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In baseball, a quality start is a statistic for a starting pitcher defined as a game in which the pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs.

The quality start was developed by sportswriter John Lowe in 1985 while writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The statistic is preferred by sabermetricians to that of winning percentage (the number of win garnered by a pitcher as a fraction of his total decisions) insofar as it acts independently of some factors beyond a pitcher's control such as fielding error, blown saves, and poor run support. ESPN.com terms a loss suffered by a pitcher in a quality start as a tough loss and a win earned by a pitcher in a non-quality start a cheap win.

Criticisms

High ERA

An early criticism of the statistic, made by Moss Klein, writing in The Sporting News, is that a pitcher could conceivably meet the minimum requirements for a quality start and record a 4.50 ERA, seen as undesirable at the time. Bill James addressed this in his 1987 Baseball Abstract, saying the hypothetical example (a pitcher going exactly 6 innings and allowing exactly 3 runs) was extremely rare amongst starts recorded as quality starts, and that he doubted any pitchers had an ERA over 3.20 in their quality starts. This was later confirmed through computer analysis of all quality starts recorded from 1984 to 1991, which found that the average ERA in quality starts during that time period was 1.91.

Complete Games

Another criticism against the statistic is that it isn't beneficial for pitchers who pitch many innings per start. If a pitcher allows 3 Earned Runs in 6.0 innings, he gets a Quality Start with an ERA of 4.50 for that game. But if a pitcher pitches for 9.0 innings and allows 4 Earned Runs, he would have a 4.00 ERA, but wouldn't get the Quality Start.

Park Effects

Like almost every baseball statistic, quality starts are affected by the home park of the player. At the extreme there are "hitters' parks" with some combination of good visibility, short dimensions, little foul territory, hard turf that aids ground balls in getting past infielders, and warm temperatures at high altitudes that inflate batting averages, increase walks, and make home runs easier to hit. Atlanta's Fulton County Stadiummarker was one such place. In contrast, a stadium such as the Oakland Coliseummarker has unusually long distances to the outfield fences, copious foul ground for fielders and catchers to catch foul fly balls, thick grass that slowed ground balls, and generally cool temperatures that create air resistance to any fly ball. Thus pitchers of similar quality for the Oakland A's would tend to have lower-scoring games and more quality starts than those of the Atlanta Braves.

Team Effects

Like most pitching statistics, quality starts are affected by the quality of the defense behind the pitcher. A better defense will result in fewer runs scored and a better chance that the pitcher will be credited with a quality start.

References




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