As someone who writes about fantasy baseball and of course plays it, I often find myself trying to find easy ways to value a player. Now that we’re in the season and the majority of my attention is centered on finding pitchers, the prudent stat to look at is quality starts.
For those of you who don’t know what a quality start is, there are two requirements. The starting pitcher must go six innings and allow no more than three earned runs. Both must be achieved or a quality start has not taken place. Five innings and two earned runs will not equal a quality start, nor will seven frames and four earned.
So, why do I value the quality start, and even use it when figuring out what pitchers to stream? Take a look at the 2011 leaders in quality starts, and look at how they did in the rest of the standard fantasy statistics (obviously excluding saves).
Okay, that’s the top 10 (11 counting a tie). The people in the top 11 who are worst in the standard fantasy stats are Matt Cain, Ricky Romero (twice), and Dan Haren. Any time you can make that claim, you have found a good statistic.
Every one of those pitchers also played for teams that were at least .500 in 2011, so it’s fair to say that wins and quality starts have some correlation.
More importantly, I value the quality start because it all but guarantees innings for your staff. I have said it before and if you take one thing from any piece of advice I ever give, make it this. You will not have a good pitching staff without racking up innings.
Wins are pretty obvious. A starter needs to go at least five innings for a win, so going one more for a quality start isn’t exactly a gigantic leap.
Strikeouts are also obvious. If a pitcher has one start where he goes two innings and another where he goes six, which one do you think will feature more strikeouts? Yes, I know that this isn’t going to be the case all the time, but the vast majority of the time, the more innings you pitch, the more batters you will strike out.
ERA and WHIP are a little trickier, but the same idea holds. It seems nice to assemble a small pitching staff that is extremely efficient. They won’t throw as many innings, but they theoretically won’t have as many negatives. That kind of idea actually may be working pretty well for you right now, but there’s plenty of season left.
What happens when the weather gets a little warmer? The balls start to fly a little easier, pitchers get a little more tired, and leave balls up in the zone. If you have a small pitching staff and the pitchers start doing that (which they will), your ERA and WHIP only stand a chance if the hitters are too busy licking their lips and forget to swing.
Here in North America where Major League Baseball is played, the weather gets warmer in June, July, and August. It may cool down a touch in September, but that’s when pitchers arms begin to tire.
When you have a pitching staff with a lot of pitchers, those runs and hits mean a lot less. Five innings pitched and three runs is a 5.40 ERA, six and three is 4.50, seven and three is 3.86. You can do similar math with WHIP.
If you’re trying to project, just make the numbers bigger. If you’re a sports nerd like me, it will actually be fun. It won’t take long before Pitcher (or Rotation) A allows more raw earned runs, hits, and walks than Pitcher (or Rotation) B, but has a lower ERA and/or WHIP.
Okay, I am not going down this road again. But pitchers who have a lot of quality starts also rack up a nice chunk of innings. If pitchers are throwing for at least six innings and allowing three earned runs or fewer a lot, it means that their ERA and probably WHIP are low. Walks and hits don’t have anything to do with quality starts, but pitchers that allow a lot of runners won’t be on the hill for six innings very often.
So, when you’re trying to make in-season adjustments to your rotation, this is a great stat to look at. Not everyone plays on a team that supports them enough to earn a lot of wins. That isn’t a new phenomenon. But the quality start isn’t related to run support. If a pitcher is good, he’ll have a lot of them. If not, he won’t.
Quality starts will correlate to wins, but they will also nearly guarantee success in the other three statistics used for starting pitchers in fantasy baseball. So, look at some pitchers who threw a lot of them last year. If those arms are available and you need someone to stabilize your pitching, this is a good stat to build on.