MLB Should Abolish Quality Start From StatisticsPosted on April 30, 2013
By Jim Henneman
One thing I like about listening to Jim Palmer on the Orioles' telecasts is he's not afraid to beat a topic to death if he feels strongly about it. For instance, take the so-called "quality start."
Take it. Please, take it. Pretty please.
Take it and bury it along with every other irrelevant statistic you can imagine. You think the game-winning RBI was meaningless? That little number was a sabermetric gem compared with the QS. You don't like the three-run lead, one-inning save rule? That's a testimony to efficiency compared with the dreaded QS.
John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press is a good friend. He's also the guy who invented the quality start, for which Palmer and I will never forgive him. It's usually a good idea to be on Palmer's side in a baseball discussion (usually, that is, not always), but his recent rant about the merit of a pitcher being rewarded for pitching six innings and allowing "only" three earned runs was so on target it begged for the term "quality start" to be relegated to the statistical dump.
Even at its inception, the equivalent of a 4.50 ERA (three earned runs during six innings) was at best a borderline quality number, considered irrelevant by just about anybody who wasn't a pitcher or an agent. But now, in this day and age of moderate muscles and dwindling runs, it is ridiculous for those in the media, and that includes Palmer and myself, to continually refer to a statistic not even agent Scott Boras can defend, even though he might present it as a case for a struggling client.
As Palmer pointed out, the major league earned run average hovers around the 4.00 mark. That's lumping all the Justin Verlanders and Joe Blantons together and coming up with a 4.00 ERA, which, as it turns out, isn't even the mean in MLB these days. Currently no fewer than 19 of the 30 major league teams (and nine of 15 in the American League) have an earned run average of 3.79 or less. And that's not a fluke: 16 teams were less than 4.00 last year, 23 of them at 4.30 or less, identical numbers as 2011.
In its heyday, a quality start basically rewarded mediocrity. It passed the sniff test then only because pitchers were deemed to be vulnerable to steroid-stuffing sluggers. At its best, a quality start was no better than average, in other words a zero WAA (if you need it explained, you haven't been paying attention).
The time has come to stop equating quality with average and mediocrity. I nominate Palmer to lead the charge to abolish the dreaded QS, a statistic that has lasted far beyond its time.
This is not exactly news of the man-bites-dog variety, but it is well documented that the Orioles are in dire need of pitchers who can stretch it out beyond six innings. That is what really confused me when I read about Jake Arrieta's first start at Triple-A Norfolk after the O's demoted him.
Arrieta is a too-often erratic right-hander, who is still potentially dominant despite his flaws -- and his critics skipped the woe-is-me stage that manager Buck Showalter often refers to -- was overpowering during his first start for the Tides. He allowed only three hits and no walks while striking out eight during six innings. So, what's wrong with this picture?
What's with the six-inning bit? Why not extend him? It certainly wasn't because of a pitch count. Because of the way the game is played today, pitchers aren't going to get into the seventh and eighth innings routinely until they are pushed to a 115-125 pitch count. That applies especially to somebody with Arrieta's stuff, which induces as many foul balls as it does swing and misses.
Three base runners during six innings does not warrant a call to the bullpen, and that's the kind of decision only an organization can make. General manager Dan Duquette, please, take off the wraps.
Speaking of veteran right-hander Joe Blanton (we were, weren't we?), how does that non-deal by Duquette last summer look now? Last time I looked, Blanton was 0-for-April.
It's nice to see all of the Orioles' minor league teams in contention, but even though the best prospects are young, the teams are all older than the teams of the past, which no doubt is because of Duquette's penchant for veteran depth.
Uncle Henny's lesson 101 about using pitching matchups to bet baseball games: Never underestimate the value of the reverse lock. After their first 10 outings, the Rays were 1-9 during games David Price and Jeremy Hellickson, their two best pitchers, started. Ouch.
Not that I'm superstitious, mind you, but the fact that the last time the O's had a four-game sweep in Oakland was 1987 (in the midst of the worst two- and three-year stretch in team history) cries of "the sky is falling."
One last thought: Rule 5 draft pick T.J. McFarland is worth the gamble the Orioles are taking with him, but if he's not going to be used in meaningful situations, then Showalter will have little choice but to go with a 13-man pitching staff. That will be especially true if injured second baseman Brian Roberts is able to return to the lineup.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com.
Posted April 30, 2013