What Is a Quality Start in Baseball? Understanding the Pitching Metric

August 27, 2023 7 min read

What Is a Quality Start in Baseball? Understanding the Pitching Metric - Suzitee Store

In the world of baseball, where statistics reign supreme, evaluating a pitcher's performance goes far beyond mere wins and losses. Enter the "quality start," a metric that delves into the heart of a pitcher's effectiveness on the mound. In this article, we'll dissect what a quality start in baseball truly entails, its significance in assessing pitcher prowess, and its place in the realm of advanced pitching metrics. So, grab your peanuts and cracker jacks as we unravel the nuances of this pivotal statistic.

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"Shohei Ohtaniโ€™s quality start helps lift Angels to victory over Twins"

1. Defining a Quality Start in Baseball

A quality start is more than just another statistic; it's a measure of a pitcher's endurance and ability to stifle opposing teams. To qualify, a pitcher must complete a minimum of six innings while allowing no more than three earned runs. This criterion strikes a delicate balance between a pitcher's longevity on the mound and their capacity to prevent runs. It captures the essence of a pitcher's performance, encapsulating their ability to consistently hold their ground.


A quality start is a statistical term used in baseball to evaluate the performance of starting pitchers. It was introduced as a way to measure the effectiveness of starting pitchers in a more nuanced manner than simply looking at wins and losses. The concept of a quality start helps to assess the overall quality of a pitcher's outing, regardless of whether they ended up with a win, loss, or no decision.


In order for a start to be considered a quality start, a starting pitcher must meet the following criteria:

  • The pitcher must complete at least 6 innings of the game.
  • The pitcher must allow no more than 3 earned runs during those 6 innings.

If a pitcher meets these criteria, their performance is considered a quality start. This indicates that the pitcher pitched effectively enough to give their team a good chance of winning the game, even if they didn't necessarily secure the victory themselves. The concept helps to highlight pitchers who provide consistent and solid performances for their teams, even if they might not always get the win due to factors beyond their control, such as the performance of the offense or bullpen.

2. Evolution of the Quality Start Metric in Baseball

The quality start wasn't always a staple in baseball's statistical landscape. It emerged as a response to the limitations of traditional metrics like wins and losses, which often failed to paint an accurate picture of a pitcher's contribution. The metric gained traction as analysts and fans alike sought a more comprehensive evaluation of starting pitchers' performances. Its evolution reflects the dynamic nature of the sport and the need for nuanced measurement.


The Quality Start (QS) metric in baseball is used to evaluate the performance of starting pitchers. It was introduced by John Lowe, a sports writer for the Detroit Free Press, in 1985. The concept behind the Quality Start is to provide a simple way to assess a starting pitcher's effectiveness by looking at whether they met a certain set of criteria during their outing.


Originally, a Quality Start was defined as a game in which a starting pitcher completed at least 6 innings and allowed no more than 3 earned runs. This meant that the pitcher had given their team a reasonable chance to win the game by keeping the opposition's offense in check.


Over time, the Quality Start metric has faced criticism due to its somewhat arbitrary nature and failure to capture the nuances of a pitcher's performance. For instance, a pitcher who goes exactly 6 innings and gives up 3 earned runs could be seen as having a "Quality Start," even though they have an ERA of 4.50 for that outing. Additionally, the QS doesn't take into account factors like the strength of the opposing lineup, the context of the game situation, or the number of pitches thrown.


As a result, baseball analysts and enthusiasts have sought more advanced metrics to better assess a pitcher's performance. Metrics like Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), xFIP (which normalizes a pitcher's home run rate), and SIERA (Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average) have gained popularity. These metrics attempt to isolate a pitcher's performance from the defense behind them and provide a more accurate representation of their skill.


While the Quality Start metric is still referenced in broadcasts and discussions, its limitations have led to a shift toward more comprehensive and advanced metrics for evaluating starting pitchers. These newer metrics provide a better understanding of a pitcher's underlying performance and how it contributes to their team's success.

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"Innings Pitched Requirement for the Quality Startโ€

3. Significance of Quality Starts in the Baseball World

Quality starts serve as a vital yardstick in assessing a pitcher's reliability and consistency in the game of baseball. They offer a holistic view of a pitcher's contribution to their team's success, considering factors beyond the outcome of a single game. Unlike wins and losses, which can be influenced by various external factors, quality starts put the pitcher's control over the game into focus. They highlight baseball pitchers who consistently give their team a competitive edge, even in games that may not end in victory.


