April 14, 2009 |

I know what you are thinking: the last thing baseball needs is another statistic. It would be like the Yankees adding another free agent. But folks, baseball desperately needs this one to become its bellwether stat. The stat is “quality starts.” Right now it is a loosely held stat referred to more by media types in columns, on talk shows or in blogs. What is a quality start? Here is my stab at what it should be–seven or more innings, four or less runs, less hits than innings pitched, and more strikeouts than walks.

The reason baseball needs this stat is very simple: agents and starting pitchers are stealing money.

Exhibit A: A.J. Burnett of the $16.5 million per year paycheck. What does he do? He goes out and pitches and entire 5 1/3 innings ast Thursday. That was it even after an extended spring training. All he could do was barely make it past the fifth inning?

Exhibit B: Koji Uehara only lasted five innings last Wednesday night.

Exhibit C: Saturday night I was at Camden Yards watching Jeremy Guthrie masterfully put down the vaunted bats of the Rays. In the top of the 7th I saw Matt Albers headed to the mound, despite only 96 pitches from Guthrie.

What in the name of Jim Palmer is going on? All through baseball most pitchers can’t make it through the sixth. By the way in 1975, Palmer had 25 complete games.

After the game as I am making my way home I heard former Oriole Dave Johnson comment on how pitchers use the month of April to build their arm strength. Really? I thought that was what spring training was for. What are they doing in Florida and Arizona then, playing golf and getting a tan?

So that leads to this question: Why can’t players that are better conditioned than those in the past be on the mound deep in the game? Why does it take six weeks of spring training and the first month of the season for them to go eight innings?

The answer is quite simple and pathetic: M-O-N-E- Y. Furthermore, teams treat starting pitchers like babies, and agents and players aren’t arguing one bit. Think about it. In 1975, few teams had off-season programs. Weight training was still taboo, and it was before GNC, Athletes Performance and other advantages that players have today. Yet it was routinely and most certainly expected that starting pitchers went deep into the game.

What’s the problem? The problem is every time a pitcher fails to go seven or more innings, it’s another trip to the bullpen and that wears out a pen, especially when you have a starter the next day who can’t go more than three innings because of bad stuff. Saturday night, the Orioles used three different relievers, and they won the game 6-0.

So how do we stop this foolishness? The easiest way is to incorporate “quality starts” as a statistic. Then base arbitration and Cy Young candidacy on it like you do wins, ERA, and walks and hits per innings.

It could literally change the game. Teams could come north with less pitchers. During the Weaver years, the Orioles routinely came north with nine pitchers, and one year I remember they had only eight to begin the season.

Pitching is currently thin; we all know that. Yet teams are now having to find pitchers anywhere they can just to fill 12 or 13 roster spots. Add this to your thoughts on a 12-man staff–pitchers 6-9 are usually guys who couldn’t make a starting rotation. So, why would you trust them to keep a lead? If you’re the manager, wouldn’t you want one of your best pitchers on the mound? Presumably your starting five are better than your seventh or eighth pitcher, right.