The Bottom Line: Quality Control

The Bottom Line: Quality Control

From time to time, you'll hear mention of "Quality Starts" on this site, and several others. ESPN.com's Peter Gammons likes to use them in his commentary, and for good reason. The Quality Start is a good way to evaluate a starting pitchers' effectiveness, and it also happens to be something that the Yankees have been lacking so far in 2004.

There are several statistics available to measure a pitcher's effectiveness and contributions to the team.  ERA, WHIP ratio, Won-Loss record, Game Score, Win Shares, Walk:Strikeout ratio and a slew of other stats that are both confusing and difficult to compute.  My personal favorite is the Quality Start, a simple measurement of how many times a pitcher has given his team a good chance to win the game.

The Quality Start (QS) is based around a few fundamental principles.  Namely, that a team should be able to score at least three runs in a game (which the average team does) and that a starting pitcher should be able to go deep enough into the game where the bullpen doesn't have to do all of the work. 

With that, a pitcher has thrown a Quality Start when they meet the following requirements:
- They throw at least six full innings
- They allow three or fewer earned runs
That's it.  No fancy calculations, no confusing metrics, just two requirements.  The idea is that if a pitcher lasts long enough into the game and allows just three runs, he's given his team a good chance of winning the ballgame.  Which is what a starting pitcher is supposed to do.

And it's not even asking that much.  If the pitcher throws the "worst" possible QS, a six-inning, three-earned run game, they'll come out with an ERA of 4.50 for that game.  An ERA of 4.50, while respectable, isn't going to win any ERA titles, and it's probably a little worse than league average.  So, if anything, the qualifications for a QS are a little lax.

So what's this got to do with our beloved Yankees?  Below is a table containing every Yankee pitcher that has started at least three times along with the number of Quality Starts they've thrown and what percentage of their total starts that accounts for.  After that I've listed the top five pitchers in baseball in those categories.

Starter Quality Starts QS%
J. Vazquez 11 65%
K. Brown 7 54%
J. Lieber 7 58%
M. Mussina 6 33%
J. Contreras 5 38%
B. Halsey 0 0%

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T. Glavine 15 83%
C. Zambrano 13 81%
B. Radke 13 72%
M. Mulder 13 76%
R. Clemens 13 76%
Totals 37 45.1%

So what can we learn from these numbers?  The Yankees aren't getting enough out of their starting pitchers.  Javier Vazquez has been superb, give the Yankees good innings more often than not and keeping his team in the game.  Kevin Brown (when healthy) has been good and Jon Lieber (when not serving up meatballs) has been fine as well.  But Mike Mussina has been terrible.  By the All-Star break last season, Mussina already had 13 Quality Starts, nearly three times as many as this year.  That's just mind-boggling.

And take a look at the Yankees' other starters.  Jose Contreras, while pitching slightly better lately, has been almost as bad as Mussina and Brad Halsey, as promising as he's looked, hasn't thrown a QS in four tries.

The simple fact is this: pitching wins championships.  And the other simple fact is this: good pitching always beats good hitting.  Sure, the Yankees are going to win a lot of games where their pitchers have allowed five or more runs.  They've been doing it all season as a matter of fact.  QS% should directly correlate with Win percentage, but it doesn't.  Mike Mussina has a winning record, as does Contreras.  But a team can't always expect to score enough runs to overcome a hole dug by the starting pitcher.

But come playoff time, when the bad pitchers and bad bullpens have been eliminated from the playing field, no team can expect to score more than three runs on a regular basis.  It is then when the rotation has to bear down and give the team a good chance to win every game, and if things continue as they are now, that's just not going to happen for the Yankees.

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