Quality Start Baseball Definition

Mike Specter
Mike Specter

When you pitched your last game, how did you do? Did you get the win? Or maybe you didn’t get the win, but you still pitched a great game.

What’s the best way to quantify a good outing? A complete game, maybe? Or how about a quality start? So, what is a quality start in baseball?

This article will teach you about the quality start definition and much more. So read on!

What Is A Quality Start In Baseball?

A quality start in baseball is a statistic used for a starting pitcher and occurs when a pitcher makes it through a minimum of six innings without giving up more than three earned runs.

This statistic attempts to capture the main priorities of a starting pitcher, which are to maximize outs and minimize runs. So if a pitcher achieves a quality start, then mission accomplished!

The origin of the quality start is credited to a Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter named John Lowe in 1985. Since then, the term has taken hold and evolved with other variations over the years.

For instance, ESPN has coined the terms “tough loss” and “cheap win,” which expand on the quality start. The former is a loss credited to a pitcher with a quality start, and the latter refers to a win for a pitcher in a non-quality start.

Other examples of the term’s evolution are Nolan Ryan and baseball columnist Derrick Goold calling seven or more innings pitched while giving up less than four earned runs a “high-quality start” and “quality start plus,” respectively.

What Is A Complete Game And How Does It Differ From A Quality Start?

A complete game is just as it sounds and occurs when a pitcher completes a game from start to finish without being relieved.

That means a pitcher can be credited with a complete game when it is shortened by weather, as long as the game is official. And a pitcher can miss out on a complete game when it goes into extra innings, and he is replaced.

Based on the definition above, you can see two main differences. First, for a complete game, the pitcher has to finish the entire game versus only needing to complete six innings to earn a quality start. Second, a complete game has no threshold for earned runs.

So, which one is better? Of course, you can make arguments for both, but if it’s any indication, ESPN no longer reports complete games in its MLB statistics section, making the quality start the preferred statistic between the two.

With that said, you can earn both a quality start and a complete game if you pitch all innings in the game and meet the earned run threshold.

Now is probably a good time to weigh the pros and cons of using the quality start statistic.

Is A Quality Start A Quality Statistic?

When thinking about this question, it’s important to remember that there will always be limitations when a statistic is used for any kind of analysis.

The intention is to try and provide a measurement of whether or not a pitcher does his job in a particular outing.

Compared to a complete game, I would say it’s superior because with a complete game, factors outside the pitcher’s control, namely his team’s defensive play and offensive output, come into play.

However, no statistic is perfect. In this case, there certainly are situations that could be open to debate.

One example is when factoring in ERA for a particular outing.

Another is when using more subjective measures, such as someone pitching six innings and giving up three earned runs versus someone pitching twelve innings and giving up four earned runs. Which feels better? It’s not always easy to tell!

Someone can always make arguments to refute a statistic with individual examples. Still, the purpose of any statistic is to provide a reasonable outcome over a large sample size, which the quality start does.

The other challenge in looking at this statistic is looking at it over time.

Baseball has been around for almost 150 years, and although not all recordkeeping goes back that far, the game itself has changed during that time. And the utilization of pitchers is one of those things that has evolved and changed.

The increased use of analytics in team construction and in-game decision-making has led to pitchers being used differently and pitching fewer innings per outing than in the past.

No data is perfect, but the quality start does a great job focusing on what the pitcher is out there to do – more outs, fewer runs.

Does A Quality Start Always Result In A Win?

No, a quality start doesn’t always result in a win. The reason is that it doesn’t account for what happens after the pitcher leaves the game.

Many scenarios could lead to that result, such as a lack of offense by your team or a surge in offense by the other team in the latter part of the game.

Career Leaders In Quality Starts

Who are the MLB career leaders in quality starts? As you would expect, the list contains some of the best pitchers in baseball history.

  • Don Sutton (483)
  • Nolan Ryan (481)
  • Greg Maddux (480)
  • Roger Clemens (465)
  • Tom Seaver (454)
  • Gaylord Perry (453)
  • Steve Carlton (447)
  • Phil Niekro (442)
  • Tom Glavine (436)
  • Tommy John (431)

There are a couple of things to note from this list.

First, as of this writing, eight out of the ten pitchers on this list have been inducted into the MLB Hall of Fame.

Second, the last pitch thrown by anyone on this list was 2008, helping to confirm the notion that the game has evolved and pitchers are not pitching as deep into games as they used to.

You can find further validation by looking at the MLB single-season quality start leaders. Seven out of the eight pitchers on that list (one pitcher led the league three seasons in a row) are in the MLB Hall of Fame, with the most recent pitch thrown by someone in 1971.

The game has definitely changed!

The Last Inning

I hope this gives you some additional insight into how to think about your pitching outings. Your coach may focus more on wins and losses, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

A bunch of things goes into getting better as a pitcher, and one of those is confidence.

And a great way to focus on building confidence is to focus on getting quality starts. Good things will happen for you and your team when you do that.

Keep on throwing!

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Mike Specter
Mike Specter
Mike hold's a Degree in Sports Coaching from the University of Minnesota and has held managerial and baseball head coaching roles at the college level. Mike currently consults with several professional athletes and clients in the areas of self-accountability, health, and goal orientation.