“How does Cal Quantrill keep doing this?” is a common question among baseball watchers, writers, and probably some coaches. Despite no particularly elite skill, he finished 2021 with a 2.89 ERA and followed it up with a 3.38 ERA season last year.
Other than health, which he’s been blessed with most of the past two seasons, what in the world makes this guy tick?
This seriously isn’t a new question — Merritt Rohlfing wondered it earlier this offseason, I came to the conclusion that he’s basically Joe Flacco in our Year in Review post last November, and just yesterday Pitcher List even dug into it with several prevailing theories. Everyone knows Quantrill is good, but no one quite knows how.
I’m not here today to retell just how delightfully strange Quantrill’s ascension has been, as the articles above do plenty of that. But that Pitcher List article today, in particular, got the juices flowing again on figuring out how he does it, outside of some small pitch-usage adjustments, a great defense behind him, and general grit — which all certainly play a part as well.
I think there’s a theory that Pitcher List’s excellent author Tim Cheng might have missed, and I think it has to do with disguising his release point with his glove.
This theory goes back to something mentioned in a video from Tread Athletics about “training” pitchers for deception. In the video, former MLB pitcher Brian Bannister talked about pitchers hiding their release point with their glove during their wind-up, forcing batters' eyes to refocus as they try to track the ball from the first possible moment after it is released (i.e. the release point). He specifically name-dropped Cleveland as being good at “getting the glove up in the release point window.”
Now, most likely, he is talking about Cleveland doing this through their developmental system, but after looking at some random Cal Quantrill sinkers over the past three seasons, I think this might be something that he was good at when he arrived, and he’s gotten even better at since.
It’s not out of the question that, between their first half-season with Quantrill in 2020 and a couple of full offseasons until 2022, the Guardians had him try this out to get the most deception out of his pitches. This seems like something you could conceivably teach a guy in an offseason or two, especially someone like Quantrill who needs it, and who — let’s be honest — was pretty close to doing it already. If this is something the Guardians already do well, it might be a reason they targeted him to begin with in 2020; something they have since helped him refine.
Since, as Bannister notes in the video, there is no real way to quantify visual deception yet, I went with the tried and true method of “winging it”. Using MLB Film Room, I looked for a few random Cal Quantrill pitches from random months in 2020 and 2022, all sinkers and all at Progressive Field to try and keep the most consistent camera angle and release point.
Here’s a highly compressed video (thank you, Twitter) to show you generally what I mean here.
Maybe interesting? Cal Quantrill might be consciously getting his glove into his release point window to mess with batters focusing on it.— Matt Lyons (@mattrly) February 3, 2023
The dots represent 1) where the middle of his glove is at its apex, and 2) where he releases the ball. pic.twitter.com/WZAx9HtJtZ
To narrow it down a bit, I present maybe the best use of this image slider doodad ever. First, a set of images from a 2020 game, notice the release point just a bit “behind” the glove from the camera angle.
(free bonus: move the slider over the ump to make him do a little dance)
And now a similar scenario in 2022, where the release point is directly above, maybe even a little in front of, the glove from the camera angle.
It’s also hard to tell at full speed, but he’s holding the glove there a split second longer, and even sort of flicking the front end of it up. You can see how the glove is flatter in the 2022 image — that was pretty consistent with the comparisons I found. If his goal is to keep his glove in the eye line of the pitcher as long as possible, that seems like a way to do it.
Another 2020 example where he’s above, but a bit behind, and the front of his glove tipped down.
And finally, another 2022 example, where he’s above and in front, with his glove basically parallel to the ground.
The quantifiable side of this glove-hiding theory — his release point — has not changed much since 2020. He got a little inconsistent in 2022, as you can see in the first image of the slider below, but this was also the difference between throwing 239 sinkers (2020) and 1319 sinkers (2022).
But by and large, it stayed the same. It’s his glove that seemed to move.
Now, I’m not here to proclaim the Great Cal Quantrill Mystery solved, but I think it is another piece of the puzzle. Like everything Quantrill does, it’s something else small he’s doing in the right place at the right time.