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Quality Starts

   by Bryan Leonard - 07/19/2006

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 there 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 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, Fenway, Skydome, Philadelphia, 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.

Boston starter Josh Beckett had an unusual start to his American League career this season. He had three great starts against Texas, Toronto and Seattle, then had consecutive horrible starts against Toronto and Cleveland (both on the road). He settled down for several more strong starts before getting hammered in consecutive starts at Toronto and New York (6 innings, 17 hits, 14 earned runs). Of course, Beckett is a name pitcher and it’s smarter from a betting perspective to look for quality starts by lesser known guys.

Last year LA starter Jeff Weaver was like that, with two starts where he gave up 16 runs in 7 total innings, sandwiched around 4 quality starts. In 2005 David Wells of Boston was like that to an extent, too. Arizona and Chicago pitcher Javier Vazquez has been like that the past two seasons, several very good starts sprinkled in with some real stinkers.

I’m more interested in the more recent starts where a guy is throwing lights out like Vazquez was, as opposed to the first two clunkers, 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. And there are plenty of quality starts by little known starting pitchers than you might think.

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