Sport Rulebook

The Importance of Quality Starts in Baseball: Metrics Implications and Limitations

The Role of Quality Starts in Baseball

As one of the most beloved pastimes in America, baseball has evolved into an intricate sport with numerous statistics and metrics used to measure players and team performance. One of these metrics is quality starts, which refers to a pitchers performance in a game.

In this article, well explore what a quality start is, how often it occurs, and its implications for team success. What is a Quality Start?

A quality start is defined as a pitching performance in which a starting pitcher completes six innings or more while giving up no more than three earned runs. This metric serves as an indicator of how effective the starting pitcher is in giving the team a chance to win the game.

A starting pitcher plays a crucial role in baseball, as they are responsible for setting the tone of the game from the very beginning. And a quality start means that the pitcher has done their job effectively by pitching deep into the game and leaving the team in a solid position to win.

Use of Quality Starts as a Statistic

Quality starts can be particularly useful when evaluating pitchers who consistently pitch effectively and give their team an opportunity to win. The metric is also helpful in determining how efficient a pitcher is in working deep into games and managing their pitch count.

The use of quality starts as a statistic can help distinguish good pitchers from great pitchers. Great pitchers will not only achieve more quality starts, but they will also often complete games and go beyond the six innings parameter of the quality start.

Pitchers who regularly hit the quality start criteria can bring incredible value to their team, and clubs are willing to pay top dollar for that level of consistency. Consequently, quality starts serve as a crucial metric for teams when determining a pitcher’s salary and contract length.

Frequency of Quality Starts

Scoring in baseball is broken down into earned runs and unearned runs. An earned run is a run attributable to the pitcher and their skill or performance.

Unearned runs, on the other hand, result from errors made by the fielding team which wouldn’t have otherwise occurred. In a quality start, a pitcher must give up no more than three earned runs, but there may still be unearned runs.

The frequency of quality starts has varied over time, with different periods seeing different trends. In the early days of baseball, complete games were more common, as a single pitcher would pitch for the entire game.

Over time, with the MLB expansion and Wild Card Era, teams shifted towards a combination of bullpen and starting pitching. Currently, the use of quality starts as a statistic seems to be on the decline.

Newer metrics, such as FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), have been introduced to better evaluate the performance of pitchers. However, despite the decline in quality starts being used as a metric, the correlation between quality starts and postseason success is worth noting.

Postseason Success and Quality Starts

A team’s win-loss record is one of the primary measures of success in baseball. In the postseason, where only the best teams in the league compete, it is even more crucial to have a starting pitcher who can consistently pitch deep into games and give the team a chance to win.

The importance of quality starts in the postseason can be seen in the statistics of successful teams. According to, of the teams that made the playoffs in the last decade, 91 percent of them received a quality start in at least half of their playoff games.

This statistic underlines the value of having a starting pitcher who can consistently meet the quality start criteria, especially in critical games.


Quality starts serve as an important metric for evaluating baseball pitchers and their effectiveness in giving their team a chance to win. While the use of quality starts as a statistic has slightly decreased, it remains a crucial indicator of pitcher efficiency, consistency, and value.

Additionally, the correlation between quality starts and postseason success highlights the importance of having a reliable starting pitcher in crucial games. Ultimately, a quality start is just one statistic in a slew of many, but it is a meaningful one that will continue to play a role in evaluating pitchers and team success.

Limitations of Quality Start Statistic

While quality starts are an essential metric for evaluating starting pitchers’ consistency and effectiveness in giving their team a chance to win, it has certain limitations. The frequency of quality starts can be impacted by numerous factors such as bullpen strength, the quality of offense, and pitcher’s performance.

A strong bullpen can significantly impact the number of quality starts a teams starting pitcher achieves. Strong bullpens can give managers the confidence to pull their starting pitcher earlier in the game, resulting in shorter outings and fewer quality starts.

Tampa Bay Rays, for instance, is known for its strong bullpen, and its impact can be seen in the teams lack of prospect of achieving quality starts. The quality of the team’s offense can also influence the frequency of quality starts achieved by its starting pitchers.

