Exploring the Value of the Quality Start

As someone who writes about fantasy baseball and of course plays it, I often find myself trying to find easy ways to value a player. Now that we’re in the season and the majority of my attention is centered on finding pitchers, the prudent stat to look at is quality starts.

For those of you who don’t know what a quality start is, there are two requirements. The starting pitcher must go six innings and allow no more than three earned runs. Both must be achieved or a quality start has not taken place. Five innings and two earned runs will not equal a quality start, nor will seven frames and four earned.

So, why do I value the quality start, and even use it when figuring out what pitchers to stream? Take a look at the 2011 leaders in quality starts, and look at how they did in the rest of the standard fantasy statistics (obviously excluding saves).

Justin Verlander 28 24 250 2.40 0.92
Jered Weaver 28 18 198 2.41 1.01
Dan Haren 26 16 192 3.17 1.02
Matt Cain 26 12 179 2.88 1.08
Roy Halladay 25 19 220 2.35 1.04
Cliff Lee 25 17 238 2.40 1.03
James Shields 25 16 225 2.82 1.04
Clayton Kershaw 25 21 248 2.28 0.98
Ricky Romero 25 15 178 2.92 1.14
Cole Hamels 24 14 194 2.79 0.99
Ian Kennedy 24 21 198 2.88 1.09


Okay, that’s the top 10 (11 counting a tie). The people in the top 11 who are worst in the standard fantasy stats are Matt Cain, Ricky Romero (twice), and Dan Haren. Any time you can make that claim, you have found a good statistic.

Every one of those pitchers also played for teams that were at least .500 in 2011, so it’s fair to say that wins and quality starts have some correlation.

More importantly, I value the quality start because it all but guarantees innings for your staff. I have said it before and if you take one thing from any piece of advice I ever give, make it this. You will not have a good pitching staff without racking up innings.

Wins are pretty obvious. A starter needs to go at least five innings for a win, so going one more for a quality start isn’t exactly a gigantic leap.

Strikeouts are also obvious. If a pitcher has one start where he goes two innings and another where he goes six, which one do you think will feature more strikeouts? Yes, I know that this isn’t going to be the case all the time, but the vast majority of the time, the more innings you pitch, the more batters you will strike out.

ERA and WHIP are a little trickier, but the same idea holds. It seems nice to assemble a small pitching staff that is extremely efficient. They won’t throw as many innings, but they theoretically won’t have as many negatives. That kind of idea actually may be working pretty well for you right now, but there’s plenty of season left.

What happens when the weather gets a little warmer? The balls start to fly a little easier, pitchers get a little more tired, and leave balls up in the zone. If you have a small pitching staff and the pitchers start doing that (which they will), your ERA and WHIP only stand a chance if the hitters are too busy licking their lips and forget to swing.

Here in North America where Major League Baseball is played, the weather gets warmer in June, July, and August. It may cool down a touch in September, but that’s when pitchers arms begin to tire.

When you have a pitching staff with a lot of pitchers, those runs and hits mean a lot less. Five innings pitched and three runs is a 5.40 ERA, six and three is 4.50, seven and three is 3.86. You can do similar math with WHIP.

If you’re trying to project, just make the numbers bigger. If you’re a sports nerd like me, it will actually be fun. It won’t take long before Pitcher (or Rotation) A allows more raw earned runs, hits, and walks than Pitcher (or Rotation) B, but has a lower ERA and/or WHIP.

Okay, I am not going down this road again. But pitchers who have a lot of quality starts also rack up a nice chunk of innings. If pitchers are throwing for at least six innings and allowing three earned runs or fewer a lot, it means that their ERA and probably WHIP are low. Walks and hits don’t have anything to do with quality starts, but pitchers that allow a lot of runners won’t be on the hill for six innings very often.

So, when you’re trying to make in-season adjustments to your rotation, this is a great stat to look at. Not everyone plays on a team that supports them enough to earn a lot of wins. That isn’t a new phenomenon. But the quality start isn’t related to run support. If a pitcher is good, he’ll have a lot of them. If not, he won’t.

Quality starts will correlate to wins, but they will also nearly guarantee success in the other three statistics used for starting pitchers in fantasy baseball. So, look at some pitchers who threw a lot of them last year. If those arms are available and you need someone to stabilize your pitching, this is a good stat to build on.

