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Pitching by the Numbers: Quality is Job 1

Just because a dozen guys sat in a bar 30 years ago and came up with a game doesn't mean we should be stuck with their rules forever. The No. 1 fantasy baseball category that has to go is pitching wins.

Consider this tale of two Indians pitchers – Josh Tomlin(notes) and Justin Masterson(notes). I hear the traditionalists carping right now, "Wins are projectable; you just need to assess overall team strength." But looking at run support leaders and trailers, Tomlin gets the seventh best run support per start (6.49 runs) while Masterson gets the fourth worst (2.73). Tomlin has a 3.86 ERA but has nine wins. Masterson's superior 2.98 ERA has netted him just five. They pitch for the same team. That has zero to do with player picking and everything to do with luck.

The better stat – one that was harder to track back in the days of the New York City's La Rotisserie Française – is quality starts. It's not perfect, but let's not let that be the enemy of the good. It's superior to wins – more fair because it's a pitcher- and not team-reliant stat. And we're in the business of projecting pitchers, ultimately. The multitude of variables associated with the entire team on the day he pitches are largely, if not entirely, random.

Let's illustrate further the unfairness of the win category by looking the top 10 and bottom 10 pitchers in run support per start:

Top 10:

Name Team IP ER ERA RS RSA Wins
CC Sabathia(notes) NYY 129.2 44 3.05 108 7.5 11
Jon Lester(notes) Bos 110.1 42 3.43 90 7.34 10
Mike Leake(notes) Cin 83.1 36 3.89 66 7.13 7
Jake Arrieta(notes) Bal 88 44 4.5 68 6.95 9
Max Scherzer(notes) Det 102.2 51 4.47 77 6.75 9
Yovani Gallardo(notes) Mil 103.1 45 3.92 76 6.62 9
Josh Tomlin Cle 102.2 44 3.86 74 6.49 9
Derek Holland(notes) Tex 100 52 4.68 72 6.48 6
Jaime Garcia(notes) StL 105.1 39 3.33 70 5.98 7
Jason Marquis(notes) Was 99.1 40 3.63 66 5.98 7

Bottom 10:

Name Team IP ER ERA RS RSA Wins
Dustin Moseley(notes) SD 89 30 3.03 23 2.33 2
Doug Fister(notes) Sea 110.2 39 3.19 29 2.37 3
Dan Haren(notes) LAA 116.2 37 2.85 35 2.7 8
Justin Masterson Cle 105.2 35 2.98 32 2.73 5
Madison Bumgarner(notes) SF 91.1 39 3.84 29 2.86 4
Jordan Zimmermann(notes) Was 102.2 30 2.63 33 2.89 5
Derek Lowe(notes) Atl 101.2 47 4.16 33 2.92 4
James Shields(notes) TB 128.2 35 2.45 42 2.94 8
Brett Anderson(notes) Oak 83.1 37 4 28 3.02 3
Mike Pelfrey(notes) NYM 100.2 55 4.92 34 3.04 4

The guys with the most run support have allowed more runs (3.53 ERA) than the guys with the least (3.36), yet have won (through Thursday) an average of 8.4 games to 4.6 for the run support trailers. Four wins have won/lost many a fantasy leagues. If you are unlucky enough to have Zimmermann versus Marquis, you're down about four wins right there considering that Zimmermann likely would have nine victories with Marquis's support versus the five he has with his own. Again, they're both Nationals, so don't tell me that Zimmermann's owners should have known.

Now let's look at quality start leaders (top 25):

Name Team QS
Justin Verlander(notes) Det 17
Jered Weaver(notes) LAA 15
Roy Halladay(notes) Phi 14
Cole Hamels(notes) Phi 14
Dan Haren LAA 14
James Shields TB 14
Matt Cain(notes) SF 13
Daniel Hudson(notes) Ari 13
Cliff Lee(notes) Phi 13
Ricky Romero(notes) Tor 13
Jordan Zimmermann Was 13
Felix Hernandez(notes) Sea 12
Jair Jurrjens(notes) Atl 12
Clayton Kershaw(notes) LAD 12
Jon Lester Bos 12
Justin Masterson Cle 12
Michael Pineda(notes) Sea 12
Tim Stauffer(notes) SD 12
Josh Tomlin Cle 12
Jake Arrieta Bal 11
Josh Beckett(notes) Bos 11
Mark Buehrle(notes) CWS 11
Madison Bumgarner SF 11
Trevor Cahill(notes) Oak 11
Jhoulys Chacin(notes) Col 11

Maybe it's shocking to have a guy like Verlander with 17 in the category that once was wins. But it's all relative. Teams tend to score pretty close to 4.5 runs per game on average, so pitching at that rate tends to be good enough to win. Ideally, I'd make it three runs or less in seven innings instead of six, but the capabilities of your scoring systems may vary. But again, just plain Jane quality starts is better if we live in a world where fairer equals better.

Think about it – no more sweating out the bullpen. No more crying about the injustice of a lack of run support. No complaining when your leaguemate's pitcher gets a win despite giving up six runs. No more Yankees premiums or Mariners discounts.

What are we waiting for?

Michael Salfino writes and edits the SNYWhyGuys blog that projects player and team performance for New Yorkers. He's also a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal.

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