So get this: sometime back in the stone ages when there was just Pets.com and only one Matrix movie, some guy named Clint “Command Strip” Feverback invented the Quality Start. Legend has it that Clint was having beers in his garage while listening to the game on the radio, where Matt Cain was on his way to another 4-12 season with a 2.83 ERA. Clint chugged a beer in honor of failing fantasy baseball team, which also fared pretty well in the ERA and WHIP categories but just couldn’t muster enough Wins to, well, win. Fed up with finishing second place to his junior high school bandmate and future boss at the shrimp canning factory Tyler Stilwicky — who just trotted out Yankees pitcher after Yankee pitcher and dominated the Wins and Saves categories — Clint decided to invent a statistic so unassailable in its statistical fortitude that fantasy baseballers for the next century would consider it superior to the Win. Thus, the Quality Start was born in that garage, after Clint’s first six-pack but before his first heart attack.

And twenty years later, us fantasy baseballers still have no freaking clue what to do about the quality start. So let’s jump in fears first and see if we can do anything to celebrate — or even prognosticate — the legacy that Clint “Command Strip” Feverback left us.

Quality or Quantity Starts?

For real, the quality start isn’t any better than the regular start. It just has different conditions for notching a “get” in that illusive category, which makes it seem like it’s more statistically important or somehow empirically better than a traditional Win. In reality, it’s just Blue Ray vs. DVD: both will look like crap if you pick the wrong TV or the wrong movie to watch, but when the conditions are right, you look like the next Martin Scorcese watching a movie.

Here’s the breakdown of how each stat gets calculated:

  • Traditional Pitcher Win: A win is awarded to whoever is the pitcher after the game is official (15 outs) for the team that takes the lead and maintains the lead until the cessation of play.
    • Win Example #1: Pedro Martinez pitches 5 innings, allows 0 runs, and the Montreal Expos win 11-2. (Who remembers the Expos?) Martinez gets the Win.
    • Win Example #2: Terry Mulholland is chased from the game in the bottom of the 6th inning after blowing a lead. Juan Rincon finishes the 6th inning in relief of Mulholland, walking 3 batters before getting the final out of the inning. The Twins hitters take a 5-run lead in the top of the 7th. Rincon comes out in the bottom of the 7th and walks 3 batters before allowing a grand slam. Rincon finishes the inning and the Twins hold onto that 1-run lead through the rest of the game. Rincon pitched 1.1 innings, walked 6 batters, allowed 4 runs, and gets the Win.
    • No Win Example #1: Matt Cain pitches 8 innings, allowing 1 run on an error and strikes out 12 batters while walking none. The Giants, however, scored no runs in the game. Matt Cain gets the Loss. Did I mention he was pitching against the Rays, who were inventing the bullpen game at the time? Some random reliever who pitched the 6th inning got the Win for the Rays.
  • Quality Start: A quality start is awarded when a starting pitcher goes at least 18 outs (6 innings) and allowed 3 or fewer earned runs.
    • Quality Start Example #1Justin Verlander pitches 8 innings, striking out 15 and allowing no runs. Verlander earns a quality start.
    • Quality Start Example #2Justin Dunn pitches 6 innings, strikes out none, walks 6, hits 3 batters, throws another 2 wild pitches and a passed ball, commits 2 balks, allows 4 stolen bases, all while allowing three earned runs but six overall runs when errors are factored in. In fact, there were zero strikes in those six innings. Took him 150 pitches. The game lasted 5 hours and people walked out in disgust. Amazingly, Dunn was brought out to pitch the 7th, but the umpire discovered Dunn to be using sticky substances hidden on his crotch, only discovered after the pitcher had the humiliating experience of pulling his pants down in front of the remaining crowd, a process which also revealed that he wears boxers with the image of Robbie Ray’s butt on the, well, butt. Despite all of this, Justin Dunn earns a quality start.
    • No Quality Start Example #1For every start of the 2022 season, Jacob deGrom strikes out every single batter he faces for a total of 450 strikeouts on the season, but he never pitches more than 15 outs in a game. Load management! The Mets also win every game he starts. He finishes the season with 30 wins, 0 losses, a 0.00 ERA, a 0.00 WHIP, and zero quality starts.

So, much like all the hipsters who insisted Modest Mouse were the next Beatles in the mid-2000s, the quality start is really just another way to dress up a baseball performance and give it some sort of value. Just like there are pretty and ugly wins, there are pretty and ugly Quality Starts.

Which one is best for your fantasy league? It really doesn’t merit putting a ton of thought into the question: just pick a stat and go with it; you’ll be able to adjust your draft strategy regardless of the choice. If you’re doing points leagues, I recommend a 75%ish weight toward the Quality Start over the Wins when assigning SP points because RP will get those Save points, which are generally untouchable for SP-eligible players. But if you’re doing roto, the difference between a Win and a Quality Start is pretty arbitrary, so just pick one and move on.

Well, now that we’ve established that everything’s made up and the rules don’t matter, let’s figure out how to take advantage of leagues that use Quality Starts as a factor.