Quality Starts (QS) continue to hold a certain level of significance in the baseball world, although their importance has evolved over time as more advanced metrics have been developed. Here are some key points highlighting the significance of Quality Starts in the baseball world:

  • Simplicity and Accessibility: The Quality Start metric offers a straightforward and easily understandable way to evaluate starting pitchers' performances. It's a simple "yes" or "no" classification based on whether a pitcher met specific criteria. This simplicity makes it accessible to casual fans and can be a quick way to gauge a pitcher's effectiveness.
  • Historical Context: Quality Starts have been used for decades, and they provide a historical context for evaluating pitchers across different eras. This makes it possible to compare the performance of pitchers from different generations using a consistent criterion.
  • Team Success Indicator: While not a perfect metric, Quality Starts do correlate with team success. Generally, when a team receives a high number of Quality Starts, they are more likely to win games. This correlation highlights the importance of starting pitching in a team's overall success.
  • Starter Reliability: Quality Starts indicate that a pitcher was able to pitch a reasonably effective outing while going deep into the game. This showcases a level of reliability and endurance, which are valuable traits for starting pitchers.
  • Quick Assessment: In time-constrained situations like live broadcasts or post-game discussions, Quality Starts can provide a quick snapshot of a pitcher's performance without delving into more complex metrics.

However, it's important to note some limitations and considerations regarding the significance of Quality Starts:

Limited Insight: While Quality Starts provide a basic evaluation, they lack depth in capturing the nuances of a pitcher's performance. Factors like the quality of opposing hitters, the game situation, and the pitcher's overall contribution beyond earned runs aren't considered.


Evolution of Metrics: Advanced metrics like Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), and others offer a more comprehensive view of a pitcher's performance, accounting for factors that are beyond their control (like team defense). These metrics are often favored by analysts for a deeper understanding of a pitcher's true skill.


Changing Pitching Strategies: Modern baseball has seen shifts in pitching strategies, with pitchers throwing fewer innings per start and teams relying more on bullpens. This trend has somewhat diminished the importance of the QS metric, as a pitcher might leave the game after 6 innings with 3 earned runs but still be considered effective if the bullpen holds the lead.

4. Interpreting Quality Starts in the Context of Baseball

The essence of baseball lies in its team-oriented nature. Quality starts embody this aspect, emphasizing that a pitcher's performance is intertwined with the team's overall success. It's not uncommon for a baseball pitcher to achieve a quality start and yet not secure the win due to factors beyond their control, such as poor offensive support or bullpen struggles. Thus, quality starts underscore the collaborative spirit of the game, where each player's contribution matters.

5. Limitations and Criticisms of Baseball's Quality Start Metric

While quality starts offer a nuanced perspective in the world of baseball, they're not without their limitations. Critics argue that the metric oversimplifies a pitcher's performance by boiling it down to a binary outcomeโ€”either a quality start or not. It fails to capture nuances within a pitcher's innings, such as high-stress situations or specific matchups. Additionally, a pitcher could achieve a quality start with an ERA that's higher than desirable, raising questions about the metric's ability to gauge true effectiveness.

6. Advanced Pitching Metrics Beyond Baseball's Quality Start

Beyond quality starts, baseball boasts a repertoire of advanced pitching metrics that further refine our understanding of a pitcher's prowess. Metrics like Earned Run Average (ERA), Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP), and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) offer a more comprehensive view of a pitcher's performance. While quality starts serve as a valuable indicator, these advanced metrics delve deeper into the mechanics and outcomes of a pitcher's every throw.

7. Examples from Notable Baseball Pitchers and Their Quality Start Records

To shed light on the real-world implications of quality starts in baseball, let's take a glance at some notable pitchers and their records. Pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Jacob deGrom consistently rack up quality starts, underlining their standing as elite talents. These baseball pitchers' ability to consistently meet the quality start criteria contributes significantly to their reputation and team's success, showcasing the metric's impact on the sport.

8. Conclusion

As we wrap up our journey into the realm of quality starts in baseball, we've discovered a statistic that transcends the realm of wins and losses. Quality starts shine a spotlight on baseball pitchers who exhibit both endurance and run prevention skills, making them an integral part of their team's success. While not without its limitations, this metric offers a valuable perspective on a pitcher's consistency and contribution. As baseball continues to evolve, quality starts stand as a testament to the sport's intricate blend of teamwork and individual brilliance.

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