Let’s break a bottle on this Brooklyn built ship and set sail! Before anything else, I’d like to send a huge thanks to Grey, Jay, the entire Razzball staff and all the readers for the opportunity to put my fantasy inspired madness onto digital paper. [Jay’s Note: You’re welcome!] It’s truly an honor and a pleasure, I’ve been a reader for long time. Hopefully I can provide some new information, a new perspective and some laughs to one of my favorite portions of the fantasy community. My friends, buckle up as we are about to embark together bravely on a series about an incredibly vital aspect, yet often ignored part of the fantasy game; the elusive Quality Start.

It’s fitting I guess that I’m looking for a quality start to this series about, what for many H2H points players amounts to the most vital stat on a per game basis from your starting pitcher. I refer of course, to the Quality Start and the essential 18th out. The out that makes the difference between stacking that QS with a W, creating a delicious combo meal, annihilating the scoreboard… And the most deflating stat line in a points player’s universe, the dreaded 5.2ip. There is no worse feeling or better way to ruin a night than seeing the manager waddle out to the mound, stubby arm fully extended while your guy is on the bump with two outs in the sixth (Especially with a low pitch count. Don’t get me started, I’ll start hulking out and flip the desk).

Throughout this series we will take an in-depth look at the Quality Start from a few different lenses.  This first segment will aim to define the QS and put it into a statistical perspective. We’ll look at last year’s QS Leaders, their current ranking by ADP and investigate the relative importance of the stat itself. I’ll also introduce a distance metric and some MLB team stats. Later on in coming articles, (if I haven’t had my gun and badge stripped) we will attempt to measure the effect of QS on player outcomes for roto as well as points. We’ll also break down some numbers to identify players whose values are particularly changed by a format including QS.  And, just for you lucky people I’ll be providing some new QS related stats I’ve developed to look for trends, anomalies and possible player progression/regression.

As far as affecting outcomes and end of year rankings, my early assumption for roto leagues is that besides higher QS numbers generally being attributed to the best overall pitchers, there is very little impact otherwise on roto outcomes (The most classical version of our beloved fantasy sport completely ignores it for a reason, mind you). Heading into this deep submersion, this thorough penetration, we will not stop until we have impregnated the essence of the Quality Start (Wait, what?).

One of the things that makes this particular stat so interesting within the fantasy multiverse is its duality. There is no other metric that is so discarded in one format, while being so desperately sought after as a league winner in another. So, based on this assumption I am also speculating the inverse to be true for points leagues; That given the general high point return for a QS (especially as a percentage return of an individual game), otherwise mediocre roto pitchers could find themselves as measurably more valuable in point leagues for their ability to get that vaunted eighteenth out.  It has the ability to transform a good start into a great one, or bail one out that had too many runners without any strikeouts. I’ll dive into this deeper when we delve into the point league segment of the series.

For the purposes of this deep exploration into the uncharted fantasy jungle to study the Spotted North American Quality Start, I’d like to clarify something for the old fashioned stuffed shirt purists before we start getting down and dirty. Entering this discussion I personally maintained that the stat itself is ridiculous to even consider as a standard for any type of pitching excellence.  I intended to back this assertion statistically. This is not to discount either the accomplishment or its fantasy impact completely;  Every head to head point guy knows they are critical and often the determinant of the week’s winner, but on the other hand it should be recognized that the value is largely situational.

And so it begins. For any newcomers, a Quality Start is defined as a start where the starting pitcher goes at least six innings pitched and surrenders no more than three earned runs. In this worst case Quality Start (6ip, 3ER), it doesn’t take an Ivy League wunderkind to figure out that this only amounts to a 4.50 ERA.  However it remains positioned as a huge part of the points game, and neglecting it is a sure path to peril.

Let’s put the great ‘’accomplishment’’ of a Quality Start into perspective statistically. I ran some 2018 MLB team stats and found the average team scored 721 runs throughout the season, or 4.45 runs per game. Right off the bat we have a simple, yet evidenced base for defining the average scoring in any game across a tremendous sample size. Keep that 4,45 runs scored per game in mind.