Quality Needs Quantity

The great irony of the Quality Start is that its ostensible origination was to level the playing field between pitchers on Win-heavy teams (like, the Yankees) and pitchers on tanking teams (like, the Pirates). Also, Quality Starts sought to solve the conundrum of middle relievers ending up with tons of wins, like Pete Fairbanks ending up with more wins than Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola in 2020, and Brent Suter out-winning Corbin Burnes and Lance Lynn in 2021.

But the vexation that belied this “balancing act” between Win and Quality Starts (at least for Starting Pitchers) was the fact that Quality Starts must have a quantity of innings: six, in fact. Now, six may not seem like much more than five — and I know this mystical numerology can be challenging to many of us — but indeed, 6 is, well, 20% more than 5. So, when we’re asking for a quality start over a win, we’re not asking for a small increase in innings; we’re asking for a pitcher who is capable of throwing nearly 20% more innings on a regular basis.

In a hypothetical 30-start season, a perfect “win” pitcher would need a minimum of 150 IP (30 starts x 5 IP = 150 IP). A perfect “Quality Start” pitcher would need a minimum of 180 IP (30 starts x 6 IP = 180 IP).

You can probably already tell that the Quality Start cohort is much rarer than the Win cohort. In fact, only 20 starters made it more than 180 IP last year. Meanwhile, 55 starters surpassed the 150 IP threshold, which means we have a plethora of starters to choose from if we’re using a Wins-based league.

We can break this down further:

  • 150 IP Win threshold for 12-team league: Nearly every team can have 5 legitimate starters capable of maximizing wins.
  • 180 IP Quality Start Threshold for a 12-Team League: Each team gets 1 starter and 8 teams get a second starter.

So we can see the following: Quality Start leagues necessitate elevating starters a bit in value. This is because Quality Start leagues deal with the most precious of resources that are available only to Starting Pitchers: the volume of Innings Pitched. Over the past several years, Starting Pitchers are pitching fewer and fewer innings on a per-game basis, with the MLB average now below 5IP. There are so many articles on that I don’t even need to link it anymore.

Let’s hop over to the under-utilized “2021 MLB Stats” page that Rudy so kindly offers/calculates, up in the nav bar. Let’s sort by pitchers, and then by Quality Starts. What do we find?

The top 9 pitchers in quality starts all have over 180 IP (OK, Brandon Woodruff had 179.3, sue me).

Here, let’s pull out the top 20, which are basically the “plus value” pitchers for the Quality Start category. I highlighted the 3 outlier IP examples, but even still, they’re pitchers who burst past the 150 IP count, so they’re not so much outliers as they are either “more efficient” or “lucky.”

# Name QS W IP
1 Walker Buehler 27 16 207.7
2 Robbie Ray 23 13 193.3
3 Sandy Alcantara 23 8 205.7
4 Adam Wainwright 22 17 206.3
5 Zack Wheeler 20 14 213.3
6 Kevin Gausman 20 14 192
7 Brandon Woodruff 20 9 179.3
8 Frankie Montas 20 13 187
9 Charlie Morton 19 14 185.7
10 Max Fried 19 14 165.7
11 Kyle Hendricks 19 14 181
12 Max Scherzer 18 15 179.3
13 Corbin Burnes 18 11 167
14 Gerrit Cole 18 16 181.3
15 Kyle Gibson 18 10 182
16 Luis Castillo 18 8 187.7
17 Jose Berrios 17 12 192
18 German Marquez 17 12 180
19 Chris Bassitt 16 12 157.3
20 Marcus Stroman 16 10 179

There are some ugly names there, right? Kyle Hendricks finished as SP79 and was negative value in all pitching categories except Wins. Kyle Hendricks finished as a volume-laden SP48, but he was sandwiched between the likes of Aaron Civale and Shane McClanahan, who pitched 60 fewer innings last year. Meanwhile, the top pitcher from 2021, Max Scherzer, tied for 12th in Quality Starts. Julio Urias (not pictured) was SP2 last year thanks to his redonkulous Win total. In Quality Starts, Urias finished 36th overall. Yeesh.

The takeaway is that for Quality Starts:

  • Pitchers who do well in Quality Starts aren’t necessarily better in real life. You could be a completely unusable fantasy pitcher (Kyle Hendricks: nearly 5.00 FIP, 1.3 WAR) and still rank in the top 10 of Quality Start rankings. Also, let’s not forget that Hendricks possesses a fastball that many 16-year olds have topped in velocity.
  • Pitchers who do well in typical fantasy projections and year-end don’t necessarily do well in Quality Starts. Scherzer, Burnes, Cole — all of them outside of the top 10 of quality starts. Above average, yes, but below the likes of discount pitchers Robbie Ray, Adam Wainwright, and Sandy Alcantara. If you need reminding, two of those guys weren’t even drafted in 20-team leagues last year, and Alcantara was not the sought-after IP hog that he is in 2022.

What to do about 2022

If you’re in some quality start leagues this year, my recommendation is to look for players who have a high potential for innings, have a strong ability to prevent runs (i.e., a high K-BB% and a low SIERA), and are generally cheap in terms of draft capital. As noted above, you don’t need Gerrit Cole or Corbin Burnes to have a nice performance in a Quality Start league.

