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Is the Quality Start Really Quality
by Ray Flowers
Apr 18, 2004

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: 

Loaiza 27  Vazquez  22 Maddux 21 O. Perez  20
Hudson 27 Wood 22 P. Martinez 21  Franklin  20
Brown  25 Ohka 22 W.Williams 21 Lohse 20
Buehrle 24 Moyer 22 Pettitte 20 Leiter 20
Millwood 23 Pavano 21 Schmidt 20 Trachsel 20
Halladay 23 Kip Wells 21 Nomo  20
Zito  23 C. Zambrano 21 Clement 20
Prior 23 Lawrence 21 W.Miller 20
L.Hernandez 22 B.Webb 21 Sabathia 20
Colon 22 Clemens 21 Mussina 20

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.

  1ER 2ER 3ER

6 IP

1.50

3.00

4.50

7 IP

1.29

2.57

3.86

8 IP

1.13

2.25

3.38

9 IP

1.00

2.00

3.00

 
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). 
  W-L ERA Whip K's

Loaiza

21-9

2.90

1.11

207

Schmidt

17-5

2.34

0.95

208

 

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. 

One suggestion that might be offered would be to divide the number of games started (GS) by QS to arrive at the percentage of starts one made that were quality (again assuming that a QS is really a “quality start”). Listed first is the number of QS followed by the number of total starts for each pitcher. 

Loaiza 27/34

Vazquez  22/34

Maddux 21/36

O. Perez  20/30

Hudson 27/34

Wood 22/32

P. Martinez 21/29

Franklin  20/32

Brown  25/25

Ohka 22/34

W.Williams 21/33

Lohse 20/33

Buehrle 24/35

Moyer 22/33

Pettitte 20/33

Leiter 20/30

Millwood 23/35

Pavano 21/33

Schmidt 20/29

Trachsel 20/33

Halladay 23/36

Kip Wells 21/31

Nomo  20/33 

 

Zito  23/35

C. Zambrano 21/32

Clement 20/32

 

Prior  23/30

Lawrence 21/33

Miller 20/33

 

L. Hernandez 22/33

Webb 21/29

Sabathia 20/30

 

Colon 22/34

Clemens 21/33

Mussina 20/31 

 

Therefore, a list based not on total number of QS but on % of starts which were QS would read: 

Loaiza 79%

 Clemens 67%

  Ohka 65%

  Lohse 61%

Hudson 79%

 L.Hernandez 67%

 Colon 65%

  Trachsel 61%

Brown 78%

 Sabathia 67%

  Mussina 65%

  Nomo 61%

Prior 77%

 O.Perez 67%

  Halladay 64%

  Miller 61%

P.Martinez 72%

 Moyer 67%

  W.Williams 64%

  Maddux 58%

Webb 72%

  Leiter 67%

  Lawrence 64%

 

Buehrle 69%

 Milwood 66%

  Pavano 64%

 

Wood 69%

 Zito 66%

   Clement 63 %

 

Schmidt 69%

 C.Zambrano 66%

  Franklin 61%

 

Wells 68%

 Vazquez 65%

  Pettitte 61%

 

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.  

 


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