clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Running Down Quality Starts

How did Ross Ohlendorf win his salary-arbitration case last week, having gone 1-11 in 2010? Well, it seems sensible enough to me, but Ohlendorf's victory gives Murray Chass another chance to hearken to a better day, when men were men and two or three stats were plenty, thanks ...

They basically emphasized statistics other than wins and losses, especially the run support the Pirates provided Ohlendorf. In the new age of judging pitchers run support has become a telling factor. That’s why Hernandez won his Cy Young award.

Under this new-age thinking, if a team doesn’t score more than three runs a game, a pitcher isn’t expected to win. No longer is a pitcher expected to win 3-2 or 2-1. If his team doesn’t score at least four runs, it’s not the pitcher’s fault if he doesn’t win.

There was once a time when pitchers were expected to win unless their team scored no runs, and then they were expected to tie. But those days disappeared with the advent of the quality start, the questionable creation of a Detroit writer, John Lowe, a nice guy but a little off in his thinking.

If a pitcher pitches six innings and gives up three or fewer earned runs he is credited with a quality start. Never mind that three earned runs in six innings computes to a 4.50 earned run average; that’s a quality start.

I'm sorry I don't have numbers for you; I had them once, but have lost them. So I just hope you'll trust me when I assure you that if you add all the quality starts together, you're going to find some outstanding numbers, including a fantastic winning percentage and a low ERA.

When guys like Murray Chass want to run down some statistic they weren't smart enough to think of themselves, they fixate on the worst examples. It's certainly true that a pitcher can get a Quality Start with a 4.50 ERA, and that a reliever can get a Save despite giving up two runs in one inning. Outrageous!

I'm curious, though ... Does it offend Chass when a pitcher is credited with a win despite giving up seven runs in five innings? Does it offend Chass when a hitter is credited with an RBI when he hits a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning with his team trailing by seven runs? Does it offend Chass when one guy gets a hit on a broken-bat blooper, and the next is out on a screaming line drive hit directly toward the shortstop?

Every statistic has limitations. And I've noticed over the years that a willingness to either ignore a limitation or rail against it can largely be predicted by someone's birthday.

Update: Thanks to Jay Jaffe for pointing out -- in this 2007 piece at Baseball Prospectus -- that in 2005 I reported that all the QS that season added up to a 2.04 ERA ... and the non-QS, 7.70. Not that Quality Starts mean anything. Not at all.