discerning how Quintana missed his spots is a little trickier than usual, since Tyler Flowers' framing methods are at work. Rather than setting up in a spot and moving when Quintana's delivery is not where it should be, Flowers is in motion throughout, making his original intentions less clear. For the backbreaking third inning three-run bomb to Eric Hosmer that erased the Sox only lead of the night, Flowers has only just shifted and his glove is down at release. It's hard to believe Quintana didn't miss his spot, since he missed low with a fastball on the earlier pitch, drew Hosmer's focus down, then threw some sort of botched cutter in a similar, but much more hittable location.
This is out of character. The great JJ article about Flowers' pitch-framing efforts noted how he enjoyed working with Quintana for reasons that can kind of read as backhanded compliments, but wouldn't suggest these current problems. Quintana's described as having "good command" with "predictable action" on his pitches, meaning Flowers pretty much knows exactly where he's headed and can set up.
When Quintana coughed up a two-out single to Kendrys Morales in the first to give the Royals their first run, Flowers is still moving his glove all over, but flashes a target to Quintana just before his release before dropping it again. They want to bust Morales low and on the hands — a Q staple — and instead he drifts up and closer to the middle of the plate. Quintana's stuff is fine, but he lives on placement.
Providing a more extreme example on this theme, Zach Putnam's season debut — allowing Lo Cain to bomb him out of the galaxy for the decisive runs — provided no comfort after a rough Spring Training, and showed the perils of being a one-trick pony; that trick has to be working at all times. "High splitters" is not a compelling plan of action, and he'll get routinely hammered until it changes. I didn't realize that Putnam got all the way down to a 1.98 ERA last year, but it's a testament to just how consistent he was locating with an underwhelming arsenal. That's what he has to do to stay viable with this organization, and while it's nice that he's done it before, his history would suggest it was his first.
The Sox have Samardzija, Chris Sale, David Robertson, and certainly Zach Duke has a nice slider, but like any staff, most of their guys aren't going to step in and blow away the league on pure stuff. Velocity is often down in April, but instead they've come up from Arizona pumping decent heat and throwing things wherever. I think we all understand this is a meaningless blip at this point. Drawing larger conclusion would be like rolling a die once, and then discussing the results as a "trend." But if a six would represent the best pitching command possible, the Sox have rolled a snakeye, and after calling out a special die-roller, who did an elaborate pre-rolling dance before disappointing. Just because it doesn't mean anything, doesn't mean it can't still suck.
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