A "quality start" for a pitcher in baseball is defined as giving up no more than three runs in six or more innings of work. For frames of reference, a starter needs to complete at least five full innings (a majority out of nine) to be eligible for a win, and three runs in six innings would be a 4.50 ERA. So how did this definition come about?

I've worked with a sliding scale, where a "quality start equivalent" (QSE) which would require at least five innings of work, and the number of innings minus the number of runs cannot be less than three. That is to say, five innings and two runs would qualify, as would seven innings and four runs. Has anyone in the sport used, or proposed, a similar "equivalent?" (On this scale, the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have "only 16 quality starts in 26 games, would have 20 QSE's. Other teams would benefit from this adjustment, of course but not to the same degree.)

Another thing that puzzles me is that a quality start is "retracted" if a starter goes six innings with no more than three runs, then pitches the seventh (and possibly an eighth) and gives up a fourth run. The way I look at it is that the pitcher earned a quality start for "three in six," then functioned as a "middle reliever," for the seventh inning. Put another way, the pitcher gave his manager the option of using only one inning of "middle" relief, even though the manager didn't use this option. Or don't the scorers see it that way?

  • Even though a player may ear a quality start, it is such an outdated stat. Very few if any baseball people will consider a pitcher's quality starts for some of the reasons you mentioned. 4 runs through a 9 inning complete game is a better ERA than 3 through 6 innings but not a "quality start". There are much more important and telling sabermetrics that front offices use to evaluate a pitchers performance. Also its not retracted because the start wasn't complete.
    – diggers3
    May 6, 2015 at 18:17
  • @digger3: It seems unfair that six innings three runs is a quality start, and eight innings four runs isn't. But the answer is more telling: if the "unwritten" rule is that most quality starts feature fewer than three runs, then four runs in eight isn't so great.
    – Tom Au
    May 7, 2015 at 15:18
  • That stat in the answer is a great stat. But like I said the whole quality start thing is outdated anyway.
    – diggers3
    May 7, 2015 at 20:32

1 Answer 1


In baseball, a quality start is a statistic for a starting pitcher defined as a game in which the pitcher completes at least six innings and permits no more than three earned runs.

The quality start was developed by sportswriter John Lowe in 1985 while writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer.[1] ESPN.com terms a loss suffered by a pitcher in a quality start as a tough loss and a win earned by a pitcher in a non-quality start a cheap win.[2]

Nolan Ryan has used the term "High Quality Start" for games where the pitcher goes seven innings or more and allows three earned runs or less.

Basically, as this quote states, the quality start statistic was brought about to point out when a pitcher might have lost, but still pitched a quality game, in which he could have, or even should have won.

The Quality Start states that it is completed when a pitcher pitches "AT LEAST" 6 innings, while giving up no more than 3 runs. So the reason it is retracted if he pitches a 7th or 8th inning and gives up a 4th run is because the rule does not simply state if he pitches 6 innings and gives up no more than 3 runs in those 6 innings, he gets a quality start, anything after that is gravy. It simply states that to qualify for a quality start, you must pitch at least 6 innings, meaning you still can't give up a 4th run after the 6 innings have been completed. [3]

An early criticism of the statistic, made by Moss Klein, writing in The Sporting News, is that a pitcher could conceivably meet the minimum requirements for a quality start and record a 4.50 ERA, seen as undesirable at the time. Bill James addressed this in his 1987 Baseball Abstract, saying the hypothetical example (a pitcher going exactly 6 innings and allowing exactly 3 runs) was extremely rare amongst starts recorded as quality starts, and that he doubted any pitchers had an ERA over 3.20 in their quality starts. This was later confirmed through computer analysis of all quality starts recorded from 1984 to 1991, which found that the average ERA in quality starts during that time period was 1.91.

Quality Start

  • My understanding was that at its "outer limit" (only six innings and a 4.50 ERA), a quality start gave a team a 50-50 chance of victory against a "random" opponent. Anything better, of course, would make the team a favorite.
    – Tom Au
    May 8, 2015 at 14:01

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