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Quality Starts

   by Bryan Leonard - 07/28/2007

One area I pay attention to when analyzing baseball games is quality starts. Sometimes a pitcher may have a rather high ERA, but that’s not all that uncommon today. With expansion over the last decade, starting pitching has become thin and the rarest of commodities. Yes, you will find lousy pitchers throwing in the big leagues simply because their aren’t enough good starting arms, but you will also find guys who give their teams consistent quality starts even if their ERA might be higher than normal. With the trading deadline approaching you will see a scramble for pitching first.

Certainly Colorado pitchers have to be looked at differently. Every Colorado Rockie pitcher gives up hits and home runs, which is why it’s important to break down home/road starts for their pitchers. In particular, a quality start in Coors Field is a pitcher who can go 6-7 innings without walking many batters. This is true in other homer-happy parks, too, such as Milwaukee, Fenway, Toronto, Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

A few years ago I recall retread starters like Dave Burba and John Burkett not having pretty overall numbers, but they pitched better when you examined each start – and their team got more wins – than you might at first think. Some starters will have one or two really bad starts that inflate their ERA, but have a whole string of quality starts.

LA starter Bartolo Colon has been hittable this season and prone to the long ball, yet he still doesn’t walk anyone and provides his team with ample quality starts despite a higher than normal ERA. The Angels went 6-3 in his first nine starts despite a 5.97 ERA. He threw less than 6 innings in only three of those nine starts.

Boston starter Josh Beckett had an unusual start to his American League career in 2006, with some quality starts and some real bad ones. He was too erratic while trying to get accustomed to the new league. Being a name pitcher, he didn’t offer any value, either. But this season he was under-the-radar a bit because of his disappointing 2006 season and all the fanfare surrounding teammates Curt Schilling (his walk season) and newcomer Diasuke Matzusaka. Beckett quietly has had a brilliant season, loaded with quality starts.

Of course, Beckett is a name pitcher and it’s smarter from a betting perspective to look for quality starts by lesser known guys. Cleveland’s 23-year old righty Fausto Carmon fit that bill when the Indians threw him into the rotation. Starting on April 24th, the Indians went 8-1 in his nine starts, with 8 quality starts. He pitched 6 innings or more in every one of them and at least 7 innings in 7 of them.

I’m more interested in the more recent starts where a guy is throwing well, as opposed to earlier games in the season where he might have struggled. Even the great pitchers have bad games where they get knocked around, and you can’t predict when those clunkers will happen. Which is why it’s more important to look at the mixture of overall quality starts to bad starts when deciding to wager on or against a starter. And there are plenty of quality starts by little known starting pitchers than you might think.

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