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Cal Quantrill is the right pitcher in the right place at the right time

There is no better place for Cal Quantrill to flourish than right here, right now

Division Series - New York Yankees v Cleveland Guardians - Game Four Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

There’s nothing flashy about Cal Quantrill; he’s nobody’s Statcast darling, and his pitches aren’t particularly nasty. He just goes out night after night and prevents runs from crossing the plate more often than not. Every pitching staff needs a couple of those guys, and the Guardians have a good one in Cal.

This season was Quantrill’s first as a full-time starter, having started 22 of his 40 appearances last year and 43 of his 81 appearances since he debuted with the Padres in 2019. This year, though, he stayed healthy with a full 32 starts and career-high 186.1 innings pitched. Although he rarely blanked opponents (just four shutouts), he rarely imploded. His only starts allowing more than four runs came against the Red Sox on July 27 (5.1 IP, 5 ER, 4 SO, 2 BB) and on June 18 against the Dodgers (5.0 IP, 5 ER, 4 SO, 1 BB). Other than that, Terry Francona and company could expect a solid five or six innings of work every time his turn came around in the rotation.

Quantrill did this despite a whiff rate among the worst in baseball (5th percentile) and an equally uninspiring strikeout rate (11th percentile), according to Baseball Savant. He didn’t even have the kind of weak contact you would expect for a guy who succeeds without overpowering stuff — his hard-hit rate against ranked in the 69th percentile and his expected slugging against was in the 26th percentile. He also wasn’t a particularly ground ball-heavy pitcher either, ranking 23rd out of a qualified 45 pitchers in MLB with a 42.1% ground ball rate.

In summary, opponents didn’t have trouble making contact, hit the ball hard, and hit the ball in the air. How in the world did this guy finish with a 3.38 ERA? A lot of it comes down to how effectively he was used and what was around him.

Full credit to Quantrill for doing his part and executing what he was asked every single night, but Terry Francona also deserves huge props for limiting how often opposing batters saw Quantrill more than twice in a game. By avoiding the dreaded Third Time Through the Order, opponents couldn’t get fully dialed into Quantrill’s pedestrian stuff. He had enough with his sinker/cutter/change combination to get batters to fly out to his stellar defensive outfield but was almost always pulled after the sixth inning. He only faced 27 or more batters in five of his 32 starts — and he still finished with 15 pitcher wins to five losses. The fact that 15 of the leads he held onto stayed the course is a testament to the Guardians bullpen, as well.

To put it another way — Cal Quantrill is Joe Flacco with the Ravens at his peak. If you squint, there’s something really good there, but nothing quite elite. No rocket arm, no scrambling ability, and no legendary accuracy. But put him in the perfect situation with the right manager/coach guiding him along with a stellar defense to cover any mistakes, and he’ll consistently find ways to put up good performances and help you reach the postseason. Quantrill is basically a system quarterback, but a very, very good one.

Cal Quantrill’s 2022 Stats

186.1 16.6% 6.1% 3.38 87 2.2

We’re reviewing (almost) all the Guardians players from 2022 now through November, starting with the top-10 MVPs as voted on by eight Covering the Corner staff members. Players were awarded points based on their one through 10 individual rankings and were ranked as such. You can find all the Year in Review posts here.