Quality Start? Sounds rather pedestrian to me


Oct 27, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals former player Bob Gibson throws out the ceremonial first pitch prior to game four of the MLB baseball World Series against the Boston Red Sox at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Back in 1985, a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer gave birth to a term that resonates loudly nearly thirty years later.

John Lowe developed/invented/created the phrase ‘Quality Start’ to describe the performance of a starting pitcher in which he threw at least six innings and allowed three earned runs or less.

I take issue with this for a couple reasons.

First and foremost, if a pitcher goes exactly six innings and gives up exactly three unearned runs, his ERA for that game is 4.50. Nowhere in the baseball world is an earned run average of four and one-half considered ‘quality.’

In 1968, seven pitchers that qualified (162 innings pitched or more) for the ERA title posted numbers under 2.00, which hadn’t happened since 1919, a season that was commonly considered the end of the ‘Dead Ball Era.’ Babe Ruth hit an unheard of 29 home runs that year and baseball changed forever.

Bob Gibson had one of the best seasons ever in 1968 for St. Louis when he led the National League with an ERA of 1.12, posted 13 shutouts, and recorded a win-loss mark of 22-9. It seems odd that Gibson lost nine games, but further investigation shows that the Cardinals scored a total of 12 runs in those defeats.

He could have easily won 30 games, something that had been done in the American League that season when Detroit’s Denny McLain won 31 games in a campaign that was not nearly as dominating as Gibson’s.

Most games pitched by those two gentlemen in 1968 were quality starts, unlike the pitching efforts earning the same rewards in today’s game.

An ERA of 4.50 is not a quality start.

Secondly, a pitcher can pitch more than six innings and allow more than three runs but end up with a lower ERA than the QS ERA of 4.50. For example, a pitcher throws nine innings and allows four earned runs for a ERA of 4.00–not a quality start.

In addition, there are ‘quirky’ pitching performances that throw the quality start guidelines out of whack. In a column for Sports Illustrated in 2011, scribe Joe Posnanski provided some examples that further confused the quality start issue:

I propose that a quality start is based on a minimum of six innings, but is only awarded if the pitcher posts an ERA of less than 3.00 for that game. We have calculators and computers these days, so it would not be that difficult to figure out.

A quality start should be a quality start, not an average one.