Baseall’s Great Deception; A Quality Start

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Baseball is great because of all the nuances, intricasies and statistics that the game provides and thusly can be debated. One topic that continously gets brought up, by fans more seemingly that the actually “knowledgable” and informed media and scribes, is the term quality starts. Fans seem to have latched onto the idea that what baseball currently deems a quality start is not in fact all that special. 

Let me ask you this. How many of you fans would be happy with a starting pitcher holding a 4.50 earned-run average. Is that something that should be considered a quality start? Well according to the current stat guidelines for a quality start that is what you are getting. pitcher that allows just three earned runs and goes six innings is credited with a quality start. This statistical term was coined by a writer from a Detroit newspaper in 1985. Through his observations he felt that a pitcher that met those numbers gave his team an excellent chance for a win. 

Now yes it is true that the good teams have pitching staffs that give them a chance to win not by completly shutting down the opponent every night but by simply limiting their opponents and keeping their own team “in the game”. But does a quality start truly lead to wins? 

According to Baseball Reference not exactly. As recently as 2011 the percentage of games that were quality starts was 54.2%. That was the highest rate since before the steriod eras. But over the course of baseball’s history the quality start percentage has stayed between 45-55%. Now let’s look at the win percentage of quality starts. In 2011 a quality start resulted in a win 66% of the time and the win percentage over the last five decades has ranged between 65-69%. 

I am sure everyone in baseball realizes that Matt Cain and Cole Hamels have not pitched very well this year yet both rank in the top 30 of quality starts this season (Hamels is actually 7th). Jake Westbrook with his 10 quality starts has just as many quality starts as Francisco Liriano. 

This is not to say that a quality start stat does not have a place in baseball but the term needs to examined more and not so casually used by some as an end-all performance qualifier. It can be helpful. By looking at quality starts you can see that Stephen Strasburg isn’t having the horrible year you may think. He has 13 quality starts in 21 games this season. But like all statistics it needs to be part of the bigger picture and not the only determinant. 

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4 Responses to Baseall’s Great Deception; A Quality Start

  1. Chad says:

    Great article Brian, but I think Wins is by far the most deceptive statistic for pitchers. A common example I’ve seen this year is in a comparison of 2 dominant pitchers: Chris Sale and Max Scherzer. Sale is 6-10 with a 2.69 ERA while Scherzer is 15-1 with a 3.01 ERA (both have about 10 K / 9 innings). Who is the better pitcher? The wins would suggest Scherzer, but in this case the difference in wins has to do with the pitchers run support this year. Scherzer leads the league in run support with the Tigers scoring an average of 6.14 runs when Scherzer is on the mound. Sale is dead last in the league in run support with an anemic 2.63 runs per game. Strasburg is 2nd last, which may explain his discrepancy between wins and quality starts that you mentioned in your article.

    Scherzer is the front runner for the Cy Young Award this year, and Sale’s season will soon be forgotten. Why? Simply because Scherzer has a better offense hitting behind him when he pitchers. It has NOTHING to do with his pitching skills vs. Sale.

    In my opinion, Quality Starts is a much better indicator of how often a starting pitcher has a decent game, as it focuses more on the pitchers ability to limit the other teams runs and go deep into games while taking the pitchers run support out of the equation. I do agree the term “quality” is up for interpretation, with the steroid era coming to close and pitching dominance on the rise, we may need to raise or standards before considering something a “quality start” — maybe 2 ER or less over 6 or 7 innings would be a more appropriate stat to track in the post-steroid era.

  2. Chad exactly my point. Wins is over rated. As is quality starts. Any stat can skewed how you want. That’s why I said all stats need to be used to determine a true pitcher. Just as I don’t think wins, quality starts or even WAR gives a complete picture of a players value. These are all as you said indicators. I think too often people focus on one stat and stick with that to determine opinions.

  3. Chad says:

    Good call. Combine multiple stats to get a better overall picture, but the best way to assess skills is to watch the players play! ESPN analysts are the worst. Switching gears a little bit, but I’ve been watching ESPN rank NFL QB’s lately and some say Eli Manning is a better QB than Matt Ryan because he’s won more championships… Really?? If that’s your only justification, is Trent Dilfer better than Dan Marino? I don’t think so… Look at any passing statistic from their past couple of years or watch most of their games last year, and you’ll see that Ryan is clearly the superior QB.

    Trying to judge the skill of a single player in a TEAM sport based solely on championships is even worse than trying to judge them on their individual stats. Only judge the quality of tennis players, golfers, and race car drivers based solely on W’s/Championships.

  4. Chad says:

    Just saw this article today on yahoo… looks like I’m not the only one that thinks Wins is a terrible stat: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/pitching-by-the-numbers–win–lose-or-draw-185404747.html

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