Tags: Justin Verlander Pitchers Quality Starts Roy Halladay Starters

  • Joe

    Hi guys I have a quick question hopefully you guys can help me with , I am new to the Roto format scoring as I usually have played H2H leagues

    I am still really not 100% sure how the roto scoring is actually scored , but I have noticed when I have 3/4 Starting Pitchers pitching I usually gain some pts even if I have a rough outing or 2 like I did yesterday w/ Gallardo , I guess my question is why is this ??
    and if this is the case were I gaing pts when I have 2/3 Starting Pitchers pitching , should I stream more Starting Pitchers , to basically have a few everyday ??

    and if this is the case should I try and deal some upper tier Starting Pitchers like gallardo ?

    My league doesn’t have a transaction limit but does have an inning cap

    sorry that question was actually like 5 questions

    thanks again guys

    • Dixon

      The problem with streaming is that you’re bringing in pitchers who aren’t that good. I usually don’t suggest anyone do it more than once or twice a week.

      Now, your numbers are probably getting better for a few reasons. One, even in bad outings, you are picking up strikeouts and possibly wins, which inflate the stats. Two, you are racking innings up, which means that the runs and runners your pitchers have allowed count for less against the ERA and WHIP.

      There are different ways to score roto, but this is the standard way.

      If you are in a league with 10 players and have the most of a stat (we’ll say runs scored), you get 10 points for that stat. If you’re then second in homeruns, you get 9 for that stat. If you’re last in steals, you get 1 for that stat.

  • Ed

    I am not sure your idea about pitchers racking up innings is ideal. The ideal scenario would be for your starters to go the minimum innings necessary to get a QS. If every start your pitcher went 6 innings and allowed 2 runs he would have an ERA of 3.00. If the starter made 35 starts he would pitch 210 innings. Now if starter B averaged 7.1 innings pitched(think Roy Halladay) he would pitch 248 innings. Since you are limited to a fixed number of innings, the team with the starter averaging 6 innings per game would give you the chance to pitch 38 more innings by another player which could be used to carry a 4th Closer bulking up your Saves. Top closers also have lower ERA’s and WHIPS then great starters while almost always having a better K/Innings pitched(usually 1 to 1 for a closer) Or you could get a minimum of five additional starts from a 6th starter giving you more wins and QS. 38 innings is only one pitcher. On a 5 man staff you could easily get a 100 innings back by having guys that don’t go into the 8th and 9th inning regularly. I like to limit my roster to 2 of the big inning eating starters while trying to have the other three be guys who pitch closer to 180 to 200 innings pitched. In the end, you always end up with 1,300 innings for the season. I believe it is better to get more save opportunities and/or starts. I do prefer to carry more relief pitchers since they can have miniscule era’s and whips. Remember a closer pitches about 60 innings per season so 3.5 would be 210 innings or a full starter. They really influence all of the pitching statistics more than most fantasy players give them credit for.
    I do acknowledge that great pitchers rack up innings but that is like saying the guy on the PGA tour season who leads in scoring average is probably going to win tournaments. Well, of course, but it is obvious and doesn’t amount to a strategy.

    • http://fantasybaseballcrackerjacks.com Dixon

      First of all, I’ll admit that my pitching strategies can be a little hit or miss. I could point to some leagues and say I know exactly what I’m talking about, and others where I use similar strategies, someone with access could point to and say that I’m a moron. It’s the name of the game, I suppose.

      The problem with what you just suggested though is that you probably need to use some high picks for pitchers, which I am never in favor of. They are all too injury prone and even if you are guaranteed Justin Verlander of 2011 production, you still only get that once a week.

      Also, different league’s rules limit stockpiling innings. If your league counts walks against, or has an innings max, stockpiling is risky. Still, I like to load up with maybe one pitcher taken in the early rounds, and then go with a bunch of mid-range guys. So, my number two and three will probably be below average for fantasy standards, but my 4, 5, and 6 will be well above. Again, depends on the league, depends on the guy.

      I’m actually planning a piece for after the season where I basically audit one of my drafts. It would have been up earlier, but I wrote it saying that I should have taken Melky Cabrera, and you know what happened there, so it’s on hold. Something about fantasy though is that even for vets, it’s all trial and error.