- A quality start is a statistic assigned to starting pitchers that pitch six full innings and allow three earned runs or less.
- The term “quality start” was credited to Philadelphia sportswriter John Lowe in 1985.
- Critics of the quality start statistic have several complaints, but most often, it is because some believe the requirement of 6 innings and 3 earned runs or less is not a good measurement of a quality start.
- Most agree that the quality start is an important statistic, but many disagree about what the standard should be.
Quality start explained
A quality start in baseball is a statistic assigned to starting pitchers that pitch six full innings and allow three earned runs or less. It is called a quality start because starting pitchers are expected to prevent runs and get opposing hitters out. So, the statistic of a quality start measures a combination of those two critical factors.
The term “quality start” was credited to Philadelphia sportswriter John Lowe in 1985. He thought there should be a way to measure if a starting pitcher was doing their job well.
Quality start vs. complete game
The difference between a quality start and a complete game is that they have different requirements. For a pitcher to earn a quality start, they do not have to complete the entire game, but they can only allow three earned runs or less. For a pitcher to achieve a complete game, it does not matter how many runs are scored; they simply need to pitch the entire game for their team.
So, by definition, a pitcher can throw a complete game and a quality start simultaneously, but only if they allow three earned runs or fewer.
However, a pitcher can be awarded a quality start without throwing a complete game. The starting pitcher only needs to complete six innings to qualify for a quality start.
Criticism of the quality start statistic
Critics of the quality start statistic have several complaints, but most often, it is because some believe the requirement of 6 innings and 3 earned runs or less is not a good measurement of a quality start.
Most agree that the quality start is an important statistic, but many disagree about what the standard should be. Because of this, other categories were created, such as the ultra-quality start, the mega-quality start, and the dominant start.
In addition, the quality start statistic would allow a pitcher to have a 4.50 earned run average (ERA). By most standards, that is not considered a good ERA for a starting pitcher. It is because of this that critics of the quality start statistics have pushed for the more challenging standards mentioned below:
- Quality Start = 6 Innings pitched, only 3 earned runs allowed or less
- Ultra-Quality Start = 7 innings pitched, 2 earned runs or less
- Mega Quality Start = 8 innings pitched, 1 earned run or less
- Dominant Start = 8 innings pitched, no more than 1 run allowed, regardless if it’s earned or not.
Finally, most baseball followers will point to a regular season game in June 1997 in which Randy Johnson of the Seattle Mariners threw a complete game and struck out 19 batters, which is only one shy of the all-time record.
However, because Johnson allowed four earned runs, he was not awarded a quality start. Based on his outstanding performance that day, more critics demanded the standards be changed.
What qualifies as a quality start?
For a pitcher to qualify for a quality start, they must be the starting pitcher and complete no less than six full innings without giving up more than three earned runs.
Is a quality start an official stat?
Yes, a quality start is an official statistic in Major League Baseball. A starting pitcher earns a quality start by completing at least six innings and allowing three earned runs or less. Some critics believe the standards for the statistic should be changed, but regardless, it currently stands at six innings and three earned runs.
How many innings in baseball is a quality start?
A quality start in baseball must consist of at least six full innings, but does not have a maximum number of innings required. For example, if a starting pitcher throws eight full innings and only gives up a maximum of 3 earned runs, that would also be considered a quality start. It does not have to stop at just six innings. However, any less than six innings pitched would not qualify as a quality start regardless of how many runs were allowed.
What is the average quality start in baseball?
On average, a quality start in baseball lasts exactly six innings 63% of the time. The other 37% lasts seven or more innings. It is worth noting that this percentage has been trending downward for the past five seasons. With increased importance placed on pitch counts, player health, and specialty pitchers, it is less common for starting pitchers to complete six full innings. Just five years ago, the ratio was 50/50 for quality starts going over six innings.
What is an ultra-quality start?
An ultra-quality start is an unofficial baseball statistic awarded to starting pitchers who complete seven full innings and allow no more than two earned runs. The concept of the ultra-quality start was conceived in the 1980s by critics who believed that the standards of the six inning/3 earned run quality start were not difficult enough.
What percent of quality starts are wins?
In the 2021 Major League regular season, there were 1,584 quality starts recorded. Of those, 864 resulted in a victory for that team, which equals a 54.5% winning percentage for pitchers who earned a quality start last season.
Do unearned runs count against a quality start?
No, unearned runs do not count against a quality start. This means that if a batter reaches base on a fielding error or a passed ball and eventually scores a run, that run will not count against the quality start standard of 3 earned runs or fewer.
One example happened in July of 2000 during a regular season game. Oakland A’s starting pitcher Mark Mulder pitched over six full innings and gave up nine runs, but because only 2 of them were considered earned runs, Mulder was awarded a quality start. The A’s lost that game.
Essential statistic for pitcher performance
The quality start statistic is recognized as an essential method to measure starting pitchers. What makes this particular category so controversial is that many believe that the standards to achieve a quality start are too simple and need to be more difficult.
While the standards are debated, baseball experts agree that the concept of a quality start should remain part of the game. Check out the video below presented by NYU on the relevance of the quality start in the national pastime.
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