A lot of people play fantasy baseball like me and give hitters higher value than pitchers. As a result of that, people like me are often on a quest to find ways to piece together the best possible fantasy baseball pitching rotation.
One stat that I often look to is the Quality Start.
At a glance, the Quality Start would appear to be something of a flawed stat. Sure, it’s potentially a little more indicative of how well a pitcher pitched than a win is, as the performance of a pitcher’s offense and bullpen don’t factor in.
But the only requirements are 6 or more innings, and 3 or fewer earned runs. If you meet the minimum requirements, you have an ERA for that start of 4.50. Plus, it doesn’t even consider how many runners were allowed, or how many strikeouts the pitcher got.
Understanding all of that, look at the average fantasy pitching numbers for 2013’s Top-15 in Quality Starts.
Plenty of preseason studs were on that list, but many late-round free agent pickups were, too. Guys like: Travis Wood, Hisashi Iwakuma, Bartolo Colon, and Patrick Corbin. They were not exactly the first pitchers taken in the 2013 drafts, but they did produce good seasons and provided value to the fantasy owners who picked them up. Heck, while Max Scherzer was certainly drafted, he was far from the first pitcher off the board.
Criticizing Quality Starts because they can go to a pitcher after an average start is similar to devaluing a long hitting streak by saying, “All you have to do is go 1-4 every day. That’s just a .250 average.” It’s technically true, but when I think of Joe Dimaggio, Pete Rose, Paul Molitor, and many of the guys who have some of the game’s longest streaks, “.250 hitter” doesn’t exactly come to mind. Similarly, when I think of Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee, I don’t think of 4.50 ERA pitchers.
While it is possible to have a Quality Start with a pitching line of 6 IP, 3 ER, 7 H, 5 BB, 2 K, it’s far from likely that someone who’s had a lot of those types of starts will be getting many Quality Starts. In a different era, that would be possible, but not today.
Remember, we’re in an era where teams have deeper bullpens and pitchers are generally on a tight pitch count. If they’re having a rough game, they’re probably throwing a lot of pitches, even if they haven’t allowed many runs. A Quality Start probably means a fairly moderate pitch count, which translates to fewer runners allowed, generally resulting in a lower ERA, as you can see above.
Quality Starts are valuable from other perspectives though.
1. They’ll enhance your counted stats
The more innings a pitcher throws, the more K’s he’s probably going to get and the more likely he’s going to be to pick up a win. That’s a pretty simple idea.
2. They’ll make you less vulnerable in ERA and WHIP
If you’re not familiar with the MRI strategy, here it is in a nutshell. Stack your team with good middle-late relievers. They’ll usually have pretty dominant ERA’s and WHIP’s, often producing great K rates. Clave detailed this a few years back with the $3 Clayton Kershaw piece. Some of the names may change now, but changing a few of those around, it’s still applicable.
While it’s a strategy I use, especially in auction leagues, there is one inherent flaw there. When you have too many relievers, you’re not throwing as many innings. Even if you have a good enough starting core to make up for the loss in the counted stats, fewer innings means higher vulnerability in average and WHIP.
Once the season is a few weeks old, go through the stats of some of the game’s best relievers. I can promise you that you’ll see one guy you think of as a great reliever with an ERA around 10.00 and a WHIP around 2.00. When you don’t throw that many innings, it takes one or two bad outings to really inflate your stats. Not throwing many innings also means that it takes a long time to get back to normal.
If you’re looking to round your rotation with pitchers who throw a lot of Quality Starts, you’re racking up more innings and making yourself less vulnerable to a few rough outings blowing your ERA and WHIP up. I’m not suggesting abandoning MRI or anything, just be sure you have a healthy mix.
Adding a handful of Quality Start guys to your roster will provide you with that mix.