Bruce Miles at the Daily Herald reveals some interesting info about the “quality start”:
Now, here’s where we need to stop for just a minute. Critics of the quality start like to point out, “Well, 3 runs in 6 innings; that’s a 4.50 ERA. That doesn’t sound very ‘quality’ to me” And they’d be right.
But the 6-inning, 3-run thing is only the lowest qualification for a quality start. Last year, I began keeping a log of Cubs quality starts. Anybody care to take a guess what the Cubs’ record and the starters’ ERA were in quality starts. Maybe just over .500 with, say, a 3.50 ERA?
The Cubs turned in 81 quality starts last year. The team record was 61-20, and the ERA for the starters in those quality starts was a cool 1.77. Think about that for a sec.
When the Cubs didn’t get a quality start, the team was 24-57.
Now, to some degree, this is all self-evident; when you only give up 1.77 runs over 9 innings, and you do that 81 times, you’re going to win an awful lot of those games unless your offense really sucks. And conversely, when your starter gives up more than 3 runs in 6 innings, or doesn’t last six innings, then that starter is digging the team a hole that it can be very hard to climb out of.
But, as simple and obvious as it sounds, that is the whole point of the quality start as a stat: to quantify how often starting pitchers eat up innings, and put the team in excellent position to win.
So the stat seems to have some definite value; probably even more value than ERA. ERA is just an artificially constructed way to view earned runs allowed, spaced out into 9 inning chunks so as to compare all pitchers regardless of innings pitched. Back in the day when the complete game ruled, and the league leader in innings pitched was frequently up around 350 (!), it might have made more sense. But today, it’s value is questionable; it ignores the value of a starter who goes 6-8 innings every time they get the ball, vs. one that struggles to get out of the fifth every 3 or 4 or 5 starts.
Starting pitchers have to eat up innings, or they aren’t very useful, no matter what their ERA is.