Quality Start Really Quality
Just what defines a successful day toeing the rubber? A win? Double digit K’s? A WHIP under 1.00? Not getting his head knocked off by a liner back up the box? Sure we all have those categories we look at when deciding whether “our guy” had a great day, and often it’s a combination of all the categories we just mentioned (perhaps not the last one). In fact, because a good day on the hill has been such a nebulous concept, MLB came up with a stat to measure just that; the Quality Start (henceforth QS). And a look at the 2003 leaders in this stat provides you with about who you would expect to see at the top of a pitching list, though there are a few surprises down the list. Here are the top 30:
By now your probably asking yourself just what is a QS and how in the hell is it possible that Steve Trachsel had more of them last year than Russ Ortiz (19), Vincente Padilla (19), Mark Redman (19), Sydney Ponson (18), Randy Wolf (18) and Joel Pineiro (18)?
A QS is defined as a start in which a pitcher throws at least 6 innings and gives up fewer than 3 earned runs. Simple enough right. But should we really consider that to be a good start? For this question lets pull out our trusty abacus, or calculator, and do some factoring.
How does one determine ERA? Simply take the earned runs given up, multiply by 9, and then divide by the innings pitched (ER x 9 / IP). In this case of 6 innings pitched and 3 earned runs we get: 3 x 9 /6 = 4.50.
Is a 4.50 ERA really good? How many of you would want a pitcher who’s ERA is that high on your staff? Of the guys who posted an ERA of over 4.50, and pitched the 162 innings needed to qualify for the ERA title in 2003, the leader in wins was Ramon Ortiz. Ortiz’s pitching line would scare the hell out of Freddy Krueger: 16 wins, 1.51 WHIP and 94 K’s, and if you had him on your team last year, well, you might have wished you were killed in your sleep! Other notables with ERA’s over 4.50 were: Odalis Perez, Gil Meche, Tom Glavine and Kyle Lohse. Lets be honest, calling them notables based on last seasons performances, is being far too kind.
How about we look at a table showing the ERA of various QS.
As we mentioned above, a 4.50 ERA really isn’t “quality,” at least in our mind. Now one could make the argument that all other possibilities on this chart would be considered “quality” though I would imagine some would still have an issue with a 3.86 ERA (depending on the other stats accumulated in the start). The point is that this stat can be easily misconstrued. I mean really, take a glance at the leaders in QS from last year again. Lets compare the leader in QS Loaiza (27) with the 2nd place finisher in the NL Cy Young race, Jason Schmidt (20).
Now is there anyway that you would say that
Loaiza had a better year than Schmidt? I guess some may plausibly try such
an argument, but one would have to accede to the position that there is no
way that Loaiza was roughly 25% better than Schmidt (what QS says by
crediting Loaiza with 27 to Schimdt’s 20). Seems like the QS category
has some explaining to do.
Therefore, a list based not on total
number of QS but on % of starts which were QS would read:
The top three pitchers are the same; Loaiza’s year appears to have been pretty darn strong as he maintains the top spot, followed by Hudson and Brown. A few of the biggest gainers reads like a who’s who of guys you would want on your staff in 2004: Schmidt, Pedro, Webb. On the other hand, Milwood and Halladay both drop pretty far, whereas Maddux has a rather precipitous drop all the way to the bottom of the list, so again you gotta be careful when judging the validity of the QS. And lest you think we aren’t thorough, here is a list of 4 pitchers who suffered a variety of injuries last year and are all considered to be “aces.”
Oswalt 15/21, 71% - My pick for the NL Cy Young. Only that pesky groin, which was operated on, is holding him back. With the offense in Houston, and his 3 year avg. of 14-6, 2.92, 153 K, 1.14 WHIP (in only 167 IP), we say that this is his year.
Schlling 16/24, 67% - My pick for the AL Cy Young. Even in his injured 2003 season, he still averaged over a K an inning (194 K in 168 inn.), had WHIP of 1.05, and allowed hitters to only bat .230 off him. 280 K’s, 20 wins and a WHIP under 1.10 seem to be where this fireballer should land.
Mulder 17/26, 65%- Mulder might have led the AL in wins last year if note for his hip injury, and with a three year average of 18-8, 3.36, and a 1.16 WHIP, why wouldn’t you want this 6 foot 5 left-handed hurler?
Morris 15/27, 56%- Morris, who had the worst % of QS of any pitcher we surveyed, is do for a big things in his contract year. A return to his 2001-02 form is likely, and 18 wins with a 3.35 ERA with 170 K’s and a 1.22 WHIP seems well within his reach.
So in the end the QS is a useful tool
that can provide a decent return on your time, as long as you supplement
it with other statistics. Be mindful that pitchers such as Ohka, Leiter,
O. Perez, Lohse, Trachsel, Nomo and Franklin, while worthy of
consideration for your staff, all come with serious question marks (though
by QS indications they were in the group of top 25 pitchers from last
year). I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would take any of
those pitchers over Padilla, Wolf or Pineiro. So be wise in your drafting.
You don’t want to be one of those guys who hopes that liner does find
his pitchers dome so that he can go on the DL so you can pick-up someone
else. Just pick the right guy from the start, its much less painful that
way for you, and for the pitchers skull.