Mains: I come to praise quality starts, not to bury them

From SABR member Rob Mains at Baseball Prospectus on May 2, 2016:

Quality starts of all things have been in the news, lately. Here’s why.

Of course, this sort of thing invariably leads to a discussion about quality starts. You know how these go. “Garbage stat.” “They’re mundane.” “What’s quality about it, they’re nothing special.” “Hey, three runs in six innings, that’s a 4.50 ERA, what’s so good about that?” “Didn’t Arrieta’s streak snap Thursday? Can’t we go back to forgetting about quality starts now?”

Admittedly, quality starts have the same weakness of most game-specific baseball statistics: The sport doesn’t lend itself to one-game narrative numbers. When Anthony Davis scored 59 points against the Pistons this season, it defined the game. But in baseball, dominant performances on paper for one game don’t necessarily mean dominance on the diamond—even, necessarily in that one game. Five no-hitters have come in games the pitchers’ team lost. Batters have hit for the cycle in losing efforts 36 times. Last June 13th, J.D. Martinez went two-for-four with a double, homer, and walk against the Indians, which sounds like a good performance, but he grounded into a double play with one out and runners on the corners in the last of the ninth with the Tigers down by a run. As a result, his WPA for the game was -0.177, a figure topped by 235 players who went 0-for-5 last year. In baseball, game-specific datapoints, like quality starts, are of limited value.

That being said, how true are the complaints about quality starts? Let’s take them one at a time.

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Originally published: May 2, 2016. Last Updated: May 2, 2016.