Garland. Image: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Quality April

Sure statistics don’t tell the whole truth, but numbers never lie. Right?

There are traditionally two schools of thought among baseball fans. First is the intangible, unpredictable, and clutch classic baseball fans. This thinking says that if a player hits .300 I want him in my lineup and if he steals 50 bases I want him to run. On the other hand, there are those like Bill James who say that’s not always the case. James is the creator of Sabermetrics and basically responsible for the success of Moneyball, both the movie and the theories behind it.

If that same .300 hitter strikes out 150 times a year he takes away from opportunities to advance runners or get on base himself. Keep this in mind, there are seven different ways to get on base. Only one of those is a hit. Then consider that speed demon on the base paths. A team only gets 27 outs; do you really want Dexter Fowler trying to steal his 50th base of the season in September when both Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are due up to bat? I didn’t think so.

So let’s find the natural balance between Bill James (now employed in the Red Sox front office) and “The Scout” Albert Brooks. I am not enough of a math wiz to worry about statistics like Win Shares or Similarity Scores. But I am a big enough baseball fan to concern myself with statistics like OPS, WHIP, and the Colorado Rockies stat of the month: Quality Starts (QS).

Quality starts are simple enough to calculate: did the pitcher complete six innings and give up three runs or less? Sure it’s real simple and has some holes that can de-legitimize the stat. Example: if a pitcher gave up 8 unearned runs and made it out of the sixth inning that outing meets the criteria. Or a more historical example: in 1974 Gaylord Perry pitched 15 innings and gave up four runs; that technically was not a quality start.

We are talking Rockies baseball, after all, and that is whole different animal. Last season Jeff Francis led the team in innings pitched with 113. Put in perspective, there were 126 pitchers that threw more innings than every Rockies starter. Even former Rockie Ubaldo Jimenez, with his 9-17 record, threw 176 innings. To put it simply, last year the Rockies bullpen was busier than a one-eyed cat looking at two rat holes.

In the month of April the Rockies were 16-11 and leave the month in a very surprising first place. It’s for one reason: quality starts. The April total for quality starts by the Rockies staff was fourteen. While that doesn’t correlate directly to victories, the facts are the simple sixteen wins, and once again fourteen quality starts. Those are some pretty similar numbers.

As a staff the percentage of starts that qualify as quality starts sits at 52%. Not only was that last year’s league average, but it is higher than the 17% QS rate of last year’s Rockies staff. This year’s staff is already more than half way to last year’s total of quality starts. This year the staff averages 5.4 innings per start, while last year’s averaged a horrible 4.7. The average innings per start in the majors this year is 5.8.

These numbers are by no means exceptional in the grand scheme of baseball. No all-stars, no Cy Young winners, and no national headlines, but it spells success for Colorado. The Rockies have always had offense, even with the humidor. This season the Rockies have scored the second most runs in the majors. You can count on those numbers yearly; playing at Coors Field probably doesn’t hurt that trend.

Why am I even bouncing around the prospect of a just average pitching staff? The proof is in the pudding. In 2007, the year of the only Rockies World Weries appearance, the team had a quality start percentage of 48%, while the league average was 47%. In the same year Rockies starters pitched an average of 5.8 innings per start; the league average was 5.7 innings per start.

With the Major League debut of the highly anticipated Nolan Arenado (3 hits and 3 runs in as many games), I am not at all worried about the offense (at least as long as health does not become more of an issue than it is now). Let’s focus on the much improved pitching staff that, thanks to quality starts, has given the team a consistent chance to win ball games.

Tags: Colorado Rockies

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