The Baltimore Orioles Season-Long Inability to Win Quality Starts

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 14: Alex Cobb
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 14: Alex Cobb /

The Baltimore Orioles have had little trouble producing quality starts, but have been incapable of converting many of them into wins

The Baltimore Orioles starting pitchers have done a pretty good job this season producing quality starts, but the team has done a remarkably poor job converting those quality starts into wins. Therein lies the rub!

Defined as a start where the pitcher goes at least six innings and gives up no more than three runs, such an outing is considered a success for the pitcher. A competent bullpen combined with adequate offensive output generally is enough to nail down the win, converting the quality start into a victory.

The Oriole starters have demonstrated the ability to log quality starts all season long. The group racked up an impressive 11 quality starts through the end of April, adding 14 in May, 13 in June, before tailing off slightly in July with only nine, and continuing that pace during the first half of August.

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Currently, the team has 52 quality starts (43 percent of total starts), which is exactly the Major League average.

Based on this figure alone, the objective observer would likely conclude that the Orioles’ won-loss record is near the .500 mark, or approximately 61-60 (after the first 121 games of the 2018 season). A .500 record is certainly not that great but does indicate a minimal level of competence and competitiveness.

However, we all know the reality is not anywhere near .500 or anywhere near 61 wins. In fact, the Orioles won-loss record is an abysmal – and quite uncharacteristic and quite unanticipated – 36-85, a shockingly low .298 percentage(!).

For the Baltimore Orioles to be winning at a rate that is about 40 percent below expectation (36 wins versus 61 wins), based on number quality starts delivered, there must be a problem converting quality starts to wins.

The table below displays each Orioles pitcher who has contributed at least one quality start, with the total number of starts included. There were also 14 starts by various unlisted pitchers who did not produce any quality starts.

Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Alex Cobb, and (recently departed) Kevin Gausman have combined for 47 of the team’s 52 quality starts, having started a combined 89 games.

Bundy, Cashner, and Gausman have delivered quality starts 52 percent of the time, while Cobb has hit the quality threshold in 55 percent of his starts. All four pitchers are well above the 43 percent league average.

In the case of Bundy, 58 percent of his quality starts have been converted into wins by the Orioles, which is a decent (but somewhat underwhelming) conversion rate. However, for the other three pitchers the quality start winning percentage is much much lower.

The Orioles have only converted into wins 46 percent of Gausman’s quality starts, 42 percent of Cashner’s, and a very lowly 33 percent of Cobb’s. Overall, the team has won only 24 of the 52 quality starts for a .462 percentage, accumulating 28 losses in games that they should be winning.

Among all the team’s quality starts, the Orioles are converting only 46 percent of them into wins. If that conversion rate were a more robust 67 percent, a situation where two-thirds of the quality starts are converted into wins, the Orioles would have 11 more wins.

The Orioles’ record would still be a lowly 47-74 (.388), but it would be only 14 wins short of .500. Clearly, the inability to convert quality starts into victories has been a prime factor keeping the Orioles sub-.500 the entire season.

Why are the Baltimore Orioles losing all those quality start games? The answer can be seen in the table below, which displays the results of an analysis of each of the team’s 28 quality start losses.

In 29 percent of the losses (8 games), bullpen breakdowns were the primary cause of the loss. The insufficient offense was the culprit 36 percent of the time (10 games). Both ineffective relief pitching and inadequate offensive output combined to produce 32 percent of the losses (9 games). An overt defensive flub was specifically the reason for one of the losses.

Clearly, one solution to this quality start conundrum is to tighten up the bullpen and improve offensive output. Both of these objectives will likely get much attention during the offseason.

None of this data or analysis is particularly breaking news, but it does identify yet another component of the Baltimore Orioles 2018 season of infamy, where an incredible comprehensive roster-wide collapse has propelled the team to the very bottom of MLB standings.