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November 14, 2008

Player Profile

Carlos Quentin

by Marc Normandin and Eric Seidman

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It seems as if Carlos Quentin had been a disappointing player for a long time, but that may just have been how positive the initial impressions of him were when he first arrived on the scene. In reality, we haven't been waiting all that long for Quentin to excel, and it appears he may have finally realized his potential in his first year with the White Sox. Today we will take a look at how Quentin got to where he is now, and whether his post-Arizona production is something we can expect more of in the future, or just a one-year aberration.

Carlos Jose Quentin went to University of San Diego High, where he was a three-sport athlete. He set school records on the baseball diamond, won defensive player of the year honors for his school's football team, and played on the championship basketball team there as well. He then went to Stanford University, where he played baseball in 2001 and '02 before busting out as a can't-miss hitter with his 2003 junior season, delivering a .396/.494/.630 line with 12 home runs, 10 steals, and 37 extra-base hits in 265 at-bats. The Diamondbacks made him their second pick in the first round of the amateur entry draft (29th overall), and though the 20-year-old signed on soon afterward, he would not make his debut as a professional until the 2004 season thanks to Tommy John surgery.

Once he did make that debut, people took notice. Quentin hit .310/.428/.562 against High-A pitchers at Lancaster for half of the season, and then moved on to Double-A El Paso to finish the year, where he would continue his torrid pace (.357/.443/.533). He collected 55 extra-base hits in 452 at-bats with 21 homers and 43 unintentional walks, while also being hit by a whopping 43 pitches-this a trait that carried over from his Stanford days, where Quentin had been hit 48 times in 199 games.

Baseball America was understandably enamored with him, ranking him number one in the D'backs system heading into 2005. They felt that his tools, which were all average or above, would make him an ideal right fielder:

He's a strong yet graceful athlete with good bat speed and a smooth swing…[with] power to all fields…[a] mature approach at the plate, and recognizes which pitches he can drive. An excellent defender, Quentin gets good jumps and has above-average range. His accurate arm already bounced back to a tick above average just 18 months removed from surgery.

Quentin did not do anything spectacularly, but he lacked any real weakness and projected as a quality ballplayer. The only area that caused concern was that he was hit by pitches so often-getting on base is fine, but there was a fear that pitchers would begin to bust him inside and detract from his power, settling for the hit-by-pitch to keep him from clearing the bases, or potentially injuring the young slugger. It also increased his OBP more than his patience should have indicated, making up half of the difference between his batting average and on-base rates.

Baseball Prospectus 2005 was also a big fan of Quentin's work:

Love this guy. Not sure why he hasn't gotten more pub, but he's a better prospect than Conor Jackson at this point, and that's saying something. Lit up the California and Texas Leagues, showing power, solid defense, athleticism, and a great ability to adjust to off-speed pitches. He'll see some time at Triple-A before the year's out, and will be on the Rookie of the Year ballot in '06 or '07. Check that PECOTA: If they let him, he could have a RotY shot right now.

That PECOTA forecast called for a .269/.382/.452 line and 28.9 VORP, rather impressive for a kid with just one year of experience under his belt, and half of that at the lower levels. Quentin began the year at Triple-A Tucson, where he would continue to develop as a hitter, going .301/.422/.520 in 452 at-bats. That was a jump in ISO of .043 from his session at Double-A (.176 to .219), a good sign for the future. He was also hit by 29 pitches this time around, to go with 72 walks, none intentional. That was something to take notice of, as it showed Quentin's further development of strike-zone recognition, and an improvement in his power game in spite of the worries about pitchers abusing him for crowding the plate.

Baseball America still adored Quentin, but they slotted him in as the Snakes' third-best prospect heading into the 2006 season, thanks to the emergence of Stephen Drew and their continued love for Conor Jackson. They felt that in spite of his proximity to the plate, he was still able to cheat on inside pitches due to his excellent bat speed and pitch recognition. In contrast, Baseball Prospectus 2006 liked Quentin much more than Conor Jackson, who seemed to receive far more attention despite being a player with only one above-average tool:

Out of the umpteen corner infield/outfield prospects in this organization, Quentin should get first dibs on a major league gig. Both he and Luis Gonzalez are Tommy John survivors, so whoever draws the right-field assignment is going to have his arm tested by runners. He handled Triple-A pitching better than expected, given the supposed inflation of his low-minors performances, and has nothing left to prove in Tucson. Some believe he's athletic enough to handle center, which would alleviate the corner-outfield problem some, but he doesn't run particularly well, so it's really wishful thinking.

Quentin would start 2006 at Triple-A once again, this time hitting .286/.422/.484 (with 31 HBP and 45 walks) before being called up in July. He would do well for himself during his major league debut, hitting .253/.342/.530 with 25 extra-base hits in 166 at-bats. The low batting average was due more to his .268 BABIP than it was to an awful punchout rate-striking out 20.5 percent of the time is not too bad, especially for a hitter going up against major league pitchers for the first time.

Baseball Prospectus 2007 made note of Quentin's high HBP totals, wondering if it was a skill that was transferrable to the majors. Clearly, given Quentin's tendency to be plunked, it was something that would need to carry over, or he would need to overhaul his entire approach. Regardless, they were fans: "Though a .280 EqA isn't a bad way to start your career, he's even better than that; expect a higher average and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio this year. He may not have Chris Young's upside, but he's the safer bet for a solid career."

The 2007 season was not as kind to Quentin as his debut, and the right-hander struggled to hit well at the major league level. Quentin managed just .214/.298/.349 in 229 at-bats, partially as a result of limited playing time and another low BABIP (.259). He struggled equally against both left- and right-handed pitchers, failing to crack a 700 OPS against either. His time at Triple-A went much more smoothly, with Quentin hitting .348/.395/.574, besting his major league performance in every way. He also had to deal with a hamstring injury that sent him to the disabled list for all but one day of August.

