In baseball, a quality start is a statistic for a starting pitcher defined as a game in which the pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs. The quality start has effectively replaced the 'complete game' as a meaningful measure of a starting pitcher's performance. ESPN.com no longer records complete games in its MLB 'stat' section.

The quality start was developed by sportswriter John Lowe in 1985 while writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer.[1] ESPN.com terms a loss suffered by a pitcher in a quality start as a tough loss and a win earned by a pitcher in a non-quality start a cheap win.[2]

Nolan Ryan has used the term "High Quality Start" for games where the pitcher goes seven innings or more and allows three earned runs or fewer,[3] which baseball columnist and former BBWAA president Derrick Goold referred to as "Quality Start Plus."[4]

All-time and single-season leaders

All-time career quality start leaders

Player QS W L W-L% ERA CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP SB CS
Don Sutton† 483 282 98 0.742 1.71 164 58 3786.1 2728 832 718 201 812 2580 0.93 244 100
Nolan Ryan† 481 283 107 0.726 1.61 199 61 3805.1 2234 835 679 120 1683 4145 1.03 437 169
Greg Maddux† 480 291 88 0.768 1.75 104 34 3581.2 2763 827 698 157 599 2425 0.94 313 133
Roger Clemens 465 308 65 0.826 1.54 106 46 3514.2 2441 712 601 149 966 3378 0.97 268 144
Tom Seaver† 454 273 96 0.74 1.7 212 61 3697.1 2591 810 700 189 949 2842 0.96 268 123
Gaylord Perry† 453 279 102 0.732 1.63 271 53 3807.1 2855 868 688 165 854 2483 0.97 143 139
Steve Carlton† 447 288 100 0.742 1.67 228 55 3648 2669 833 676 171 1119 2899 1.04 184 151
Phil Niekro† 442 260 101 0.72 1.78 211 45 3554.1 2712 871 702 205 1016 2218 1.05 236 136
Tom Glavine† 436 263 66 0.799 1.88 54 25 3133 2461 757 653 167 876 1844 1.07 139 103
Tommy John 431 258 88 0.746 1.72 151 46 3374 2781 794 644 141 749 1597 1.05 136 111
Bert Blyleven† 429 251 99 0.717 1.73 205 60 3426.2 2648 797 660 176 824 2616 1.01 253 139

† denotes that the player is a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY

Single season quality start leaders
Player Year QS W L ND W-L% ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP
Jack Chesbro† 1904 44 38 6 0 0.864 1.36 44 43 6 398 270 87 60 4 74 214 0.86
Pete Alexander† 1916 40 33 7 0 0.825 1.11 40 38 16 356 273 60 44 3 39 154 0.88
Pete Alexander† 1915 39 29 7 3 0.806 1.12 39 33 11 346.2 224 72 43 3 57 223 0.81
Pete Alexander† 1917 39 30 8 1 0.789 1.32 39 32 8 347 282 76 51 3 46 183 0.95
Wilbur Wood 1971 37 21 10 6 0.677 1.46 37 22 7 307.1 233 70 50 17 56 193 0.94
Vic Willis† 1902 37 25 11 1 0.694 1.46 37 36 4 326.2 267 83 53 4 80 184 1.06
Rube Waddell† 1904 37 25 12 0 0.676 1.10 37 35 8 343.2 252 70 42 1 75 299 0.95
Cy Young† 1904 36 25 10 1 0.714 1.28 34 34 10 324.2 244 59 46 4 24 174 0.83
Sandy Koufax† 1966 36 27 6 3 0.818 1.35 36 27 5 307.1 215 53 46 18 65 308 0.91
Walter Johnson† 1915 36 25 11 0 0.694 1.28 36 33 7 309 230 67 44 0 51 180 0.91
Bob Feller† 1946 36 26 9 1 0.743 1.27 36 33 10 318.2 211 56 45 6 126 294 1.06

† denotes that the player is a member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY

As of the end of the 2014 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, the highest "quality start" percentage for a given season in the live-ball era (post-1920) was recorded by Greg Maddux, who had 24 of them in 25 games in 1994. Dwight Gooden was 33-for-35 in 1985.

Since 1913, numerous pitchers have thrown quality starts of over twenty games, with ten pitchers throwing at least 21 quality starts from 1913 to 2016, albeit with exceptions. Walter Johnson (September 14, 1914 to July 6, 1915) and Eddie Cicotte (September 15, 1916 to July 25, 1917) each had over 24 quality starts, but they also made spot appearances in relief for their teams (i.e. not starting 24 in a row). Bob Gibson, however, would set a new high mark with 26 quality starts in a row (no relief appearances) from September 12, 1967 to July 30, 1968.[5] Jacob deGrom would tie Gibson by throwing 26 quality starts from May 18, 2018 to April 3, 2019, with 24 of them being done in the same season that set a record for most quality starts in a season previously set by Gibson (22) and Chris Carpenter (22, 2005).[6] Among left-handed pitchers and pitchers of the American League, Framber Valdez leads with his current streak of 25 that began with his start on April 25, 2022 that is now the new record for most consecutive quality starts in one season.[7]

From 1871 to the end of the 2020 MLB season, the overall leaders by percentage (min. 100 starts):[8]

  1. Jacob deGrom (136 of 183, 74.3%)
  2. Clayton Kershaw (260 of 354, 73.4%)
  3. Jeff Tesreau (148 of 207, 71.5%)
  4. Babe Ruth (105 of 147, 71.4%)
  5. Tom Seaver (454 of 647, 70.2%)
  6. Chris Sale (162 of 232, 69.8%)
  7. Mel Stottlemyre (247 of 356, 69.4%)
  8. Ernie Shore (84 of 121, 69.4%)
  9. Pete Schneider (109 of 157, 69.4%)
  10. Gerrit Cole (139 of 204, 68.1%)

