It is a statistic that has some importance. How much is debated and some discount it. It is the quality start statistic. A starting pitcher records one when he allows three earned runs or less in six innings or more.
One reason some don’t see its importance is that three earned runs allowed in six innings results in an ERA of 4.50. That is not all that impressive. But of course that is the worst ERA outcome you can produce in a quality start. And a high number of outings produce a single-game ERA of better than that, often much better.
This year the difference in the Baltimore Orioles when they got a quality start and when they did not was striking. The Orioles’ staff produced 41 quality starts to rank 12th in the American League. That was 15 below the league average of 56. In those 41 games, the Orioles went 25-16 for a .610 win percentage. A team that played at that percentage for a full season would win 99 games. The Orioles were essentially a playoff team when they got a quality start in 2019.
The Orioles were 29-92 when they did not produce one. That is a .240 win percentage. A team playing like that all year would win 39 games.
Three pitchers produced about 75 percent of the team’s quality starts this year. John Means led the staff with 11 while Dylan Bundy had 10 and Andrew Cashner had 10. Cashner produced a much better quality start percentage than the other two pitchers at 59 percent to 41 for Means and 33 percent for Bundy.
In the AL this year, the staffs that produced the most quality starts were generally those with the best starting pitching. Of course, this is not a coincidence.
AL leaders in quality starts and rank in rotation in ERA in the league
89 - Houston (also first in rotation ERA)
81 - Cleveland (third)
78 - Oakland (fourth)
67 - Minnesota (fifth)
Tampa Bay ranked second in the AL this year in rotation ERA but of course used the opener more than anyone, so that eliminates a QS possibility in those games. Tampa Bay had 53 quality starts and tied with the Yankees for eighth in the AL.
By the way, is the quality start going away? Not completely but as teams more and more get their starters out of there before completing six innings, we are seeing fewer. Just one year before, in 2018, Houston led the league with 105 quality starts and Tampa Bay rated second with 92. There were six teams with 82 or more and this year just one.
The 2018 Orioles had 59 quality starts, 18 more than the 2019 O’s, but ranked last in the AL.
Maybe we should put more, not less importance, on the quality start. Getting one has become more rare in 2019 yet the Orioles were a 99-win team when it happened. When fans are looking ahead to an O’s team they hope might win more next year, one path to that could simply be get more quality starts.