A weak offense may make it challenging for a pitcher to get the runs they need to win games, resulting in more losses and fewer opportunities for quality starts. Subsequently, a pitcher with an excellent quality start record might receive criticism for relatively high losses due to low support from the offense.

Even when a starting pitcher meets the criteria for a quality start, the statistic may not always accurately reflect their performance. In the case of New York Mets and Pittsburgh Pirates, for instance, the starting pitchers had fantastic quality start records.

Still, their performances didn’t translate into victories due to failure to capitalize when the opportunity arose. Another interesting limitation is that a strong bullpen can compensate for a starter’s shortcomings, which may result in fewer quality starts but contribute to the overall success of the team.

For instance, in 2018, the Houston Astros achieved 50 fewer quality starts compared to 2017, yet the team won 6 more games and had higher win percentage due to compensations from the bullpen.

Interesting Facts About Quality Starts

Origin of the Term Quality Start

The term “quality start” was first coined by Detroit Free Press sportswriter John Lowe in 1985, who also wrote for the ‘Philadelphia Inquirer.’ By his definition, the term meant a pitcher giving up exactly 3 earned runs or less in 6 or more innings. The metric was then quickly adopted by other sportswriters and ultimately baseball organizations, leading to its widespread usage today.

Records for Most Quality Starts in a Season

Jack Chesbro, Wilbur Wood, and Zack Greinke share the record for the most quality starts in a season. In 1904 with the New York Yankees, Chesbro achieved 48 quality starts in 51 games.

Wilbur Wood, a Chicago White Sox pitcher, achieved 45 quality starts in 49 games played during the 1971 season. Zack Greinke, a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks, achieved 32 quality starts in 2015.

Confirmed Quality Start Statistic Record

Don Sutton, a Hall of Fame pitcher, holds the record for the most career quality starts. During his 23 seasons of baseball, he achieved 503 quality starts, far surpassing the previous record of 363 held by Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.

Highest and Lowest Number of Quality Starts in a Single Season

The highest number of quality starts in a single season was achieved by Jack Chesbro in 1904 with 48 quality starts. The lowest number of quality starts in a single season was achieved by Boston Americans (currently the Red Sox), who experienced a single quality start throughout the 1891 season.

On the other hand, the highest number of team quality starts achieved in a single season is ‘Los Angeles Angels,’ who achieved 101 quality starts in 1977.


While quality starts serve as an essential metric for evaluating starting pitchers’ effectiveness and consistency, it has certain limitations. Win-loss records may offer more insights on the merit of a pitcher’s performance due to the limitations such as the impact of a strong bullpen, weak support from the offense, and the pitchers failure to capitalize.

However, the interesting history and records of the quality start statistic continue to offer insights into the evolution of baseball and the game’s greats’ expertise. In conclusion, quality starts are an important statistic to evaluate starting pitchers’ consistency and effectiveness in giving their team a chance to win.

While the frequency of quality starts can be influenced by a variety of factors, including bullpen strength and weak offenses, the historical records of the statistic remain interesting. Takeaways from this article highlight how quality starts play a significant role in team success, particularly in post-season games.

Overall, quality starts continue to be a useful metric to evaluate starting pitchers, even if they have certain limitations.


Q: What are quality starts?

A: Quality starts are performances in which a starting pitcher completes six innings or more, with three earned runs or fewer. Q: How are quality starts used in baseball?

A: Quality starts are used as a metric to determine how effective pitchers are in giving their team chances of winning games. Q: What are examples of limitations of quality starts?

A: Examples of limitations of quality starts include the strength of the bullpen, weak team offenses, and performance shortcomings by pitchers. Q: What are some interesting facts about quality starts?

A: Interesting facts about quality starts include the origin of the term being coined by sports writer John Lowe, the record for most quality starts in a single season achieved by Jack Chesbro, Wilbur Wood, and Zack Greinke, and the highest number of career quality starts achieved by Don Sutton. Q: Do quality starts correlate with postseason success?

A: Yes, quality starts correlate with postseason success, with 91% of teams who made the playoffs achieving a quality start in at least half of their playoff games.

Popular Posts