Cal Quantrill’s Mindset is Exactly What the Colorado Rockies Need

The Colorado Rockies got one of the steals of the offseason when they traded for Cal Quantrill, who has the mindset to thrive in Coors Field.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 14: Cal Quantrill #47 of the Colorado Rockies pitches during the first inning of a game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park on May 14, 2024 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

One of the most underrated transactions of the winter took place when the Colorado Rockies acquired Cal Quantrill from the Cleveland Guardians in a trade.

In search of some stability in their rotation following the loss of Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela to Tommy John surgery in early 2023, Quantrill immediately slid into the no. 2 spot in the Rockies’ rotation behind Opening Day starter Kyle Freeland.

With Freeland joining his rotation mates on the injured list, Quantrill has picked up the mantle as staff ace.

Through 10 games with Colorado, his 3.59 ERA is extraordinarily low for a starter joining the franchise mid-career. Subtract his first two performances of the season, Quantrill has a 2.59 ERA with seven quality starts over those eight outings. Entering Tuesday night’s game in Oakland, he was 3-0 with a 0.92 ERA (19.2 IP, 2 ER) in May, good for fifth-best in the National League this month. 

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Son of 14-year big leaguer Paul Quantrill, the 29-year-old has appeared in six big league seasons with the San Diego Padres and Guardians. His 38-26 record with a career 3.82 ERA underlines his success he’s had with two organizations that haven’t exactly been powerhouses since his 2019 debut. He helped those clubs reach the postseason twice and the worst record he’s endured in a full-season is a 76-86 campaign with Cleveland in 2023.

Despite these achievements, the one critique in his game is the absence of the strikeout. Of the 38 qualified starting pitchers in the NL this season, Quantrill ranks 30th in K/9 (6.87). Austin Gomber, who’s also been excellent for Colorado, has posted a 3.02 ERA to open the year and ranks 36th in K/9 (6.22).

While it might be easy to find flaw with Quantrill during an age in which strikeouts have increased since the last decade, there’s more to defining success for him than three strikes at a clip.

“I think my game is quality start after quality start and giving the team a chance to win,” Quantrill said after besting the Giants on May 9. “I still think that winning comes before my personal strikeouts. So for me, I think the best way to help the team win is to go as many innings as possible.”

Both Quantrill and Gomber provide some much-needed coverage for manager Bud Black. Surviving the opposing lineup for a third time is a skill valued more by a club with an inexperienced bullpen that replaced Pierce Johnson, Brad Hand, Brent Suter and an injured Daniel Bard from last year’s corps with only Jalen Beeks.

“What I’m trying to do is be extremely efficient and make them hit the ball that I want them to hit,” Quantrill explained. “And I think that if I can reduce the exit velocity, I believe that infielders and outfielders are gonna make the plays. So maybe there’s not as many whiffs as some other guys, but I’m also not gonna sacrifice anything just so I can chase a punchie or two.”

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For a club that often rolls out five finalists for the Gold Glove Award, including a trio who have won the honors — Jacob Stallings (2021), Brendan Rodgers (2022) and Brenton Doyle (2023) — inducing weak contact with the Rockies defense can be a wise move.

Though not in search of strikeouts, Quantrill’s performance against the Pirates on the road produced nine strikeouts in a fashion only seen by his new franchise on two other occasions.

By becoming the third pitcher in club history to twirl at least seven scoreless innings with no walks and nine-plus strikeouts, joining a pair of complete game shutouts by Germán Márquez (2019) and Jon Gray (2016), he showed that he’s more than capable of doing it all, in any fashion.

Thanks to a pedigree as a baseball lifer — not necessarily difficult for anyone under the age of 30, but a lot harder when you weren’t raised by a member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame — the Ontario native brought a mentality to Colorado that was strong and strategically well-suited for his first full season a mile above sea level.

“Pitching here, there’s some unique challenges, right? Certain things that I would like to do aren’t quite as effective here,” Quantrill said. “Right now I have a splitter, before I didn’t. Before, I was throwing the cutter a lot and at sea level it was a better pitch than it is here.”

Quantrill may have only three games at Coors Field under his purple belt, but the results have been impressive. His 2.00 ERA (18.0 IP, 4 ER) this season has more than given his club a chance to win. Even if it takes a hit when more offensive-minded clubs like the Phillies, Dodgers, Orioles and Royals visit Denver, Quantrill has a chance to be only the third starter in Rockies history post an earned run average under 3.00 at home (min. 10 starts).

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Poor results be damned, the eighth overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft has been a model example of the bulldog attitude often required for success in Denver.

Take his first win with the franchise on April 21. Against a surging Seattle Mariners who had won four in a row, including a 7-0 defeat of the Rockies the night before, Quantrill tossed six scoreless frames. With a virus that caused him to get sick multiple times between innings, he managed to elevate the 4-16 squad and throw 108 pitches in the process. It was only the second time in the past six seasons someone in purple threw that many pitches 5,280 feet above sea level.

Colorado managed to go 3-3 over the next six games, their best string of play to that point in the year. They split a four-game set with the Padres, which doesn’t seem notable until recognizing it was the first time not losing a series all season.

After winning once over the next 10 games, the unlikely came to fruition. Quantrill thwarted a sweep by the San Francisco Giants on May 9th at home and the club went on a seven-game winning streak that included three consecutive wins against the Texas Rangers.

It was Colorado’s first run of seven or more wins in five years. Per Elias, they became the first team in the modern era (since 1901) to win seven consecutive games after previously not winning two in a row in their first 30 games played.

Quantrill attempted to start a new win-streak and snap the club’s three-game losing streak on Tuesday night. He allowed only two runs and exited the game after six innings with a 4-2 lead. When the bullpen allowed a pair of home runs in successive frames, a losing streak of eight games was over for the Oakland Athletics, while the Rockies ran theirs to four consecutive losses.

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Despite still owning the worst record in the Senior Circuit, Colorado is still apt to do something for the first time in a while with Quantrill appearing on the bump nearly once a series. And there’s a good chance he does it while at home where the seemingly adverse conditions of Coors Field can be utilized as a strength.

“There’s other things that I think can almost be advantageous. I’ve said it before, but leaning into the fact that I promise you their starting pitcher doesn’t want to be here,” Quantrill said. “Leaning into the fact that the splitter does some weird stuff here that it wouldn’t do somewhere else.”

It’s a similar mentality to many others who have had sustained success and have persevered in Denver over three decades. Quantrill continued.

“This is a tough park to pitch in. Everyone knows that. Just talking about it all the time I think it’s almost like beating a dead horse,” he shared. “Yeah, we get it. So, why don’t we lean into the things that we can do to try and either mitigate that or things that are positive. I think that’s kind of where most of the rotation and I think relievers, that’s kind of where our head is at.”

Quantrill has another year of club control for Colorado. Whether the franchise wants to call the current on-field product a rebuild or not, is besides the point as they hurdle towards 100+ losses for a second-straight season.

The Rockies have an interesting question that needs answering in regards to Quantrill: keep the talented starter in hopes of climbing back to relevance in 2025 or jettison him in a trade that could bolster the roster for years to come.

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No matter where Quantrill ends up, his mindset will be adept for any challenge.