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Baseball Betting: Quality Starts

   by Bryan Leonard - 08/17/2007

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.

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.

This is where you can find excellent wagering value with some bad teams. Scott Kazmir of the last place Devil Rays has made 9 quality starts in his last 10 games. In fact, the team is 5-1 in his last six starts as he allowed 1 run or less in 5 of them! 25-year old teammate James Shields has also had a fine season and has given Tampa Bay 3 straight quality starts, though it may be hard to believe that after he lost 21-4 to the Yankees. That’s why it’s important to break down pitching starts over 3 or 4 games AND examine each game individually. A game like that 21-4 loss to NY (10 runs in 3 innings) would skew the overall stats.

Pitchers in hitter-friendly parks have to be looked at differently, too, such as Philly, Colorado, and Cincinnati. Every Colorado Rockies 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 and Fenway.

Quality starts can also have a domino effect on a staff. There’s no better example than Milwaukee, a team in a free fall because of shoddy pitching.

Right-hander Ben Sheets, who got hurt when his club needed him most, was the only starter regularly pitching into the late innings.

The Brewers were trashed in Colorado, surrendering 36 runs during a three-game sweep by the Rockies. With his team still suffering a hangover from the Sunday debacle against the Phillies (blowing a 5-1 lead in the 9th), Claudio Vargas went out and got hammered for six runs in the first two innings, throwing one pitch after another right down the chute.

The next day, Chris Capuano, winless in his last 14 starts, pitched five shutout innings and never recorded another out in what degenerated into an 11-4 whipping. In the series finale, rookie Yovani Gallardo finally had a bad day, perhaps tipping his pitches while getting crushed for 11 runs in 2 2/3 innings. After ranking among the top three much of the season, the Milwaukee relievers had a 4.11 ERA entering Friday, 10th in the NL. It can be a ripple effect.

I'm more interested in the more recent starts where a guy is throwing lights out like Shields having the one bad game against NY, then coming back strong, because he's given his team far more quality starts than bad ones. 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.

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