Criticisms

High ERA

An early criticism of the statistic, made by Moss Klein, writing in The Sporting News, is that a pitcher could conceivably meet the minimum requirements for a quality start and record a 4.50 ERA, which is generally seen as undesirable.[9][10] Bill James addressed this in his 1987 Baseball Abstract, saying the hypothetical example (a pitcher going exactly 6 innings and allowing exactly 3 runs) was extremely rare among starts recorded as quality starts, and that he doubted any pitchers had an ERA over 3.20 in their quality starts. This was later confirmed through computer analysis of all quality starts recorded from 1984 to 1991, which found that the average ERA in quality starts during that time period was 1.91.[11]

Complete games

Another criticism against the statistic is that it is not beneficial for pitchers who pitch many innings per start. If a pitcher allows three earned runs in six innings, he gets a quality start with an ERA of 4.50 for that game. But if a pitcher pitches for nine innings and allows four earned runs, he would have a 4.00 ERA, but would not get a quality start. Former pitcher Carl Erskine said "in my day, a quality start was a complete game ... you gave everybody a day's rest."[12]

That the category is more reliable in the aggregate can be seen with countervailing individual examples, such as the ones listed by Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski in a 2011 piece on the subject:

"In July 2000, Mark Mulder went 6 2/3 innings, gave up 15 hits and nine runs — but only two were earned, so that was classified as a quality start.
In June 1997, Randy Johnson struck out 19 in a complete game but allowed four runs. That was not a quality start.
In July 1982, Mike Scott allowed seven hits and walked five in six innings, did not strike out anybody, gave up seven runs, but only three of those were earned. Quality start.
In April 1974, Gaylord Perry went 15 innings and allowed four runs. Not a quality start."[13]

On the other hand, in the 21st century team management has increasingly looked upon complete games with disfavor due to the clear and convincing evidence that a pitcher left in the game for more than six or perhaps seven innings is both less effective and at substantially increased risk of injury. Today, a manager is widely expected to pull his starting pitcher once he reaches his pitch count limit no matter how well he is pitching. This managerial caution reached an unprecedented new standard in 2022 when the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (who had an abbreviated spring training) was pulled after pitching a perfect game through seven innings, and only 80 pitches. The Dodgers' manager, Dave Roberts, had also pulled Rich Hill in 2016 after his own seven-inning perfect game bid, due to an injury precaution on Hill's throwing hand. [14] Both perfect game bids were broken up later on, and there has yet to be a combined perfect game.

Possible new criteria

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Due to the reasons listed above, some have proposed a possible change in the criteria for a quality start. One of the proposals includes that for every two innings pitched, the starter is allowed to give up one earned run, and as long as he pitches five innings, a quality start would be recorded. This criterion would give Randy Johnson and Gaylord Perry listed in the above examples quality starts. This criteria would still allow a pitcher to have a 4.50 ERA and earn a quality start, but would better represent a quality start.

Dayn Perry of CBS Sports has introduced what he calls the "Dominant Start".[15] This stat would award a pitcher with a Dominant Start if he goes at least eight innings, and give up no more than one run, earned or unearned. This stat means that if a pitcher pitches a complete game and gives up two unearned runs, he would not get a Dominant Start. Perry argues that this stat would better show which pitchers are truly the best in all of baseball.

Some experts have proposed it should be related to the park factors and the offensive environment. Per example, 4 earned runs allowed in 6 innings at hitter-friendly Coors Field would be considered a quality start, but 6 innings of 3-run ball at a pitching friendly ballpark wouldn't count as one.

References

  1. ^ Neyer, Rob (2006-04-13). "Quality start still a good measure of quality". ESPN.
  2. ^ "MLB Statistics Glossary". ESPN. Retrieved 2007-04-19.
  3. ^ "The Quality Starts and its Discontents". SBNation. 20 May 2013. Retrieved 2015-06-16.
  4. ^ "The Gibson: Reconsidering the "Quality Start" stat".
  5. ^ "Prospectus Feature: I Come to Praise Quality Starts, Not to Bury Them". 2 May 2016.
  6. ^ "Jacob deGrom's Quality Start Breaks a Major League Record". The New York Times. 22 September 2018.
  7. ^ "Framber Valdez 2022 Pitching Game Logs".
  8. ^ "Player Pitching Season & Career Finder: Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, In the Regular Season, from 1871 to 2020, requiring Games Started >= 100 and QS >= 1, sorted by greatest QS%". Stathead Baseball. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  9. ^ "Stats Sunday – Quality Starts". 19 May 2013.
  10. ^ Deane, Bill (2012). Baseball Myths: Debating, Debunking, and Disproving Tales from the Diamond. ISBN 9780810885462.
  11. ^ Smith, David (Spring 1992). "The Quality Start is a Useful Statistic". Archived from the original on 2011-07-04. Retrieved 2010-08-08.
  12. ^ Zimniuch, Fran (2010). Fireman: The Evolution of the Closer in Baseball. Chicago: Triumph Books. p. 74. ISBN 978-1-60078-312-8.
  13. ^ Joe Blogs: All You Never Wanted To Know: Quality Starts
  14. ^ "'Right decision': Kershaw still good with removal". 15 April 2022.
  15. ^ "Quality Start? Introducing the 'Dominant Start' - CBSSports.com". www.cbssports.com. Archived from the original on 2014-08-14.