Cleveland Indians

The Quantrill Leap Theory

Cleveland has built up some goodwill with their treatment of the hurlers on their roster. For good reason, the public trust of essentially anyone that dons their uniform and occupies the mound at some point is earned, thanks in part to those phenoms like Corey Kluber and Shane Bieber and even Zach Plesac’s successful 2020 sprint. These aren’t pedigree names, but merely guys who bought into organizational messaging and put in the work to knock on the door of starting pitcher stardom.

Naturally, when a prospect with some pedigree and a brief cup of neutrally to not-so-effective coffee in the San Diego Padres organization finds his way to a pitching factory – not wholly unlike one Corey Kluber – fans latch on. Cal Quantrill was the eighth selection in the 2016 Major League Baseball draft and was highly touted early on in the Padres ranks. Not to mention, Cal’s father who tossed out of bullpens for 14 years. That “pedigree” that has mostly eluded past breakouts from the Cleveland farm system is there, despite it dimming over the last couple of years.

It isn’t only pedigree that has fans’ interest piqued. Upon arriving in Cleveland, there were instant changes to the pitch mix. Though he was trending up on his slider usage prior to joining the Indians, Quantrill really leveraged it in the small sample size window of September 2020. It just so happens that ramping up breaking ball usage is step one of the Cleveland major league pitching initiatives that have yielded ample amounts of success over the last few years.

Courtesy of FanGraphs

The interesting conundrum that accompanies Quantrill’s increased slider usage occurs when we investigate the results of the pitch throughout his big-league foray. Looking at the wholistic view, it hasn’t historically been brilliant in the spin department or in reducing exit velocity. Impact of higher exit velocity and meager spin rates can be measured by the ball in play results, which have not been stellar.

             

Courtesy of Brooks Baseball

When we look at how pitches truly perform, Quantrill’s slider and changeup are lightyears ahead of his other repertoire pieces at inducing foul balls and swinging strikes. We should not necessarily be beholden to erratic ball in play results. When he can induce swings with those pitches, the results are favorable. If Quantrill can continue to up his vertical movement on his slider, a noted focal point for him in 2020, he can continue to add to its lethality. This slight adjustment is being enacted to change the plane of attack and blend itself further into the dependable sinker in his bag. Tunneling is possible through maintained plane of attack until the last possible second, and is more attainable with a vertically attacking slider to follow the sinker. Conversely, his changeup adjustments are more of the horizontal variety because the true value of that pitch is the severe change of speeds.

Upped slider usage and verticality adjustments aren’t the only reason to be intrigued by the Cal Quantrill starter project in 2021. As soon as he landed in Cleveland, the old dependable sinker suddenly found an extra mile per hour-plus of juice.

Courtesy of FanGraphs

The first inclination would be to suggest that the switch to the bullpen allowed Quantrill to find this crucial extra mile per hour of smoke. On the contrary, he only started three games all year, with two of them coming in his final two outings of the campaign as a member of the Cleveland Indians. Essentially, he was a reliever for the Padres all season and his velocity endeavors finally clicked towards the latter end of the season. Regardless of role, we know 2020 featured a stop and start, lack of real preseason leading into games, with sporadically used arms like Quantrill bearing the brunt of the delayed ramp-up.

The sliders and sinkers and changeups can be a deadly trio, particularly in faithful hands. When those hands are elite at steering away from issuing walks while maintaining average whiffs, the match is made in heaven. The profile of leveraged breaking ball usage and command for days is the specialty of the vaunted Cleveland pitching experts like Ruben Niebla and Michael Steele. Faith in those guys, in addition to the other helping hands throughout the organization, is the basis of trusting a Quantrill leap. Add in an effective spree banking on more sliders and upped heat on the hard stuff, albeit brief, and there’s legitimate optimism for a nice little breakout. The pedigree just adds fuel to the fire. Should he find himself in the back end of the 2021 Cleveland Indians rotation, it would be incredibly difficult to envision a scenario where Cal Quantrill does not solidify himself as a viable back of rotation arm on a good staff. The glass ceiling above him is already partially cracked, as well.

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