A 4.50 ERA obviously allows 4.50 runs per game; Hardly an outcome that provokes visions of lifting engraved trophies overflowing with the competition’s tears. Immediately we can begin to see the basis for negative bias towards the Quality Start in the roto world (see what I did there?).  In fact, when compared to the established 4.45 runs per game an ERA of 4.50 actually permits 1.1% more runs than the average team even scores. So by our own terms a Quality Start is technically below average, at least as far as runs allowed (pretty important in a game decided by runs). Based solely off of these two numbers, it’s challenging at the very least to directly correlate Quality Starts to a true standard of merit.  The relationship is more likely found conversely.

Below I’ve gathered the top starters by Quality Starts in 2018, and only 15 pitchers total were able to accumulate 20 or more (We will visit relationships to outcomes at another time). I know what you’re thinking; “John, that list basically has all of the elites on it and contradicts your point, dummy. Quality Starts make for good pitchers.”  Not precisely so, my esteemed fantasy friend.  I would contend in this specific case that with greatness comes the statistic, and not the other way around.  I will concede that granted, distance is a positive and that getting through the sixth relieves stress on the bullpen and allows them to begin pitching a clean inning. However, these intangibles are not easily quantified and in regards to affecting roto ratios(roto-ios anyone?), one could argue that the risk to categories of leaving in a vulnerable pitcher outweighs the effect of getting a single out.

Among just over 150 qualified starting pitchers in the 2018 season, a 4.50 ERA would place that pitcher roughly at SP106 out of 153, or in the 29th percentile (which wouldn’t fly as a passing grade in a remedial class with a giant curve). I’ve attached below a snapshot of 2018 ERA results starting at 4.50, and where those pitchers are currently being position-ranked by current ADP (ADP/R).  Some of the names found at or around the 4.50 ERA mark for 2018 include Antonio Senzatela,  James Shields, Nick Kingham and Francisco Liriano; Not exactly inspiring, or seemingly worthy of comparison to what amounts to a huge reward in the points department.   The majority of these starters will remain undrafted, or spend the season trolling the waiver wire begging to be double started.  The fact that roto essentially pays no mind to quality starts seems to make a lot of sense from the run average statistical point of view. I’m going to use estimates from personal experience, but as a long time H2H player a good GS garners 20 points (roughly) with a five point bonus attached to the QS. Five points?!? What?!? That’s a 25% boost for a single out! Yes, it is. And it’s also exactly the reason for the great divide on the stat between league styles. In my humbled opinion, this round goes to the roto crowd for ignoring the QS. On the surface, Quality Starts disproportionately reward a single, arbitrary out.

So far, we’ve established that the ERA portion of a worst case Quality Start is at best average. What about the other portion? What about the distance? Imagine a pitcher who always went out and gave you a Quality Start (he can be on any team and even have a mustache if you like, providing you pronounce it moose-tache). Where would that average distance per outing place him? I quickly realized that off hand I didn’t have a go-to statistic for this. We can’t simply use innings pitched (though of course that has its own merit); Pitchers have different amounts of games started, among some other variables.  I searched all the usual stalwarts, and came up empty. In my experience, rather than waste my time or be aggravated that something’s not going to be done exactly to my liking I just do it myself. So I grabbed my digital pickaxe and started mining.

I developed somewhat of a distance metric, simple but telling. I call it OPO: (O)uts (P)er (O)uting.  According to 2018 OPO (147 qualified SPs), only 26 starting pitchers averaged a worst case Quality Start’s 18 outs per outing (I provide the leaderboard in OPO below). Finally, something good to be said about quality starts at their worst!  Where seemingly every player on fantasy radars achieves the worst case run average for a QS (some undraftable), only 17.7% of starters average the minimum distance requirement.  And just like that, in shines some light on the seemingly endless darkness we had cast… Maybe Quality Starts aren’t completely useless after all.

Notice the top of the list correlates to consensus position rank by current ADP (pictured below as ADP/R). This hearkens back to our earlier claim that with greatness will come Quality Starts, and with that, distance. However as we reach the bottom of the OPO leaderboard we begin to see a deviation from perceived value entering the 2019 draft (these players will be a particular focus when we examine QS value in regards to outcomes in different formats). Our initial instinct as laser-guided, value seeking missiles of course is to use this relation to sniff out those players getting us that 83%th+ percentile in distance without paying a premium.  A couple of guys like Gibson, Buchholz & Rodon stand out as players that warrant a once over with the magnifying glass. In my opinion, the fact so few pitchers average 18 outs justifies a closer look at all of these and even a bump to the top of their respective blobs.

