Quality starts, as a baseball statistic, is flawed. Most people agree on this, yet most reasonable people also recognize that the reasoning behind it is at least somewhat useful. If a pitcher throws at least six innings while allowing three or fewer earned runs, it is deemed a “quality start.” Doing the bare minimum would result in a 4.50 ERA, which would not be a quality season. But within the context of a single game, the idea of a starter going 6 and giving up 3, with the way modern bullpens are constructed, reasonably gives way to the idea that the starting pitcher at least gave his team a chance to win.
In 2014, the Twins received just 66 such starts out of 162. It’s another way of saying their starting pitching was awful, since that quality start number ranked 29th of 30 MLB teams, but it is still useful. As a percentage, that works out to 40.7 percent of starts were quality for the Twins last year — two of every five, a handy number since there are five pitchers in a rotation. A full 22 teams had at least 81 quality starts — half their games or more.
So far this year, the Twins have received exactly three quality starts: one very good one from Tommy Milone, one pretty good one from Kyle Gibson last night and one of the 6/3 minimums from Phil Hughes. That’s 3 of 8, or 37.5 percent — an exceedingly small sample size, but the best explanation for why this team is 2-6. The Twins’ only wins came in the starts by Milone and Gibson, proving once again that baseball becomes so much easier with good starting pitching.
Last year’s Twins, plagued by bad pitching for most of the year, were also plagued by inconsistency — the inability to string together even a handful of decent starts to get on any kind of sustained roll. Gibson — one of many noted RandBall lookalikes — was a chief culprit in that; he had a 1.42 ERA in his 13 wins and an 11.04 ERA in his 12 losses, an astounding split. This year, of course, he was bombed in his first outing and solid last night.
Long story short: last night was a good sign — a good start. But nobody can be excited about pitching (or Gibson) until we see a lot more of it.
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