Quintana epitomizes consistency on the hill
MLB.com used a variety of criteria to find the most consistent hitter in the Major Leagues over the past five seasons, settling on Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. But as difficult as it is to produce year after year at the plate, it may be even more difficult to do so from the mound.
A pitcher's health is inherently fragile, and small changes in velocity or stuff can lead to wild fluctuations in performance. Even if a pitcher stays off the disabled list and maintains the quality of his arsenal, outside factors such as defense, luck and where he pitches can significantly affect his results.
As with the hitters, there is no perfectly scientific method for determining who is MLB's most consistent starting pitcher. Still, with all of those obstacles in mind, here is one attempt to do just that, again evaluating the five-year span from 2013-17.
Step 1: Rubber arms
Innings must factor into this discussion, but few modern pitchers provide them in great numbers on a yearly basis. Max Scherzer and Jeff Samardzija are the only hurlers to top the 200-inning mark in at least five straight seasons, and just eight others have logged enough to qualify for the league leaderboards in each of those campaigns.
Therefore, a lower baseline is required in order to establish a large enough pool of pitchers. By setting the yearly minimum at 120 innings, we still limit that pool to starters while allowing for the periodic stint on the DL. Even so, not even one pitcher per team qualifies.
Results: 27 pitchers
Chris Archer, Bartolo Colon, Andrew Cashner, R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada, Giovany Gonzalez, Miguel Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Jason Hammel, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ian Kennedy, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, John Lackey, Mike Leake, Jonathan Lester, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, Jose Quintana, Chris Sale, Samardzija, Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Julio Teheran, Justin Verlander.
Step 2: Quality control
Staying on the mound is important, but so is pitching effectively during that time. Therefore, it's necessary to establish a basic minimum level of performance for our pitchers.
ERA+ adjusts ERA for factors such as park effects, and it puts it on a scale in which 100 is average and higher numbers are better. FIP- makes the same adjustments for FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which focuses on the things over which the pitcher exerts the most control -- namely strikeouts, walks and home runs. FIP- also expresses the league average as 100, but in this case, the lower the number is, the better.
Even establishing an 80 ERA+ and 120 FIP- as minimum yearly levels of effectiveness -- in both cases 20 percent worse than league average -- narrows down the original list considerably. But starters require some leeway, and the resulting group is an accomplished one that features 12 Cy Young Awards.
Results: 16 pitchers
Archer, Dickey, Greinke, Gio Gonzalez, Hamels, Kershaw, Kluber, Leake, Lester, Porcello, Quintana, Sale, Scherzer, Strasburg, Teheran, Verlander
Step 3: The "range factor"
Having set a modest floor for both playing time and production, it's time to factor in the range of results each pitcher has generated during this five-year period. This will involve taking the gaps between each pitcher's best and worst ERA+ and FIP-, and then averaging those gaps. The eight with the smallest ranges will advance.
Results: eight pitchers
Dickey: 8 points
Quintana: 21.5 points
Leake: 21.5 points
Archer: 23 points
Teheran: 29.5 points
Scherzer: 32 points
Gonzalez: 34 points
Hamels: 35 points
Dickey's results since his 2012 NL Cy Young Award season certainly haven't been spectacular, but with ERA+ between 96 and 105 and FIP- between 110 and 117, the knuckleballer has been as steady as it gets. Conversely, Scherzer's consistency is all the more impressive given that his 144 ERA+ over the past five seasons trails only Kershaw (minimum 500 innings).
Step 4: Strike force
Strikeouts are a huge part of today's game, with MLB pitchers setting a new record for strikeout rate in every season since 2008, that number rising from 17.5 percent to 21.6 percent during that time. In that context, this process requires a nod to the power of the K, narrowing the pool down to those who have hit the following marks each year since '13: 150 total strikeouts, 7 K/9, 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Results: four pitchers
Gonzalez: Min. 162 K, 8.4 K/9, 2.4 K/BB
Quintana: Min. 164 K, 7.4 K/9, 2.9 K/BB
Scherzer: Min. 240 K, 10.1 K/9, 4.0 K/BB
Teheran: Min. 151 K, 7.2 K/9, 2.1 K/BB
Dickey and Leake always get by with low strikeout numbers, while Hamels' K/9 plummeted to a career-low 6.4 this past season. Meanwhile, Archer narrowly misses the cut, mainly because he didn't join the Rays' rotation until June of his rookie year in 2013 and finished with 101 strikeouts.
Step 5: Battling the bats
The search for consistently productive starting pitchers has incorporated playing time, run prevention and strikeouts, but hasn't dealt directly with opponent batting stats. Therefore, the final step will consider OPS+, which similar to ERA+ adjusts raw OPS for outside factors and places it on a scale where 100 represents league average and higher numbers are better (for hitters).
Each of the four remaining hurlers has finished at least close to league average -- below the 110 mark -- in OPS+ allowed in each of the past five seasons. So to settle on a winner, we will sort this final quartet by the smallest range between lowest and highest OPS+ allowed.
Quintana: 14 points (87-101)
G. Gonzalez: 29 points (70-99)
Teheran: 31 points (77-108)
Scherzer: 37 points (49-86)
There's a reason that Scherzer has claimed three Cy Young Awards in the past five seasons and is considered perhaps the top pitcher in the game right now. The righty is durable and has paired top-notch results with impeccable consistency.
On one hand, Gonzalez and Teheran might seem like odd fits in this final group. Gonzalez's ERA has fluctuated from 3.79 to 4.57 to 2.96 since 2015, while Teheran's hasn't started with the same number in two consecutive campaigns within the past five years. But a deeper look, and the context of league-wide pitching instability, casts things in a different light.
And then there's Quintana. Last summer the Cubs paid the White Sox handsomely in prospects for a pitcher who had never led his league in a significant category and had just one All-Star selection and a single fifth-place Cy Young Award vote. They did so not only because of Quintana's team-friendly contract, but also because the left-hander is about as reliable as it gets with pitchers.
Quintana debuted with the White Sox in May 2012 and pitched 25 times for them that year (22 starts). In five years since, he always has logged either 32 or 33 starts -- essentially a full workload -- and compiled between 188 and 208 innings. Quintana's adjusted ERA+ and FIP- both have been better than average each season, and he consistently has struck out roughly 3-4 batters for every walk. By FanGraphs' wins above replacement (WAR), the southpaw has generated between 3.5 and 5.1 wins every year -- with a total of 21.8 WAR that ranks sixth overall during that time.
That track record makes Quintana "Mr. Consistent" in a role in which that quality is exceedingly rare.