Jose Quintana is finally going to an All-Star Game. Along with most of you reading this, I think he should’ve been chosen as one of the initial crop of five starters, but a nice thing about the ballooning of All-Star rosters is that it has decreased the likelihood that guys who really deserve to make it get left out, even if that didn’t prevent Quintana from being excluded the last few years, nor many other deserving candidates.
I’m glad he’s making the most of his trip to San Diego, and I hope he handles the fifth inning with aplomb, even if it would be more fitting if Ned Yost gave him the start and a corresponding no decision. He’s been one of the most meritorious starters in the game over the last few years, and it’ll be nice to see something in the last column of his Baseball Reference page.
The thing with formal honors, though, is that the actual results mean a whole lot less than the theoretical benchmarks, especially in sports. If I say that the White Sox made an excellent move by signing an eventual downballot Cy Young candidate as a minor league free agent in 2011, it’s not a false statement just because Quintana hasn’t actually received any Cy Young votes to date. “Downballot Cy Young candidate” describes the quality of the pitcher, because combining that with an assessment of likely voter behavior just makes everything confusing, and probably less accurate.
Thus, because the Cy Young and All-Star Game are determined via such mediocre procedures and have largely negligible impact on the future of the players or the teams, it’s hard for me to get too caught up in what they mean. What matters more to me in the long run is that his teammates, the fans, and the team appreciate him, in large part because there’s no excuse for them not to.
When it comes to pitchers, there’s a few simple ways for their own teams to demonstrate their appreciation: have them pitch Game 1 of a playoff series, specially promote their starts (often with a special section, like the K Zone for Chris Sale starts), or give them their own Opening Day start. Unfortunately, the first of those hasn’t been a possibility for Quintana to this point in his career. The latter two are where the situation’s gotten sticky.
When Rob Neyer wrote about days and sections honoring individual pitchers a few days ago, he didn’t mention the White Sox’s peculiar situation from last year. Chris Sale had his special section, because he’s the best pitcher the franchise has had in decades. But then the White Sox got too cute, and gave the Opening Day start, and a special promotional section, to Jeff Samardzija.
What’s embarrassing about that is not really (or rather, not just) that Samardzija had a pedestrian year (2.1 WARP, 4.27 DRA, 102 cFIP) and Quintana had a good one (3.2 WARP, 3.76 DRA, 85 cFIP), but that the Sox should have anticipated that gap in performance: PECOTA gave Quintana a Jon Lester comp, whereas Samardzija got a Felipe Paulino comparison. It’s not immediately clear why the Sox gave the status symbols to Samardzija—it could be any combination of his greater national profile, his greater local profile from his time with the Cubs and Notre Dame, his more outspoken nature, his more conventionally impressive pitching style, or his being American—but it was a mistake at the time, and it looks even worse now.
Having cheering sections for two of your starters is strange, but workable when you have a legitimate No. 1 and No. 1A; it’s downright laughable when you give the second one not to the No. 1A that blossomed in your organization but to the rental No. 3 that proceeded to have a rough year. In 10 or 15 years I’m going to look at the list of White Sox Opening Day starters, and it’s going to be even worse seeing Samardzija there than it does looking at David Wells’s 2001 appearance. (It’s worth noting as an aside that under Jerry Reinsdorf the White Sox have run their only two Hall of Fame players (Frank Thomas and Carlton Fisk) and a Hall of Fame manager (Tony La Russa) out of town and haven’t always been on the best of terms with Sale, their best player of the last decade.)
In all likelihood, the White Sox era starting in 2012 and ending sometime in the next two to four years will be thought of as the Ventura/Sale/Quintana years. For the first time, the two on-field anchors of that time period will be appearing together at the Midsummer Classic. (I’m not holding my breath for Ventura to make a future appearance in the dugout.) It’s heartening to see what it means to Sale and Quintana, but to me it’s also an unpleasant reminder of how hamfisted this organization can be, even about something as seemingly easy and minor as showing appropriate recognition to one of their two best players.
Lead Image Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki // USA Today Sports Images