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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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August 28, 2008 9:33 AM

Hernandez brings "quality" to QS

Posted by Geoff Baker

Once again, for anyone who missed it yesterday, here's my Talkin' Baseball segment for this week on the Mitch in the Morning Show on KJR 950 AM.

A regular reader, Pete, emailed me a copy of a Joe Posnanski blog written in yesterday's Kansas City Star and pertaining to the issue of "quality starts". Anyone who hasn't read Kansas City Star columnist Posnanski really should. His columns are award-winning and his blog, like any of the long-worded kind, is truly excellent. If I do say so myself.

Anyhow, the blog gets into the debate about "quality starts" and whether the definition of what can be considered quality in baseball truly has eroded over time as starting pitchers go fewer innings on average. He admits to being surprised at just how few innings the starters in past eras once threw, but then shows in a chart how today's are worse.

At the end, he presents some interesting numbers in the NL Cy Young race that show just how much folks may be getting swayed into Brandon Webb's corner by his win total. And he suggests using variations of the "quality start" to get a better glimpse at how effective pitchers really were. He talks in one case, of granting "wins'' to pitchers who received no-decisions and losses in their quality starts. And then, after showing how they would fare, he comes up with a points system to take a closer look at how they really did. In other words, he injects a "grading system" into quality starts to give points based on actual "quality" within them.

Here's how it works:

Non-quality starts (-1 point): Less than six innings or more than three runs.
Quality starts (1 point): Six or seven innings, three runs.
Quality plus starts (1.5 points): Eight innings, three runs OR Six or seven innings, one or two runs.
Excellent start (2 points): Complete game, three runs or less OR Six plus innings of shutout ball.

So, how would the Mariners fare using such a system? Better yet, how would they fare with the best in the American League?

First, here's what Posnanski came up with in the NL Cy Young race:

Brandon Webb, 25.5 points.
Non-quality starts: 7
Quality starts: 4
Quality-plus starts: 11
Excellent starts: 6

Edinson Volquez: 19 points
Non quality starts: 8
Quality starts: 3
Quality-plus starts: 12
Excellent starts: 3

Tim Lincecum: 26 points
Non quality starts: 6
Quality starts: 5
Quality-plus starts: 10
Excellent starts: 6

Johan Santana: 24.5 points.
Non quality starts: 6
Quality starts: 6
Quality plus starts: 11
Excellent starts: 4

Now, let's take a look at the top five Mariners in terms of "quality starts":

Felix Hernandez: 14 points
Non quality starts: 10
Quality Starts: 3
Quality plus starts: 6
Excellent starts: 6

Jarrod Washburn: 5.5 points
Non quality starts: 12
Quality starts: 4
Quality plus starts: 9
Excellent starts: 0

R.A. Dickey: 3.5 points
Non quality starts: 7
Quality starts: 1
Quality plus starts: 3
Excellent starts: 2

Erik Bedard: 3.0 points
Non quality starts: 8
Quality starts: 1
Quality plus starts: 4
Excellent starts: 2

Carlos Silva: - 0.5 points
Non quality starts: 15
Quality starts: 1
Quality plus starts: 9
Excellent starts: 0

An interesting top-5, with Hernandez ahead of the pack. Washburn is a very distant second, with everyone else behind him.

But what is clear from this chart, as many of you already knew, is that Hernandez is the No. 1 pitcher on this staff. What differentiates him from Washburn would be in the all-out excellent outings he's thrown to go along with his very good outings.

So, we see that Hernandez would actually place well back of all the NL Cy Young race contenders.

How about in the AL?

Let's look at the two competitors in what is expected to be a two-man Cy Young race:

Cliff Lee: 28.5 points
Non quality starts: 6
Quality starts: 1
Quality plus starts: 9
Excellent starts: 10

Roy Halladay: 17.5 points
Non quality starts: 10
Quality starts: 2
Quality plus starts: 9
Excellent starts: 6

In this case, Hernandez isn't too far behind Roy Halladay. What's shocking to me, a big Halladay booster, is the disparity between him and Lee -- who is looking like a runaway finisher. Now, obviously, Halladay is penalized here for the complete games he's thrown in which he's given up more than three runs. Complete games do have their value and the more innings you throw, the more prone you are to allowing runs. There are also other indicators we'll have to consider in a Cy Young race as well and this is just one way of measuring to see how things stack up.

But still, given what I've seen here, I will be rethinking my Cy Young ballot and paying a lot more attention to Lee. He's thrown fewer innings, but the ones he has thrown have obviously been of very high "quality" indeed. No one has come close to the number of "excellent starts" he's thrown. And he's obviously not just a seven-inning guy, as has been the knock against him. I'm impressed by the number of shutout outings he's tossed.

This whole exercise makes you wonder as well, just what Hernandez can do if you put a better defense behind him and offense in front of him.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS (10:05 a.m.): For Ryan in the comments thread, a negative score is actually not all that uncommon:

Miguel Batista: -7.0 points
Non qualtiy starts: 15
Quality starts: 0
Quality plus starts: 4
Excellent starts: 1

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