Think of this like an Elseworlds comic from the Batman universe. Or any alternative-history movie, like where JFK never died or the Germans won World War II. Fun content to read or watch, but in the end it doesn’t matter because it didn’t happen.
Let’s envision a world where the Pirates did what we advocated for them to do — trade for Jose Quintana last offseason. In our article imploring Neal Huntington to make the deal for Quintana for a whole host of reasons (low cost, high production, multiple years of control, ability to re-trade down the line), we eventually settled on a package of either Austin Meadows or Tyler Glasnow to front the deal, plus Josh Bell, plus either Mitch Keller or Kevin Newman. I picked Glasnow, Bell, and Newman to send to the White Sox.
So assuming all other things being equal (i.e. Ivan Nova re-signing, Jung-ho Kang still on the restricted list, Starling Marte still getting caught for PED’s, Jameson Taillon still getting testicular cancer surgery), what would be different? The Pirates would have entered 2017 with one of the best rotations in all of the National League with Gerrit Cole, Jose Quintana, Jameson Taillon, and Ivan Nova. Chad Kuhl would have slotted in as the #5 still.
Let me pause for a second and address an underlying point. You never know how a player will translate to a new situation. You can’t just say (as I’ve heard a lot recently, even prior to Quintana’s trade to the Cubs) “Quintana hasn’t even been that good this year. He has a 4.50 ERA!” It’s true that his April and May were poor by his standards that he set for the past 5 years, but I’m willing to give him a pass due to the constant trade talk hanging over his head potentially impacting his performance. Take a look at his home/road splits this year:
- Home — 5.11 ERA/5.42 FIP — 9.20 K/9, 3.89 BB/9, 2.05 HR/9
- Road — 4.03 ERA/2.98 FIP — 9.55 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 0.60 HR/9
Gaze at those splits, especially the HR/9 and ERA, and tell me that something isn’t weighing on Quintana while he’s pitching in a major media market like Chicago, in that band box of a ballpark. Quintana’s career HR/9 rate is 0.84, so you tell me which split is more of an anomaly. I’m willing to say that the Pirates would have received a Quintana performance more in line with his previous body of work.
So the pitching staff would have been rock solid and you would have eliminated the horrid performances by Tyler Glasnow. Even with all of Quintana’s tribulations, he still has posted 2.0 WAR at the All-Star Break. I’ll maintain him at that level for this article’s purposes. Sub him for Glasnow’s -0.3 WAR and you have a +2.3 WAR swing. During Taillon’s absence, Williams still could have substituted in and then returned to the bullpen to strengthen that woebegone unit. Not as many innings would have been absorbed by Johnny Barbato and Jhan Marinez, who have combined for -0.3 WAR. I’ll just say that Williams would have been 0 WAR, for a +0.3 WAR improvement.
Now the lineup is a little trickier. Everyone’s in love with Josh Bell because of his breakout 16 HR’s so far, but let’s not act like he’s Aaron Judge over here. The power, especially with Jung-ho Kang out as well, would be a loss, but his line of .239/.322/.472 accounts for only a 107 wRC+. So far, Bell is just Pedro Alvarez with less strikeouts and not quite as embarrassing defense. Bell has been worth 0.6 WAR so far. I’m assuming that John Jaso would have been the primary 1B without Bell. While he was rough to watch in April, Jaso put up a wRC+ of 108 in May (equivalent to Bell’s season line) with his .271/.338/.457 triple slash, then had a blistering June with a .319/.385/.660 for a wRC+ of 171. Bell has yet to have a month this year, even his partial 143 wRC+ in July, that has approached Jaso’s June. Again, I’ll be generous here and assume that with added at-bats Jaso would be a little more exposed and still have 0.1 WAR. That gives a net loss of -0.5 WAR.
Total all three sub-sets up and you get +2.1 WAR. This never equates linearly, but let’s presume that means the Pirates won 2 additional games to put themselves at 44-45 with Quintana in the fold. Now imagine another Elseworlds scenario where Tony Watson and Daniel Hudson are not the equivalent of a gaping chest wound…
Jose Quintana’s salary would have added $7M to the 2017 payroll, which nominally would have taken it to $102M, but….the Pirates aren’t paying 1/2 of Marte’s salary and all of Kang’s salary this year, so there’s approximately $5.3M of it. In our delightful alternative history of 2017, Quintana would have been practically free.
But alas and alack, it was not meant to be. And with Quintana now on the mega-franchise Cubs, that’s where he’ll stay for the foreseeable future. So with that, I must rest in my pursuit of Jose Quintana. It was not meant to be. Or in the timely words of Game of Thrones, definitely not for SEO purposes of course…