The much maligned, much misunderstood "quality start"

The much maligned, much misunderstood "quality start"

Posted by Bruce on Fri, 05/09/2008 - 14:03
Regular readers of the Daily Herald will note that I often point out when a Cubs pitcher turns in a "quality start." To get a quality start, a pitcher must work at least 6 innings and give up no more than 3 earned runs. Now, here's where we need to stop for just a minute. Critics of the quality start like to point out, "Well, 3 runs in 6 innings; that's a 4.50 ERA. That doesn't sound very 'quality' to me" And they'd be right. But the 6-inning, 3-run thing is only the lowest qualification for a quality start. Last year, I began keeping a log of Cubs quality starts. Anybody care to take a guess what the Cubs' record and the starters' ERA were in quality starts. Maybe just over .500 with, say, a 3.50 ERA? Nope. The Cubs turned in 81 quality starts last year. The team record was 61-20, and the ERA for the starters in those quality starts was a cool 1.77. Think about that for a sec. When the Cubs didn't get a quality start, the team was 24-57. That was so much fun and so instructive that I decided to keep the log again this year. Entering this afternoon's game against the D'Backs, the Cubs had turned in 18 quality starts. The team is 11-7, and the ERA from the starters in those quality starts is 1.74. When the Cubs haven't gotten a quality start this year, the team record is 8-8. It was 8-4, but earlier this year, Cubs hitters were hitting their way through some non-quality starts. The moral of the story is to look at the big picture. To me, the quality start is a useful and interesting tool. Chances are, if your starter gives you a shot to win with a quality start, you usually win. When you don't get a quality start, chances are better than even that you'll lose. My friend John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press is given credit for inventing the quality start as a stat. I hope a few pitchers and their agents cut him in at arbitration time. The stat has its flaws, of course. No pitcher would be happy with a "minimum" quality start every time out. So far this year, that's happened only once with the Cubs, when Ryan Dempster pitched 6 innings on April 30 and gave up 3 runs in a 19-5 victory over the Brewers. And us oldsters never heard the likes of Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale say, "I gave my team a chance to win." That's a quote invented in the 1990s. More likely, you had to pry the ball from the hands of Gibson or Drysdale in the ninth inning or later. And in any era, if a starter were to go 8 or 9 innings, win the game and give up 4 runs, that's pretty good, even if he wouldn't get credit for a quality start. The game changes. More stats come up to measure more things. Have fun with this one. I'll keep you posted as the season goes along.
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