More On Reinventing the Quality Start and How It Looks Historically
On Friday, on MVN Outsider (on a different site), I wrote an article called “Revisiting and reinventing the ‘Quality Start’”.Â In the article, I took a different approach to the definition of a Quality Start and established new criteria.Â Since then, after some other discussions, I have revised the criteria, making it a bit easier to follow and also took the data and applied it to historical data using Baseball-Reference’s Play IndexÂ to crunch the data from 1956-2008.Â
The article at MVN shows the deficiencies of a Quality Start in its ability to capture a performance worthy of delivering one in the win column when that pitcher takes the hill.Â The old criteria defined Quality Start as any start where a pitcher threw at least six innings and gave up three earned runs or less.Â The problem with the number is that pitchers fail to post a winning record in games where they give up three runs in six or seven innings even if they are credited with 52% of the no decisions in the win column.Â In addition, the article establishes new criteria which have since been tweaked for this latest experimental analysis.
The “New” Quality Start (sorry for the lame name) is credited to starting pitchers whose performance meets the following criteria:
- At least five innings and two earned runs or less allowed
- At least eight innings and exactly three earned runs allowed
- At least nine innings and exactly four earned runs allowed
Sure, it does not provide the simplicity of the established criteria of the Quality Start as we know it today but it does eliminate the often criticized capturing of a six-inning, three-run outing.Â After looking at this year’s pitchers and how the Quality Starts numbers would change in the MVN article, I thought the next logical step is to look at how the change affects historical numbers.
For this exercise, I took every pitcher that achieved 200 or more Quality Starts since 1956 and converted their performance to the “New” Quality Start.Â Of those 100 pitchers, five pitchers — Juan Marichal, Mike Torrez, John Candelaria, Warren Spahn and Vida Blue — saw an increase and three pitchers — Luis Tiant, Mike Cuellar and Whitey Ford — saw a drop.Â The other 92 pitchers all saw decreases in their Quality Start numbers including Tom Glavine who dropped from 436 to 386, Curt Schilling who fell from 288 to 239 and Andy Benes who fell from 235 to 190.
The next step was to rank and group the players into four groups of 15 and see how the groups changed from the established Quality Start statistic to the “New” Quality Start statistic.Â How does the top 1-15 in established Quality Starts compare to the top 1-15 in “New” Quality Starts:
GROUP I – Top 15
ANALYSIS:Â There are some changes here ranking-wise but the biggest one is who joins the group and who leaves the Top 15.Â In the established Quality Start criteria, Frank Tanana ranks 13th but with the adjustments made, the “New” Quality Start ranking sees Tanana fall out and Jim Palmer slide in to the Top 15.Â Under the “New” criteria, the Top 15 becomes a bit stronger with Palmer replacing Tanana.
GROUP II – Second 15
ANALYSIS:Â Three players swap groups here with Jamie Moyer, Jack Morris and John Smoltz dropping to Group III and Juan Marichal, Mickey Lolich and Luis Tiant jumping up.Â It’s tough to compare the two sets of three but of the six Marichal is the best for my money.Â Also, while Smoltz might be a better than Lolich and Tiant, that includes his time coming out of the ‘pen.
GROUP III – THIRD 15
ANALYSIS:Â Two more sets of three exchange groups with David Cone, Mike Torrez and Charlie Hough joining the Top 45 and Doyle Alexander, Chuck Finley and David Wells sliding down a group.Â Torrez actually jumped from beyond the Top 60 into the Top 45 on the “New” Quality Start side.Â As mentioned before, Torrez was one of the few in the Top 100 to see a jump in their number of Quality Starts.Â If I had to pick between the two groups, I am more satisfied with Cone, Torrez and Hough over Alexander, Finley and Wells.
GROUP IV – Fourth 15
ANALYSIS: Tough to argue that the group didn’t get weaker this time with the addition of Bob Forsch, Tom Candiotti, Ken Holtzman and Mike Cuellar and subtraction of Mark Langston, Kenny Rogers, Andy Pettite, Kevin Appier and Frank Viola.Â Statistically, the numbers produced by the five that dropped are better than the four who moved up (the fifth was Torrez who jumped to Group III).
The challenge here in breaking down the numbers this way does not factor in Quality Start % which is a little more important than the raw number of Quality Starts a pitcher delivered.
The most telling argument for the new version of the Quality Start statistic is a comparison between Whitey Ford and Tim Wakefield.Â Unfortunately, the Baseball-Reference data only analyzes numbers from 1956 on so Ford’s data is somewhat compromised.Â However, for this comparison it is perfect.Â Ford started 395 games from 1956 to 1967 and Wakefield has made 396 starts in his career.Â When analyzing the two using the currently accepted criteria of Quality Starts, Ford had 211 compared to Wakefield who earned 210 Quality Starts.Â I don’t know about you but that doesn’tÂ look right.Â Now, under the “New” criteria, Ford stays the same at 211 but Wakefield drops to 170.Â Why the big difference?Â One of the reasons is that Wakefield made 19 starts of exactly six innings and exactly three runs and in those games Wakefield went 5-6 and the team he started for went 6-13.Â Is that quality?Â I think not.
The “New” Quality Start statistic needs further analysis, of course.Â How does it affect Quality Start % and is it a true representation of what a Quality Start looks like?Â As I mentioned in my article on MVN, I was always a big fan of the statistic until a harder look revealed that the statistic captured starts that just did not help a team win more than it led a team to a loss.Â Agree or disagree, any feedback is helpful to further tweak and play with this to make it more representative of what John Lowe set out to capture 23 years ago when he introduced the concept in the Philadelphia Inquirer.Â What do you think?Â Are we ready for change or are we happy with the same old flawed approach?