The Diamondbacks decided that Quentin was the corner guy from among their stack of young players that needed to go, and they sent him to the White Sox for Chris Carter, who was then subsequently packaged to the Athletics in the Dan Haren swap. In retrospect, the D'backs really could have used Quentin's help this year; he won a starting job in the Chicago outfield and proceeded to contend for MVP honors before going down with a self-inflicted wrist injury, hitting .288/.394/.571 and besting even the most optimistic forecasts. Playing in the Cell for half of his games was expected to boost his power, but it wasn't as if he was coming over from a pitcher's park, since batting in Phoenix can do wonders for your offense as well-just ask the remaining young hitters in 'Zona about that one.

Where does Quentin go from here? He has hurt his wrist, which often damages a slugger's power output, but he's also a hitter with excellent bat speed and pitch recognition who improved in the few areas of his game that needed help, such as his walk rate and cutting down on strikeouts. Whether he keeps up the MVP-caliber slugger act is a question worthy of discussion-more on that later-but it's obvious that Quentin should be a productive, above-average outfielder from here on out, much like his tools and the early career forecasts indicated he would be.-Marc Normandin

Performance Evaluation

Entering the 2008 season, Quentin's 90th-percentile PECOTA projection saw him capable of a .298/.387/.507 line. When Carlos' season ended after 130 games played due to injury, PECOTA was pretty darned close to his actual .288 BA and .394 OBP, but his actual .571 SLG vastly exceeded even that projection, thanks primarily to a .283 ISO. Two years ago, during Quentin's rookie campaign, he logged 191 plate appearances and produced a .277 ISO, so this type of power did not exactly emerge from nowhere. During that 2006 campaign, he hit .253/.342/.530, production that oozed potential.

Quentin averaged a home run every 18.4 at-bats in 2006, but that rate plummeted to once every 45.8 at-bats in 2007. Not shocking then is his HR/FB drop-off from 17.6 percent in 2006 to a measly 6.8 percent in 2007. This past season though, the same rate rose to a career-high 20.7 percent. One potential reason deals specifically with his increased rate of fly balls: from 2006-2008, Quentin's fly-ball percentage rose from 38.1 to 40.8 to 43.2. Having documented his power output, it's important to remember that Carlos also produced an impressive OBP of .394, in large part built upon his 12 percent walk rate, 13th best in the junior circuit.

It's this last part that forces us to ask about his breakout last season. Is his 12 percent walk rate, up from the 7-8 percent posted in the previous two seasons, something that will stick? According to Quentin's swing data, he is improving his patience, reducing his overall rate of swinging in each of his three major league seasons from 53.9 percent in 2006 to just 49.4 percent this past year. Not swinging at pitches isn't enough in itself to improve patience, however, but when we factor in that Quentin is actually seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone than ever before, it becomes evident that the reduced rate is significant. He saw 53.2 percent of the pitches thrown his way in the strike zone back in 2006, which dropped to 50.3 percent in 2007, and just 48.6 percent this year. Looked at together, he seems to be seeing more pitches out of the zone and swinging less overall, which portends added patience.

He put together quite the successful 130-game season overall, posting a 52.3 VORP which was good for 10th in the AL, and a .306 MLVr; even his translated line pegged him with 1030 OPS. His power was equally distributed against both righties and lefties-.574 SLG versus left-handers and .562 SLG versus right-handers-but his ability to get on base via hits and walks was much better against the same-handed this time around. Quentin's power was also equally distributed at home and on the road, as he posted a .582 SLG at the Cell and a .560 SLG while traveling. Digging a little deeper, it becomes clear that even though his slash line did not greatly benefit from the friendly confines of US Cellular Field, his impressive total of 36 home runs did.

Using HitTracker Online's data on Quentin, which breaks home runs up into whether or not they were no-doubters, plenty-gone, or just-enough, 12 of his 36 home runs were in the "just-enough" category. So, one-third of Quentin's home runs barely cleared the fences, and four of them were labeled "lucky" due to the fact that, with standard weather conditions, the balls would not have cleared the fences. On top of that, ten of Quentin's home runs would not have been round-trippers in 23 other stadiums. By no means am I trying to detract from his season, but he clearly benefited from playing in a hitter's ballpark.

Carlos performed quite well after getting ahead 1-0 in the count, posting a .337/.496/.697 line with 18 home runs in 236 plate appearances. If he fell behind 0-1 after the first pitch, those numbers fell to .208/.282/.361, with seven home runs in 238 plate appearances. He also improved his numbers after seeing pitchers numerous times through the order. Facing starters for the first time in a game, Quentin hit .257/.364/.431. The next time through, his BA and OBP essentially remained the same, while his SLG shot all the way up to .639. Interestingly enough, even though Quentin clearly preferred power pitchers to finesse pitchers, posting an 1178 OPS versus power pitcher, and he performed at his best the second time through the order, that was also around the period of time in the game when he saw the lowest percentage of fastballs.

Moving forward, a crude projection for 2009 sees Quentin likely to hit .271/.368/.503 with 24 home runs. Quentin's .280 BABIP may generally be expected to regress, but it actually established a career high. Playing the majority of his games in a hitter's park, and with his growing propensity for fly balls, there is no reason that Quentin cannot exceed the 24 projected home runs. He isn't a fielding wizard-10 plays below average in left field in 2008-but at just 26 years old, Quentin likely has several more solid offensive seasons in the tank.-Eric Seidman


Eric Seidman is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can contact Eric by clicking here.

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here

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