In a previous piece in the Draft Guide, I broke down earned run average (ERA) and WHIP, but this week, it’s time to talk wins and quality starts. Many fantasy leagues began by using the win stat and while some won’t necessarily have a problem with it, there are other leagues that have adopted quality starts into their league’s scoring system. Both statistics have their place in the fantasy game, including some of the biggest expert leagues in the business. However, these two categories aren’t flawless and as a sole metric, they are not indicative of the type of performer that pitcher was in that particular year.

A pitcher can win 16 games, so be it, but if he does it by means of a 4.74 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, we can all agree that he was incredibly lucky and likely rode a hot offense to a high win total. Sure, an outlier could exist, like Rick Porcello in 2016 when he had a career year, but even these players regress to their mean and are marginal at best the following season.

On the other hand, we have quality starts, which the best pitchers in the game rack up with a relative ease. However, one could argue that a quality start was created as another metric to showcase a pitcher’s effectiveness, especially one on a crappy team where wins were hard to come by. However, this metric has some significant flaws and us fantasy owners can get screwed by the quotas needed to achieve a “quality” start.

Rather than burying the lead any farther, both of these fantasy statistical categories have some flaws in the fantasy game and can alter matchups, both on the weekly and seasonal level. While we will focus more on the seasonal game here, it does impact the daily game as well.

Wins are Incredibly Fickle

Aside from some of the bigger names in the game, on a year-to-year basis, wins fluctuate because there are a multitude of factors that affect the pitcher getting the win or not. Injury aside, guys like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Corey Kluber are going to contend for the league lead in wins. However, each year, there are a handful of guys who come out of nowhere, sometimes with great performances and sometimes with great luck, that rack up a rather high number of wins.

Here are some tidbits you may not believe, but trust me, they are factual.

Jason Vargas won as many games as Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Clayton Kershaw in 2017.

Patrick Corbin and Jose Urena won as many games as Luis Severino and Jake Arrieta in 2017.

In 2017, Martin Perez won 13 games, despite having an ERA that was nearly 5.00.

In 2014, Jered Weaver won 18 games, while Wily Peralta and Wei-Yin Chen won 17 and 16 respectively. Since those years, Weaver, Peralta and Chen have recorded just 19, 17 and 17 wins respectively.

In 2015, Colby Lewis won 17 games and Rubby de la Rosa won 14. Since that season, the two have combined for 10 wins.

In 2016, Rick Porcello won 22 games, Chris Tillman won 16 and Dan Straily won 14. The following year, Porcello’s win total cut in half, while his ERA jumped one-and-a-half points, Tillman won just one game and Straily dropped to 10 wins.

Aside from some of the better pitchers in the league, predicting a pitcher’s win total is a game many don’t want to be involved in. You might be able to ball park a player’s likely win total, but not many were predicting some of the breakouts in recent years, namely guys like Lewis, Chen and de la Rosa.

In fact, earning a win has little to do with the pitcher at all. Let’s take a look at the criteria that gets a starting pitcher the beloved win.

A starting pitcher must pitch at least five innings to be in line for the win. That is solely on the pitcher, because if they don’t last the five innings, they are ineligible for the win. Now, they don’t have to pitch particularly well, just complete five innings on the bump.

They also need to exit the game with a lead, and the team cannot lose the lead the rest of the way because then the starter is no longer the pitcher of the record. Scoring the runs to ensure the team is in the lead is far from the hands of the starter, because typically, pitchers aren’t providing the run support on a regular basis.

If the starting pitcher cannot finish the game, it is up to the bullpen to preserve the lead, as well as the offense to maintain a lead, should the game get close. Well, the pitcher has no control over that. He may stick around in the dugout and root the rest of his guys on, but come on, cheerleading from the top step of the dugout isn’t going to change whether the opposition smacks one 11 rows deep in the left-field grandstands.

With a starting pitcher, once the pitcher leaves the game, he has little to no control over earning this win statistic we crave in fantasy. So, this statistic that we all play for really has very little to do with our pitcher? Aside from meeting the inning criterion, it’s practically out of a pitcher’s hands whether or not he is in line for the win. Clayton Kershaw can throw one-hit ball for eight innings and get the loss, while Danny Salazar can allow eight earned runs in 5.1 innings of work and get the win behind multi-homer games from Francisco Lindor and Yonder Alonso. Isn’t exactly fair, huh? In this regard, perhaps the quality start would be better, but even that is flawed. Don’t worry, we’ll get there.

For relievers, particularly long relievers and set-up men, “cheap” wins can be even cheaper. Depending on the game’s outlook, a pitcher could come in, face one batter in a tie game, get him to groundout on one pitch, watch his team score in the next half inning, and boom, he’s in line for the win. The win statistic is even crazier for relievers, because they just need to be the last pitcher on the mound before their team takes the lead. This is why drafting set-up men and other high-leverage, multi-inning relievers is key, because not only can they improve your ratios, but they can pick up these cheap wins that we have come to love, unless you’re playing someone who gets a few of these on you in a given week.

And then we have the closers. Oh boy, the closers. These bundles of joy are good for saves and increasing ratios, which certainly has its place in fantasy baseball. However, a closer can blow a save, yet still get a win! Hell, if your closer does blow a save, hope and pray that the offense bails him out and gets him a win, that way, you still receive some sort of value from that particular outing.

Wins in a current year are fickle, but over an extended period of time, the better pitchers separate themselves from the rest of the pack. However, in fantasy, we are only concerned with this single season. Sure, dynasty formats are a tad different, but as for accruing fantasy stats, next year doesn’t matter this year, and neither does the year before.

