Angels starting pitching and the quality start


Earlier today I read a piece by Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated and of course it was fantastic as usual. If you haven’t heard yet the long time Detroit Tigers beat writer of the Detroit Press, John Lowe has retired after 29 years. At only 20 years old I didn’t know the name when it first popped up on my Twitter feed, but I do know one thing about what he did for the baseball world. He is the inventor of the quality start. Jaffe wrote about the history of the statistic and the numbers behind it.

In 1985 Lowe was writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a year before moving over to Detroit to cover the Tigers full time.

"“I was hearing managers saying they were looking for six innings from their pitchers. I heard Whitey Herzog say ‘all I want from my pitchers is six good innings.'” said Lowe to Murray Chass in 2011"

The number of complete games were diminishing. There were 64 complete games in 1976, compared to just 29 in 1980. Managers were changing the way they managed the game, using the bullpen more and not relying on their starter to throw a complete game every time out. Do to that he wanted to invent a new statistic. He was asked one certain question,

"Why the need for a new statistic? “I didn’t like ERA as a definitive stat,” Lowe said. “One bad start could wreck your ERA. But I never said don’t look at wins and losses,” said Lowe"

When he chose to make the runs three, he decided like this,

"And the runs? “Six and two is too stingy, six and four is too much. I wasn’t going to get into a more than or less than. This was new and had to be understandable,” Lowe said."

So that is how the quality start began and it is still around today. Jaffe goes on to break down the numbers in his article but I won’t get into them all, I will stick with the 2014 Angels starting rotation. It all depends on the offense in a particular season, league wide, when it comes to how many quality starts are thrown. “In 2014, when teams scored an average of 4.07 runs per game, pitchers made quality starts 54.0 percent of the time, up from 52.6 percent of the time in 2013,” wrote Jaffe.

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Los Angeles Angels starter Garrett Richards made the list of best quality start rate among American League pitchers. In 26 starts, 19 of them were “quality” for a rate of 73.1. That was good for sixth in the league, behind pitchers Jon Lester, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Sonny Gray and Corey Kluber. What do all of those names have in common? They were all mentioned in the AL Cy Young at some point and time this season.

As for the complete Angels starting rotation, there were 80 quality starts thrown in 162 games. That is below the league level at 49.4 percent of the time. Leading the way for the Angels was Jered Weaver making 22 QS in 34 starts. He was 16-3 in those starts, losing 10-3, 4-1 and 3-0 in the games he lost. Garrett Richards made the second most with 19 in 26 starts as mentioned above, and he was 12-0.

As a rotation they were 53-5, with 22 no-decisions. Hector Santiago made 5 QS with the Angels, and earned a decision in just one of them. That was his season in a nutshell. He made 24 starts and the Angels offense scored over three runs in eight of them. That is just tough luck. The Angels in the 80 QS had a record of 62-18. In 2014 MLB teams had a winning percentage of .660 when getting a quality start, the Angels had a .775 winning percentage in such games.

That is when the Angels starters pitched at least six innings and allowed three runs or less. What about if we upped the ante a bit and made it at least 7 innings and three runs or less as proposed by ROOT Sports when Felix Hernandez made his run of 7 innings and 2 runs or less. That drops the numbers way down. Weaver fell from 22 all the way down to 10 QS. The rotation as a whole made 48 starts of that magnitude and had a team record of 39-9. The league winning percentage goes up from .660 to .707 in those starts while the Angels’ goes up from .775 to .813.

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So what it breaks down to is, does a quality start mean something in the game today? In my opinion it does. The numbers above show that whether the starting pitcher gets a win or not doesn’t matter, but what he is doing is keeping the team in the game. When you win 77 percent of your games when getting six innings or more and three or less runs, that is a ratio I will take every day of the week.

Fans may get upset that when you throw exactly six innings and allow three runs the pitchers ERA is 4.50 for that game but that rarely happens. To prove that, from 1950-2010 a starter had a 4.50 ERA just 5.9 percent of quality starts and just 3.0 percent of all starts.In 2014, it accounted for 8.5 percent of quality starts and just 4.6 percent of all starts. As for the Angels rotation that only happened four times in quality starts, out of 80. Those are pretty good chances that it won’t happen too often in the future either.

So I will relay the question to you, our readers, do you agree with the quality start, and if not what should a quality start be? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, we would appreciate your feedback on this topic!

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