How do quality starts change pitcher value?
A few weeks ago I joined a twenty-team auction dynasty league. The settings for this league were a bit different than any other league I had been in, even beyond the dollar value attached to each player. This league uses quality starts instead of wins, and on-base percentage and slugging percentage instead of batting average. Even though I have until the offseason to develop a valuation system, I was immediately curious of the effect that replacing wins with quality starts would have on player value. I previously had resisted proposals to convert my long-time dynasty league into using quality starts rather than wins .Although I recognize that wins are an imperfect statistic and very team dependent, I felt no more positively about quality starts. You can make the case that a pitcher deserves better than nothing for a 1-0 loss. However, I would argue that it’s no different than a hitter who hits 4 doubles without a home run. Sure, the rarest statistic isn’t obtained but all the smaller pieces, the strikeouts, lack of base runners, lack of runs, all go into the end result. I would counter with the opinion that a pitcher who allows three earned runs in six innings is not any better than a pitcher who allows four earned runs in nine innings. In fact, I’d say he was markedly less valuable.
Either way, here are the results of my study. For this edition, I focused solely on quality starts and wins with all statistics from the 2015 season.
Below is a list of all players whose rank improved by 20 or more spots due to the change from wins to quality starts.
There are a few types of players on this list. First there are the flukes, like Iglesias, Wainwright, and Severino, who didn’t pitch enough for their stats to even out. Then there’s the expected group. The good pitchers who don’t get as many wins as you’d expect due to offensive support or whatever reason. These include pitchers such as Jose Quintana, Ian Kennedy, Shelby Miller, Julio Teheran, and many others. The surprise group is comprised of relievers who simply had almost zero wins. It seemed like an error at first, but simply their one to two wins were actually statistically worse than their zero quality starts. If wins for starting pitchers are considered fickle, I can only imagine the word used to describe relief pitcher wins. This group can be ignored going forward.
Listed below are the pitchers whose rank dropped by 20 or more.
Instinctively, I had expected to see a list of closers, instead, it’s a mix-match of generally undesirable starters and relievers. This should just serve as a reminded that quality matters more than quantity without wins as a category. Even more than it already did.
Below is a list of the top-30 pitchers under a standard scoring system.
This is perhaps the most insightful graphic as the only real changes in value come in the form of decreases to a few top closers. The starting pitchers are generally valued the same, with the exception of Corey Kluber, who was infamously unlucky last year. Surprisingly, the poster child for bad luck, Felix Hernandez, was exceptionally lucky and experienced a decrease of 18 slots when quality starts were accounted for. (He was off the chart).
Next, I wanted to look at closers specifically.
I was surprised to see that there was only a slight decrease in value to closers, with just a few exceptions. Closers are generally afforded so few opportunities for wins that it just doesn’t matter. There one to two wins are canceled out by the shift in what is zero value for quality starts leaving them exactly where they left off.
That leaves only one other role to absorb value loss – middle relief.
Unsurprisingly, middle relievers who rack up the wins lost a ton of value. Thus, unless your league uses holds as a category, the old LIMA strategy is a very poor one. For those who don’t recall the early part of this century, the LIMA strategy described the practice of drafting or acquiring dominant non-closers and riding them to ratio wins. Without their ability to get wins they lose a ton of value.
In closing, I find that there isn’t a huge difference in valuing players in quality starts leagues. If there is a dominant pitcher on a poor team then he’s obviously a candidate to improve over rankings that are based on wins, but you already knew that. I also found that the value of most good closers remain approximately the same. Perhaps you adjust your draft plans to take them a round or two later than you would have. Just don’t value the dominant setup men like Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, Carson Smith, and Wil Smith from 2015.