It’s Time To Ditch The Quality Start

Yesterday, I sat down to write this article only to discover there was another topic I had to cover first. Classic 5×5 Roto is one of the original forms of fantasy sports. And, despite attempts to tinker with the inputs, it remains the king of fantasy baseball.

A common change to the classic 5×5 categories is to swap out pitcher wins for quality starts. Although all agree a quality start doesn’t exactly measure its name – after all, a six inning, three run performance is pretty mediocre – everybody also agrees the stat is less capricious than pitcher wins. This season, Jacob deGrom won 10 games with a 1.70 ERA over 217 innings. He led the league in quality starts. Ryan Yarbrough won 16 games with a 3.91 ERA in 147.1 innings. He only made six starts, none of which were a quality start. Yeah, wins are sloppy.

Despite the flaws with wins, they’ve become vastly preferable to their number one alternative. It’s time to ditch the quality start. Don’t believe me? Behold, a table!

Das Maths

Starting Pitcher Outcomes By Year
Year W in GS L in GS Decisions QS
2018 1515 1612 3127 1996
2017 1640 1521 3161 2121
2016 1628 1706 3334 2262
2015 1673 1705 3378 2432
2014 1706 1719 3425 2623

The above data are taken from BaseballReference.com. We’re looking purely at decisions and quality starts by starting pitchers over the last five seasons. Here we can clearly witness how the latest real world pitcher trends have affected our fantasy games. Wins by starting pitchers have declined by nearly 200 per season leaguewide. During the same period, over 600 quality starts have vanished.

Both trends are liable to worsen over the next season. The Rays’ success with the Opener-Follower strategy will encourage other clubs to copy them. Although I don’t expect any team to adopt openers as completely as Tampa Bay, we may see nearly every franchise dabble with the strategy.

The supply of starting pitchers who offer meaningful win and/or quality start totals is roughly equal – about 40 pitchers. Replacement level for wins is around seven to nine while quality starts is usually in the low teens. That the replacement level is higher for quality starts does not mean the supply is bigger.

Quality starts are more predictable. As our above anecdote about deGrom and Yarbrough demonstrates, you can count on good players to post a big totals. Relievers are auto-zeroes. Wins are wild. Anything goes.

As we discussed in yesterday’s celebration of the classic 5×5 roto format (first link above), it’s not a good thing that quality starts correlate heavily to ERA and WHIP. In this way, the rich get richer. When I see a staunch advocate for using quality starts over wins, I immediate suspect them of preying upon their weaker leaguemates by controlling the supply of a stat. They’re not necessarily conscious of this manipulation. After all, there is only one way to accrue a large quantity of quality starts. There are many ways to skin the wins cat.

Although the starting pitcher supply of both stats is comparable once adjusted for replacement level, wins don’t exclude relievers. In the past, this has been used as an argument both for and against quality starts. From one perspective, it’s nice that elite non-closers typically win games at the same rate per inning as mid-tier starters. This gives them another category of value, thus making it all the more important to roster the Josh Haders of the world. The other perspective views this as an unnecessary evil. Relievers have saves, starters have quality starts. Each has four categories. Balance.

Let’s review the facts. More and more innings and decisions are going to relievers. After all, there are 2,430 wins every season, give or take a couple for rainouts or Game 163s. If starters are winning fewer games, that means relievers are winning more. Quality starts are simply evaporating into nothingness. The new Opener and Follower meta is only going to exacerbate this trend by turning most back end starters into relievers. Under these conditions, it’s time to embrace the non-closing reliever as a source of wins.

Now What?

Perhaps it’s time for an alternative – a stat that captures the spirit of quality starts without restricting the supply to only starting pitchers. After all, there is merit to having an elite reliever-only stat like saves (or saves+holds) paired with a volume-only category. Maybe it’s time to discard the concept of starters.

How about a Quality Outing? We could define it as any appearance of four or more innings with a 3.50 ERA or better. We can quibble over the specifics; they’re not important right now. Instead, we need to focus on fixing what’s broken. Quality starts are dying as a viable category. They already only work in 10 team mixed and shallower. However, people still want an alternative to wins, and it’s not like that stat hasn’t also become deeply weird in recent years. It’s time to make an alternative.



Print This Post

Liked this column? Consider becoming a patron via Patreon. You can also follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

newest oldest most voted
smada
Member
Member
smada

¿porque no los dos?