The sun is starting to set on this initial leg of our journey, but I want to take one more general snapshot of Quality Starts I shamefully never noticed before this research endeavor.  I hadn’t realized how few starters got 20+ QS, nor how few starters averaged 18 outs per outing. Then it hits me like an orange Gatorade bath; I had no concept how prevalent the 2018 Quality Start even was from the broadest viewpoint.  Let’s check it out before we go (I’ll leave 2018 MLB Team Leaders by QS w/QS% below as a parting gift). 30 teams start 162 games (4,860 starts). There were 2361 Quality Starts (2361 / 4860) or 48.6% of all GS are QS (the % of those converted into wins will be in a coming article). That’s it, 49%. Another very average number making it harder and harder to plant our flag, pitch a tent and maybe even skin a beaver to highlight this camp out.  No such satisfaction… Yet.

So in the words of the great Teddy KGB… ”Like a young man in a for a quicky, you feel so unsatisfied”.  Do not.  And fear not, fellow fantasy researcher! Such is the life of the deep diver. Remember, we do not leave empty handed. We know what the Quality Start is (big whoop), which players compiled the most in 2018, along with some perspective into the QS with regards to value and scarcity. We also discovered a new distance metric and where it may provide values in regards to distance.  I think we did pretty good for a first career article, don’t you? (All replies of no will be discarded to maintain 100% satisfaction rate)

 

 

Written by John L. of MLB Moving Averages. You can find more of his work on Twitter @MLBMovingAvg.

  1. knucks says:
    (link)

    I was asking Grey for a QS article a week or two ago.

    This…. is…. glorious!

    Thank you kindly. Shocked to see the Rays that high on that list.

    • John L

      John L says:
      (link)

      Thank you so much, this was first stab at writing and I had a lot of fun doing it.
      There is a deficiency in H2H/QS coverage and I learned a lot diving into it…

      Make sure to catch the rest of the series, well start identifying players to target that are undervalued by current roto based ADPs

      Thanks again!

      • Grey

        Grey says:
        (link)

        Great job, John! Thanks for joining us!

  2. Dag says:
    (link)

    Solid article

    • John L

      John L says:
      (link)

      THANK YOU DAG!

      Im already so flattered by the positive responses, thanks so much for reading.

      I appreciate the feedback, please let me know if there’s anything you think I may have missed or something that maybe you would like to see in the future.

  3. Brendan says:
    (link)

    Started a roto league with QS instead of wins. Neither is perfect, but looking forward to seeing how it differs from W’s where middle relief guys can stumble into 9 Wins and DeGrom only gets 10!

    • John L

      John L says:
      (link)

      Thats an interesting rule shift; Im curious to see how that works out. Right off the bat, you have to shake the feeling to lean towards pitchers on better teams, and focus on Outs Per Outing.
      Ill have some more info in the rest of the series, but I do post a lot of QS/H2H related stat sheets and graphs for free on my twitter handle @MLBMovingAvg if you want to check it out

  4. Fungazi 2.0 says:
    (link)

    Will be following this closely. I’m always trying to find the low adp guys that might not have the k’s but might deliver high innings and qs.

    As bad as the 5.2 start is, I hate seeing a guy with 7 IP and 3 runs going back out in the 8th.

    • John L

      John L says:
      (link)

      Youre definitely right about that last part.

      Ill be continuing the series and identifying those value players youre speaking about.
      In the meantime if youd like I post a ton of H2H related stats, charts and graphs for free on my Twitter handle: @MLBMovingAvg

      Check it out and let me know if you have questions about the work were doing, or even something you think I may have missed in a blindspot.

      Thanks for reading

  5. TobiasFunkeAnalRapist says:
    (link)

    Good work and welcome. I play in a QS cats league so I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for your articles. Keep up the good work.

    • John L

      John L says:
      (link)

      Im really glad Ive been able to help people with my personal favorite, the H2H game,

      Admittedly as Ive gotten older I love roto more and more but I know firsthand how difficult it can be to find h2h and QS stats

  6. DSPitcher says:
    (link)

    This is fantastic work! Just what I needed to see.
    I just followed you because I can’t wait to learn more from you!