One thing you can do is check out Rudy’s Razzball Pitcher Projections, which do project Quality Starts. You’ll notice that it’s pretty much correlated to the top pitchers. That’s Rudy’s way, and it’s fine, because truth be told, we can’t actually predict Quality Starts all that well. When in doubt, stick with the best pitchers. When push comes to shove, that top 20 Quality Starts list above was, more or less, the expected faces.

But you, I bet you’re wondering, “Can I save a few bucks in draft capital and find the next Adam Wainwright for my Quality Start league,” and the answer is “maybe.” Nobody can really know this stuff. But we can get clues into which pitchers are most likely to be those unsung late-round Quality Start machines. Here are my best takes, with their confidence score that I have generated from my pre-season rankings. As always, I don’t project injuries because nobody can actually do that (regardless of how loudly they yell on Twitter), so it’s your call on guys like Carlos Rodon and Clayton Kershaw.

Name Confidence IP Proj
Nathan Eovaldi 1440 160.6
Clayton Kershaw 1263 142.5
Carlos Rodon 1187 142.5
Tyler Mahle 1156 169.4
Alex Wood 1078 145.8
Sean Manaea 1001 163.5
Justin Verlander 939 140.9
Sonny Gray 894 157.7
Adam Wainwright 894 160.6
Eduardo Rodriguez 822 160.9
Marcus Stroman 820 172.5
Shane McClanahan 818 155
Chris Bassitt 799 169.4
German Marquez 747 172.5
Jordan Montgomery 702 160.2

How are your Quality Start leagues faring right now? Let me know down in the comments, and have an awesome week!

28 Comments
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greg
greg
4 months ago

Where would you draft a pitcher like McClanahan in a league with QS instead of W? Would being a pitcher for the Rays make you want to ignore him completely?

Greg
Greg
Reply to  everywhereblair
4 months ago

Thanks for the response

Dude
Dude
4 months ago

Current SP:
Burnes
Scherzer
Urias
Gausman
Woodruff
Woods

Who are you taking to round out your staff or maybe take a shot on?
Please rank:
Ober
Joe Ryan
Ynoa
Javier

Dude
Dude
Reply to  everywhereblair
4 months ago

Offline draft. Looking for my last pitcher. Ynoa seems to be it. No risk really, just wondering who you would take a shot on. Thank you!

Theebigjuan
Theebigjuan
4 months ago

Our Fantrax league uses W + QS – L. How does that change the guidance from this excellent analysis?

theebigjuan
theebigjuan
Reply to  everywhereblair
4 months ago

The middle reliever tack makes sense. Our closer stat is also 2*SV+H-BSV so I go for a lot of middle relief anyway waiting for a frog to turn into something I’d like to keep. Top closers are overvalued and too prone to injury, so I skip that shark tank. Alex Colome/ Dylan Floro would be prime targets at auction. Chad was on my team time and again last year along with Kopech/Williams. Jordan Romero and Kendall Graveman types show up every year. We are a weekly FAAB so it just takes budget, not late nights, to get the target.

Good advice on the starters from crappy teams. I’d generally leaned on the down rotation starters from NL teams (Stripling/Ryu/Musgrove/Walker, et al) but the NL DH changes that math. But the new math spread across the league could be that delta between W and L from a team perspective. Thanks… very helpful.

Badfantasymanager
Badfantasymanager
4 months ago

I like that you are high on Alex Wood. He is one of my late round targets.

Any other pitchers that I should be looking at for QS leagues? Additionally, what is your opinion on Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober?

Badfantasymanager
Badfantasymanager
Reply to  everywhereblair
4 months ago

Got it! So basically in my redraft league there are better options, while in my keepers they are a maybe.

Thanks for the advise.

David Lee
David Lee
4 months ago

So would IP/QS be a rough way to project how many QS to expect from someone?

jbona3
jbona3
4 months ago

Do you think streaming SP is a viable strategy in QS leagues, where anyone who is an innings hog will likely already be rostered? Or is it just more planning and forethought and grabbing guys a day or two before his start?

EvelandsRule
EvelandsRule
Reply to  jbona3
4 months ago

I play in a 12-team roto QS league with FAAB. Streaming is pretty challenging unless you are planning out days in advance. But I also think my league is very active so YMMV.

David
David
4 months ago

Moved my league to Fantrax where they have a W or QS Stat… can get one point for either of them but not two for both

Mosef
Mosef
4 months ago

Your baseball analysis is likely sound, but by the mid 2000’s Modest Mouse had already sold out and NO ONE was calling them the next Beatles.

Chhhhhhhh
Chhhhhhhh
Reply to  everywhereblair
4 months ago

The lonesome crowded west is one of the best records ever.

Old School Brother
Old School Brother
Reply to  Mosef
4 months ago

I really dislike anyone who has this take on Modest Mouse

The Harrow
The Harrow
Reply to  Mosef
4 months ago

he can just change what he said to late 90’s and it seemed pretty accurate. i like them a whole lot too but i wasn’t putting them to beatles.