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What is a Quality Start in Baseball? (Pitcher Stat)

quality start baseball

There are many ways to measure the effectiveness of a starting pitcher in baseball.

Whenever you’re watching an MLB game on TV, you’re presented with a list of stats tied to the pitcher in question. 

We’re talking about their win-loss record, ERA, innings played, total strikeouts, walks (BB) and so on.

The most casual fan will focus on the win-loss record as only the best pitchers win more games than they lose.

But there’s a little-known pitcher stat that relates to their ERA and innings played.

You can find it on the official MLB stats page for pitchers, which is called Quality Starts. It is the column labeled “QS”.

That said, let’s answer the question you came here for…

What is a Quality Start in Baseball?

A quality start is a term used in baseball to measure the effectiveness of a starting pitcher. To record a quality start, pitchers must complete at least six innings and allow no more than three earned runs. It’s another way to measure the performance of starters beyond just their win-loss record or ERA.

If you were to insert the numbers for a worst-case scenario, the pitcher’s ERA would be no more than a 4.50. 

For those that don’t know, ERA is short for Earned Run Average. It’s a measure of runs allowed by the pitcher over 9 innings of play. 

So, if the starter allowed 3 runs in six full innings of play, their ERA would amount to a 4.50 ERA.

Anything below this value is a key element to establish a quality start.

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What is the significance of a Quality Start in Baseball?

The term “quality start” was first coined by sportswriter John Lowe of the Philadelphia Inquirer, back in 1985.

It was a way to determine if the pitcher was performing well on the mound.

If pitchers were to have a quality start, but lose the game, he would refer to their efforts as “tough losses”.

Meanwhile, should they have a non-quality starts but earn the victory, Lowe deemed them as “cheap wins”.

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The significance of a quality start lies in its ability to serve as a measure of a starting pitcher's effectiveness. 

A quality start allows for their team to remain competitive throughout the game.

Furthermore, it can be used as a measure of a pitcher’s consistency. 

Meaning that if they can pitch several “quality starts” during the year, especially on a continuous basis, they become reliable to the team.

These quality starts will reduce the pressure on the bullpen and give their team the chance to win games regularly.

And management can use these quality starts as a measure to evaluate their pitcher’s performance and as a benchmark to compare pitchers to one another.

How often do starting pitchers achieve a Quality Start?

There were 219 starting pitchers who recorded at least one or more quality starts during the 2022 MLB season. 

The total count of quality starts was 1,776 out of a possible 2,430 games throughout the year.

Given that there’s a starting pitcher on each team for every game, you can double the figure for the number of games played (2x 2,430 = 4,860).

As a result, the frequency of games in which the average starting pitcher achieves a quality start is 36.5%.

The top starting pitcher for 2022 was Framber Valdez of the Houston Astros with 26 quality starts. He also had an impressive record of 17-6. 

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But it also shows that not all the quality starts converted into a win for him. 

It’s possible he was relieved while the game was tied, or his team was trailing in score. 

The other possibility is that he suffered a tough loss as his teammates could not capitalize on the scoreboard during his stellar performance.

Most Quality Starts in MLB History

As you can imagine, the starters with the most quality starts are some of the most popular pitchers of all-time.

The logic is quite simple.

As a pitcher, the more you can keep your opponents at bay on the scoresheet, the better your chance at victory. 

While not all quality starts guarantee a team win, limiting your opponents to three runs or less on your watch will pay dividends over the long run.

That said, let’s take a look at list and their quality start count:

MLB Record for Most Quality Starts

Pitcher NameQuality Starts
1Greg Maddux480
2Roger Clemens465
3Tom Glassine436
4Randy Johnson403
5Nolan Ryan389
6Frank Tanana363
7Jamie Moyer341
8Mike Mussina330
9Bert Blyleven329
10 (Tied)Dennis Martinez
Justin Verlander

Final Thoughts

When you compare baseball to other sports, the starting pitcher reminds me of an NFL quarterback or NHL goaltender.

They are the focal point of the team, they all face high-pressure situations, and they usually play the majority, if not, the whole game. 

If you want to take it one step further, the pitcher and goaltender are on the frontline of defense.

All these positions have their own version of a quality start.

The NFL uses a quarterback’s passer rating throughout the game, while the NHL analyzes the goalie’s save percentage and goals against average. 

So, even though the team can bail out these role players, their performances still remain under a microscope.

Team management will pay close attention to their quality starts and determine if they should continue backstopping the team. 

This is especially true for pitchers who hope to remain in the starting rotation during the season.