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.