  7. Johnnyhobbes says:
    (link)

    I am in the middle of lobbying my league for some changes to our H2H points league scoring system. The absence of QS has bothered me. I hope to get the rest of the league to OK it. I won’t , however, be telling them to check in this series on QS buy you b/c, well, you know… Need that advantage !

    Great post, looking forward to your conclusions.
    Quick question
    If a W is 5 points a QS is priced around 3 ?

    • John L

      John L says:
      (link)

      My personal home league is very open minded and fluid. We began with a 10 pt W & 5 pt QS years ago. This was exposed as ridiculous in year 1, and since then we’ve gone to 7pts for a W, 5 for a QS, and -5 for a Loss; So at the very least if you register a QS, there can be no penalty after exit.

  8. CMUTIMMAH says:
    (link)

    I mean… what’s the difference to “Outs per start” and “innings per start”?

    Isn’t Outs per Start just a function of it. Using innings per start would show that 6 innings is 18 outs.

    I have been using the theory that pitches/inning is a good indicator of future success for those “in the middle pitchers” Guys I’ve had success catching their “jumps” are Manaea, Nova (great first half a few years ago), Kyle Hendricks, Marco Gonzales last year. It is a theory that opens you to misses, but these guys are being drafted super late, and an educated missed is better than an uneducated miss.

    This is the year Heaney, leblanc, Fiers, and Zack Wheeler are all “valued” based on pitches per inning. I’d say the first 3 are likely hits (with Fiers getting that OAK home cooking bump) and Wheeler being the likely miss due to perif’s.

    One of the combos I take into account with this theory is strike%. If a guy is throwing a few pitches, but not getting a lot of “strikes”, that means he is hitable. You can throw 10 pitches and inning, give up 5 runs and still get 3 outs. So you have to take a second stat into play.

    I like the QS OVER the W in points leagues, but I’m willing to do a 3 QS, 5 W, -5 L scoring system, as a QS should offset some of the negative of a loss. Additionally, I’m all for increasing the batting scoring as well to compensate. Stolen bases worth 1.5, XBH gets a 1 point bump.

    That way, a double is worth 3 points (2 bases + 1 XBH bonus) and a single and stolen base are worth 2. I think this is fair because the double is the more effective baseball play. On a double:
    1) the runner doesn’t have to risk an out stealing second
    2)the following batter doesn’t have to take a pitch or swing through on a steal
    3)the double allowed a better chance for a runner on previously base to score.

    The bonus of 50+ points for XBHs offsets the wash out for QS vs L in pitchers and pitchers are where points leagues typically go wrong by giving them over powered point totals.

  9. bigbear says:
    (link)

    I was shocked to see Tampa as the #3 team. Especially since their bullpen starts made headlines frequently. And they didn’t have any SP’s on any of your other lists. Are you sure that’s correct?

    • Kris says:
      (link)

      @bigbear: I wonder if his count is based off ESPN team stats page which lists a total of 92 QS for Rays pitchers, but when you add up the column on your own you only get 39. I was shocked to see the Rays up that high as well, so that’s the only thing I can find that may be causing the issue.

      • John L

        John L says:
        (link)

        Hey Kris, well I have to thank you as embarassed as I am to admit I was wrong. I didnt miscalculate, I just used Excel to sort it all out without questioning the integrity of data from a site as big as ESPN.
        My assumption is that their program calculates games where the team surrendered less than 3er over 6ip, regardless if it was a true QS or not

        My apologies. Sincerely. If youd like I re-ran all the numbers. Id be glad to email you a screenshot. You could also contact me on Twitter @MLBMovingAvg and Ill send you corrected and updated sheet.

        Looks like with my first article, comes my first correction.
        Guys, again Im really sorry and I will make sure to find a duplicate confirmation before posting.

        • Kris says:
          (link)

          @John L: Oh no need to apologize, it happens. You’ll get it often where one person recognizes a stat that doesn’t quite add up and they’ll question it. If there’s only 1 mistake I’d say that’s a great start! Been following you on Twitter almost since your start, and its great stuff, very informative! Keep it up man!

  10. NATRONEMEANSBUSINESS says:
    (link)

    I really enjoyed the first installment. I’m in a 10 team H2H, kinda wacky 8×8 (H, R, RBI, HR, BB, SB, TB, BA x W, L, SO, WHIP, ERA, HLD, SV, QS), so this info is quite useful. I appreciate the content. Looking forward to the next installment.

Comments are closed.