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Abandon the Win AND the Quality Start

The Win. One of the cornerstone categories of fantasy baseball since its creation. In recent years, baseball fans and fantasy managers alike have been debating the value of the win and whether or not it's overrated. With this debate, the quality start has become a category that more and more leagues are turning to as a superior alternative. At least six innings pitched while allowing three or fewer earned runs? That surely must be a better representation of a starting pitcher's individual ability. He can still get the quality start even if his teammates can't hit their way out of a paper bag on that day.

So quality starts are better for fantasy than wins, right? That's what leagues should use instead. Not so fast... It's 2021. Time to clean the slate, hit the reset button, and kick both the win and the quality start to the curb.

There has to be a better, less arbitrary way to determine fantasy value in a pitcher. So we're going to look at the cases against using wins and against using quality starts in your fantasy league, and then we're going to look at two alternative ways of setting up your league for 2021. Let's get cracking, starting off with a dive into wins and why they're terrible for fantasy purposes.

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The Case Against Wins

Here's the short answer: pitching wins are just as dependent — if not more so — on the team's offensive performance than on the skills of the pitcher. So why should an individual pitcher on your roster have one of their scoring categories be determined by everyone else who isn't pitching?

Randy Dobnak was tied for seventh in the majors this season with six wins. He also recorded a 4.05 ERA, 1.350 WHIP and 27 strikeouts in 46.2 innings. Brandon Woodruff won only three games for Milwaukee in 2020. He also posted career-bests in ERA (3.05), WHIP (0.991) and was seventh in the National League with 91 strikeouts. Or let's take a look at 2019. Zac Gallen went 3-6 that year, but posted a 2.81 ERA, 1.225 WHIP and had 96 strikeouts in 80 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Rick Porcello was one of only 26 starters in 2019 who had 14 or more wins. He went 14-12 with a 5.52 ERA, 1.394 WHIP and 143 strikeouts in 174.1 innings pitched.

The point is you can have bad pitchers that get a lot of wins and good pitchers that can barely get a handful of wins. The most frustrating thing to do though is look at pitchers that performed well but didn't get the win. In order to get credited with a win, a starter must pitch at least five innings. In 2020, the league average for a team's scoring output was 4.65 runs per game. So in theory, in order to have a good chance at earning a win, a starting pitcher would have to pitch at least five innings and allow four or fewer runs.

Take a look at these pitchers who tossed five or more innings, allowed four or fewer runs, and did NOT earn a win from their performance:

5 "Missed Wins" 6 "Missed Wins" 7 "Missed Wins" 8 "Missed Wins"
Jose Berrios Trevor Bauer Jacob deGrom Kyle Freeland
Carlos Carrasco Aaron Civale Zac Gallen Dinelson Lamet
Luis Castillo Patrick Corbin Lucas Giolito
Kevin Gausman Johnny Cueto German Marquez
J.A. Happ Zack Greinke Zack Wheeler
Lance Lynn Martin Perez Brandon Woodruff
Kenta Maeda Rick Porcello
Brady Singer
Adam Wainwright
Luke Weaver

I'm not saying all of these pitchers are great or should have been rostered in your league. But that's five to eight potential points that each player missed out on in fantasy. And that's especially huge in a shortened fantasy season like 2020. That could be the difference between first place and third place in a rotisserie league, and the difference between a win and a loss in head-to-head play.

With how unpredictable wins can be and how little they can depend on a pitcher's individual performance, it makes no sense anymore to use wins as a scoring category in fantasy. And that's why quality starts started to become a more popular alternative.


The Case Against Quality Starts

The reality is that while the quality start is somewhat of a better measure of a starter than the win, it's still not perfect for fantasy. You can have a guy who is dominating a lineup, getting strikeouts left and right, making batters look silly. But if he gets pulled with two outs in the fifth inning, or he makes it through six but ends the day allowing four earned runs, you're out of luck for that start. He can have a great outing on paper, but because he didn't meet the arbitrary requirements that performance won't be completely reflected in your fantasy scoring. And in fantasy every point matters.

Let's take a look at Zack Wheeler as an example of how the arbitrary requirements of the quality start can have an effect in fantasy. There were 19 starters in 2020 that recorded seven or more quality starts, with Shane Bieber, Yu Darvish and Lance Lynn leading the majors with 10 quality starts each. Wheeler finished with seven quality starts in 11 games started. Here's how he did in those four "non-quality" starts:

  • 7 innings, 4 earned runs
  • 5.2 innings, 3 earned runs
  • 5.2 innings, 1 earned run
  • 5.2 innings, 2 earned runs

Wheeler was three outs and one earned run away from leading the majors with 11 quality starts in 2020. That's four points that owners in quality starts leagues missed out on. Much like with wins, those four points could have made the difference for fantasy managers on a weekly basis or by season's end.

So if it doesn't make sense to penalize a pitcher for how his team performs at the plate, why would it make sense to toss out an otherwise good performance by a starter because he allowed one run too many or was pulled one out short of the mark?


What's the Solution? Innings Pitched vs 4 x 4 Leagues

Alright, hopefully by now you're deciding to give wins and quality starts the heave-ho in your league this year. Now what?

The first option you should consider is replacing them with innings pitched. Never worry again about the team's offense or pitchers throwing X amount of innings while allowing Y amount of runs. Both starters and relievers can contribute to innings pitched, and as with quality starts or wins starters will most likely still be your leading scorers in that category. Good starting pitchers will be more likely to pitch deeper into games, and they will be guaranteed to contribute to your team's scoring every time they step on the mound. No stress, no mess.

Innings pitched also opens up new roster-building strategies for managers. Guys like Johnny Cueto, Patrick Corbin and Andrew Heaney aren't necessarily pitchers you'd be excited to have on a roster normally. In 2020, they combined for eight wins in total, and they each posted an ERA over 4.45 and at least an 8.0 K/9. Like I said, nothing amazing. But those three guys were all top-35 pitchers in innings pitched, combining for a total of 195.2 innings pitched — just slightly more than Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom combined for (193.2 IP).

Now obviously everyone is going to take any one of Kershaw, Scherzer and deGrom over any of Cueto, Corbin and Heaney every day of the week. But having the Cueto-Corbin-Heaney trio in an innings-pitched league in 2020 could have helped a team remain competitive in pitching while allowing more resources to be dedicated to acquiring premium hitting.

On the other hand, why stress out over whether you should use wins, quality starts or innings pitched? Just cut it out altogether and go with a 4 x 4 scoring format. Shrink the pitching categories down to saves, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. Never worry about missing out on top-tier starters like deGrom or Scherzer again. Yes, starting pitchers will still be the big target for managers wanting to win in strikeouts, but now it's relievers that will be the premium position. Obviously, closers will still be the top targets on draft day, but now you have middle relievers and setup guys — pitchers that would normally remain untouched on the waiver wire — are suddenly very viable players to roster.

Managers can even go with a strategy on draft day of filling out all their position player slots first before working on a pitching staff of relievers. Pitchers like Jake Diekman, Tyler Duffey, Tanner Rainey and Evan Marshall will suddenly be in demand as high strikeout, low ERA, and WHIP fantasy studs. With a 4 x 4 format, the possibilities for winning roster strategies are nearly endless.

These are just two of many possible ideas for scoring changes you can make in your leagues this year. Each idea brings new strategies for building a championship-caliber fantasy roster that would never be possible in a league with wins or quality starts. So toss your old scoring formats in the garbage can, and come up with something new and better in 2021.

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