You might be the commissioner of your league or at the very least, you know the commissioner of your league, and before this season starts, do away with wins. It’s not indicative of a pitcher’s performance on the mound. At least for a quality start, you need to be somewhat effective and not get knocked around, but for a win, you just need to last five innings and ride the coattails of a good offense and a reliable bullpen once every four, five or six days.

“Quality” Starts

To begin, if you have to choose between quality starts and wins, quality starts would be the preferred counting statistic to use in your leagues. Yes, the pitcher’s defense is involved, but the offense has no bearing on whether or not a starter garners a quality start. This statistic is much more reliant on the pitcher, whereas one could argue that the pitcher isn’t in the driver’s seat for wins.

To earn a quality start, a pitcher must complete at least six innings and allow less than three earned runs. The key there is earned, because a pitcher can allow six runs during his time on the bump, but as long as the total of earned runs is three or less, he gets the quality start. At face value, this metric is a good indicator of a pitcher’s performance on a given night. We can all agree that six innings with three earned runs is a fine start, and is quality, to say the least.

Pitchers on bad teams can benefit from this and it certainly helps even out the playing field between the marginal pitchers on good teams that rack up cheap wins from a good offense. However, for the sake of your fantasy team and mood over the next six or so months, please don’t make decisions solely off the number of quality starts a pitcher recorded in 2017.

Jeff Samardzija had the same number of quality starts as Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg.

Andrew Cashner had more quality starts than Aaron Nola, Masahiro Tanaka, Robbie Ray and Dallas Keuchel.

Jason Vargas and Zach Davies had more wins than quality starts in 2017. Good run support and some luck surely helped there.

While quality starts is better to use in your fantasy leagues than wins, it’s certainly far from flawed.

Pitchers that go deep into games are affected by these stringent quality start boundaries. Luke Weaver can fire seven shutout innings, but a grand slam in the top of the 8th inning takes away his quality start. In his next start, Weaver could allow four home runs to open up the game, before retiring the next 27 batters. However, it’s not a quality start. I guarantee most managers would be fine with their starter going the distance and allowing four earned runs. Sure, it’s not a quality start, but it’s only one earned run more, so that makes it not quality?

With this logic in mind, consider the following.







Pitcher A






Pitcher B






In the above example, Pitcher A would receive a quality start, where Pitcher B would not. Pitcher A’s K/9 would be better than his counterpart, but Pitcher B has a better BB/9. However, Pitcher B sacrificed the quality start by allowing that fourth earned run, but he did manage to get five more outs, shortening the bridge to the closer. Does that really make it non-quality? Seems flawed.

Both pitchers could have had an identical stat line after six innings, but Pitcher B needed 26 less pitches to do it, so the skipper sent him out for another inning of work. Yes, he served up a meaty fastball that traveled into McCovey Cove, but what is the guy supposed to do?

“Sorry, Coach, gotta preserve that quality start. Don’t want to put it in jeopardy by going deeper into the game.”

Yeah right. Good luck finding a player that will say that. The deeper into the game the pitcher goes, the risk continues to lose that quality start. With quality starts as a scoring statistic in your league, you may find yourself rooting for Taijuan Walker or Jameson Taillon to be pulled after six innings, rather than going out there for the seventh.

Furthermore, calculating a pitcher’s earned run average shows another flaw with the metric.







The rules of the quality start show us that the ERA for the basic constraints of a quality start is 4.50. However, take a look at the following performances below, all of which are not a quality start, because they don’t satisfy the criteria of the quality start.
















Interesting. Despite not being quality starts, each of the four outcomes in the table above have an ERA that is equal to, or lower than the ERA of the basic quality start. Interesting. Intriguing. Confusing. Sure, the pitcher would have allowed one more earned run, but notching those extra three to six outs is incredibly important to a team, especially if the bullpen was taxed the game prior. I’m sure a manager would deem that as quality, at the very least.

The quality start statistic isn’t completely in the pitcher’s hands either, as the defense needs to play well behind them, but compared to the win statistic, it’s much better to use in fantasy formats. Unlike wins, this takes out the offensive component, as well as the bullpen for the most part. The bullpen could matter in certain circumstances, including if a pitcher is removed with runners on base after the sixth inning as an example.

However, the deeper a pitcher goes into the game, they continue to put that quality start at risk. As seen in the table a few paragraphs above, the pitcher could feasibly surpass the criteria needed for a quality start, despite posting a single game earned run average that is below 4.50 mark of the baseline outing (6 innings with 3 earned runs). That doesn’t seem to make much sense.

This metric does have its usefulness in reality, particularly for pitchers on a bad team. From 2013-2015, Chris Archer lost 29 games, despite having an ERA below 3.35 each season. His ERA ballooned to 4.02 in 2016, but he lost 19 games. In a better situation, Archer isn’t losing 19 games.

Looking at a pitcher’s win-loss record is borderline meaningless, because we extract no useful fantasy information from that line. Analyzing quality starts paints a solid picture as to what kind of pitcher he was more often than not, but it’s comparable to a consolation prize, because it’s not exactly sought after.

In conclusion, if your hand is forced to playing with one of these metrics in your fantasy baseball league, quality starts is a better statistical category than wins. A pitcher can absolutely stink it up on the mound, but has a chance of getting a win. A pitcher at least has to be effective on a reasonable level to have a chance to earn the quality start. Again, going deep into the game could affect your pitcher and cause him to lose that quality start, but that will be better than seeing your opponent’s starter allow six earned runs in 5.1 innings of work and get a win, thanks to an explosive offensive performance from his own offense.

No one is winning because wins is a category in your fantasy baseball league. Send it packing like the Marlins did with its best players this offseason. Too soon?