Measuring how quality starts equate to wins in Fantasy Baseball

New York Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom’s quality stars have not led to many wins. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Recently a reader asked me to focus on quality starts. But that’s a format that a low percentage of leagues play. What interests me is the extent to which the proxy for the win (the quality start) actually results in a win.

Meaning, when a pitcher throws at least six innings and gives up three earned runs or less, how often does that result in the win, on average? And then how are individuals faring this year? The question is whether deficiencies in converting them to wins or excesses above the MLB average are predictable based on the caliber of the pitcher’s team. Or does the quality start make the pitchers team good for at least that day?

I looked at the pitchers who had at least seven quality starts. This list includes 63 pitchers with 376 total quality starts. The most is 15 (Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber are the league-leaders through Sunday). 

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In 55% of these quality starts, the pitcher won the game. The average ERA in quality start is 1.90. The average Ks are 6.6. So we knock the quality start because we think about the maximums but the averages actually are fairly defined as quality. It’s not a bunch of 4.50-ERA games. These averages are a very strong argument for players who want their leagues to eliminate wins in favor of quality starts. 

Let’s look at the leaders in conversion rate: Marco Gonzalez is 7-for-7 and J.A. Happ, Jon Lester and Mike Leake all have converted 85.7% of their seven quality starts each. Charlie Morton is 9 for 11 (81.8%. Sean Newcomb is 80% (8 of 10). The others over 75% are Sean Manaea (77.8% of nine) and Luis Severino and Aaron Nola (9 of 12, 75%). The Cubs and Astros are predictably good. The Mariners and Braves are surprisingly good. The Blue Jays and A’s are about average. 

Morton, Severino, Nola, Happ and Lester are all at least tied for fourth in wins. Newcomb is one behind. Manaea and Gonzalez are two behind, with neither pitcher winning a non-quality start. 

Yes, it’s fair to say to get pitchers on good teams because that’s clearly a big factor in success in converting QS to wins. But the trouble of course is knowing before the season which teams are going to be good. I liked Newcomb as much as anyone in March, but not because I thought he was going to get a lot of wins on the Braves. (And man, three of those five bold predictions are looking pretty bad; but maybe 40% of bold predictions is what we should expect if they truly are bold. I was boldly wrong!)

One of the oddest things about this data pull is that James Shields, with a 4.59 ERA, has nine quality starts. That’s just one less than Jose Berrios. Shields has won just one of these games, however. 

Mets pitchers are the poster boys for pitchers to avoid (or pitchers where you need your league to substitute QS for wins). Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard have won two of seven quality starts each. That is a nice number for Wheeler. Jacob deGrom has won 4 of 12. The won-loss record of their pitchers in these 26 quality starts is 7-6. Non-Mets are 306-93 in quality starts.

Were the Mets predictably bad? The over/under on them was 81 wins, which would not warrant avoiding their pitchers. Of course, you could have thought that total was absurd and bet the under, figuratively in this case by just avoiding Mets pitchers. And if you had that kind of foresight, kudos.

Other pitchers with 25% or less of wins in quality starts are Jose Urena (14.3%), Jason Hammel (14.3%), Michael Fulmer (14.3%), Reynaldo Lopez (20%), Kyle Gibson (22.2%) and Kevin Gausman (25%). None pitch on winning teams. And other than the Twins, all were predictably bad. This inability to have quality outings converted into wins is the reason why we should really downgrade pitchers on teams we expect to struggle. 

Are there any pitchers on good teams who are just randomly doing poorly in QS win rate? Tanner Roark has just three wins in 10 quality starts. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers are below average in 9 and 11 quality starts, respectively, even pitching for the mighty Astros.

At the other end of the spectrum, Blake Snell is 8-for-11 in winning them despite toiling in Tampa. This makes zero sense and you’d really have to fade Snell’s ability to win games going forward, though of course that total of quality starts is very impressive.

Let’s make some recommendations. One pitcher keeps popping up of late in different metrics. Clayton Richard has 10 quality starts, most since May, and has a 0.93 WHIP in them. Yes, his Ks are merely tolerable, but he should be way more than just 33% owned. 

Similarly, Lopez (22% owned) and Kyle Freeland (44% owned) also have 10 quality starts each. Both deserve a long look if on the waiver wire in mixed leagues. I would priortize them for expected wins and expected ERA and WHIP this way: Richard, Freeland, Lopez. Freeland’s full-season stats are very solid adjusting for the park but his ERA is actually better in Colorado (2.95) than on the road (3.95). So if you think the sinker-baller can survive Coors, bump him ahead of Richard.

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