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Rockies trade for pitcher Cal Quantrill

The Rockies are beginning to address their need for pitching.

The Colorado Rockies announced today that they have traded Minor League catcher Kody Huff to the Cleveland Guardians for right-handed pitcher Cal Quantrill.

Who is Cal Quantrill?

Originally from Port Hope, Ontario, Canada, Quantrill was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the first round of the 2016 draft after playing college baseball for Stanford. He made his MLB debut in 2019.

On August 31, 2020, Quantrill was part of the trade that would bring Mike Clevinger to the Padres. In 2021, he had his first season as a full-time starter (2.89 ERA); in 2022, he was less successful earning a 3.38 ERA; and in 2023, things deteriorated further.

The 28 year old went 4-7 with a 5.24 ERA (99.2 IP, 58 ER) over 19 starts with the Guardians. He also struggled with shoulder inflammation, which certainly accounts for the reduced number of innings he threw but also may have contributed to his pitching struggles.

“He had some shoulder (problems) last season, but if you look at his last six starts, that was the best he was all year. He was pretty good and that showed us that he was healthy,” Bill Schmidt told Patrick Saunders

“We were looking to get better on the mound,” Schmidt added about the deal, which came together over the last few days. “He’s a good competitor and we are looking to get innings. We’re hoping that if he’s healthy he’ll be able to provide that. He eats innings. He’s not a big swing-and-miss guy, but he’s doing something right.”

Matt Seese of Covering the Corner writes of Quantrill’s 2023 season:

In spite of all of this, Quantrill always found a way to outperform his expected stats significantly, and it was in large part due to his contact quality control. Quantrill found ways to consistently get weaker contact despite tip-toeing that wire because he never missed bats.

Among 85 starting pitchers who have at least 1000 batters faced since the start of 2022 per baseball, Quantrill ranked 17th in average exit velocity (87.2 mph), but everything else felt concerning, like a bomb ready to blow, but it just kept ticking and ticking.

Quantrill ranked 84th out of those 85 pitchers in strikeout rate at 15.3%. Sure, that wasn’t Cal’s game, but he was sandwiched between Zack Greinke who was dead last and Adam Wainwright who just posted one of the worst pitching seasons ever in 2023. In namesake, it’s great company, but that’s about it.

Quantrill ranked 74th in xwOBA at .337, 57th in hard hit rate at 37.0% (one spot above Jordan Lyles who is not the worst comparison to draw for Cal’s future), and 68th in expected slugging percentage, or xSLG for short, at .441. Quantrill’s expected slash line came in at .269/.329/.441. An OPS of .770 matches 2023 Fernando Tatis Jr.

He is projected to earn $6.6 million.

Why did the Rockies make this trade?

The Rockies need pitching, and when comparing Quantrill with Chase Anderson and Chris Flexen, Quantrill is the superior pitcher — by a notable margin. Here’s the comparison based on FanGraphs data:

This table shows that Quantrill was the best of the three pitchers.
Comparison of Cal Quantrill, Chase Anderson, and Chris Flexen

Quantrill was not good in 2023, but he was better than Anderson and Flexen. Moreover, the 11 home runs he gave up were fewer than those allowed by Anderson (17) and Flexen (25).

In addition, the Rockies were surely attracted to his GB% (40.8%) compared to Anderson’s (39.2%) and Flexen’s (36.2%).

The Rockies are hoping they can bring Quantrill back to his 2021 self.

What did the Guardians get?

In exchange, the Guardians will receive 22-year-old catcher Kody Huff who slashed .254./352/.364 with five home runs and 41 RBI in 95 games over his two seasons in the Rockies organization.

Did anything else happen?

Yes, to make room for Quantrill on Colorado’s 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Tommy Doyle has been designated for assignment, leaving the Rockies with a full 40-man roster.

The trade makes sense though it is not without risk, and how Quantrill will adjust to pitching at Coors Field, given his numbers, is the biggest question.

Look for more news throughout the day given that today is MLB’s non-tender deadline.

This story was updated to include Bill Schmidt’s comments to Patrick Saunders.