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Where did Cal Quantrill’s fastball go?

He just kind of stopped throwing it in 2022

MLB: New York Yankees at Cleveland Guardians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no other way to say it, Cal Quantrill has been a total workhorse for the Cleveland Guardians since he came over from San Diego. He’s made 80 appearances including 56 starts, pitching 350.2 innings, and — especially during that turbulent 2021 season where it seemed like nobody was healthy and the pitching staff was held together by twine, spit, and wishes — he was the guy they could at least hope could be a stopper.

Quantrill is good, something short of an ace, and the kind of pitcher that most teams love to have a couple of. He’s also become, over the last year, something once considered a relic of a bygone age. He always had a nice sinker, but in 2022, among pitchers who threw at least 2,500 pitches, he threw the second most sinkers of anyone in baseball, topped only by Framber Valdez. Perhaps it’s back in vogue, but amid all this was a disappearance of his fastball. Which made me wonder, what happened with that?

It’s not like he was ever a big-time four-seamer guy. At his peak, in 2021, Quantrill threw it 14.7% of the time. Compare that to a sinker at 36.9%, his cutter at 26.3%, and his change at 13.8%. There’s also a curve in there, but that’s a relatively new member of the arsenal and was only seen around 4.3% of the time in the last two years. It’s not a real factor.

What’s odd though, is after his breakout year where he logged a 2.89 ERA over a career-high 149.2 innings as well as a career-low 4.01 xERA, he just dumped a pitch that has been a relative fixture of his repertoire. He threw it 2.7 percent of the time or 79 total fastballs over 186 innings. One has to wonder why.

What’s odd is, this isn’t the only pitch that has nearly disappeared from his offerings. He just doesn’t throw a slider anymore, and in 2021 it was his second-least used pitch after the curve:

In a game where the slider and curve are key to a pitcher's lasting because they’re typically the biggest swing-and-miss pitches, he just totally dumped them and became like something out of 1945.

It’s like Satchel Paige having 17 different pitches, but they were all just variations on his fastball. Or how Mariano Rivera was throwing “one” pitch for most of his career, but had such dexterity and feel that he could basically make that cutter move anywhere from an inch or two to a foot, based on how he put pressure on the ball out of his hand. Quantrill isn’t throwing anything straight, but it’s all sinkers, cutters, and changeups. Again, basically the same arsenal that Bartolo Colon was going with by the end of his career, but Quantrill is almost 20 years his junior.

In a sense, I get why he moved away from his four-seam. If you can throw a ball that moves and forces grounders just as much as one that doesn’t, and it has a similar movement profile to your changeup, it does stand to reason that he’d want to do that. It’s just, I’ve always been told that a sinker is best when it is specifically down in the zone.

Quantrill obviously doesn’t agree, because he’s putting his sinkers in places never before conceived of:

This is traditionally where someone like Corey Kluber would place his 2-seamer to bury on the hands of righties and get lefties to chase, and to be fair it does pair nicely with how Quantrill is using his cutter:

Being able to work either side of the plate like this and not have anything moving all that straight is certainly a nice way to attack hitters. It’s what Aaron Civale does, so it seems like Cleveland has a type. They have many types actually — soft-throwing control college pitchers, too many middle infielders, gigantic corner outfielders — but this specific archetype, while recently successful, makes me nervous for some reason.

Not that his re-incorporating a four-seam would fix these issues. Civale only throws his 8.8% of the time, and on top of that Quantrill logged a chase rate in the 77th percentile in 2022, tied for his best mark. Again, this while eliminating a fastball, not throwing a slider at all, and basically letting his curveball become more of an idea than anything real or concrete. His strikeout rates are still toilet-level, but he does get guys to go out of the zone and make bad outs.

Starters just don’t throw as many four-seamers these days, with 2022 seeing the third lowest rate since tracking began in 2002, and it’s not like sinkers are making any kind of comeback. They peaked at the turn of the decade and sit at around 15% of starter pitches thrown. So in one way, maybe it makes sense that Quantrill dumped the fastball. Everyone else is, he just got more extreme with it since he never had anything more than decent velocity anyway.

It’s neat to see a guy just say “this pitch sucks for me, I’m done with it”, and have that pitch be still the most-used pitch in baseball otherwise. Maybe we’ll never get another knuckleballer, but if we can find more guys like Quantrill or Civale that Just Say No to a lame ol’ four-seam fastball, it’s a move in the direction of the true dream — the super garbage pitcher. Paige was the progenitor of it, here’s hoping the dream can be one day realized.