Worst "Quality Start" Ever

After John Lannan produced the following line last night:

5 2/3 IP, 11 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 2 SO

I called it "one out away from the worst quality start ever." The quality start statistic has also popped up occasionally on MASN broadcasts, usually to criticism from F.P. Santangelo. By the way, F.P., if you ever need examples to discredit the quality start, check out some of the ones highlighted below.

Anyway, it was the Lannan start that made me curious--what really is the worst quality start ever? After all, Lannan allowed no unearned runs, no home runs, and his Game Score was 35. Not good, but surely there's been worse, yes? Indeed.

To the Baseball Reference Play Index!

I decided that the "worst" quality start would be the shortest possible (6 IP) with the fewest earned runs allowed possible (3).

This basic start gives us 8,388 games since 1919. I decided to proceed by ranking the search by hits, in descending order. The most hits in a quality start (retroactive to 1919, of course) is 15. You might recognize the pitcher's name, and also find the opponent most curious:

Ford allowed 10 runs (!), but only 3 were earned, on 15 hits, 4 of which were home runs.

I was fairly sure I had already found the start I was looking for, but I kept going a little bit. After all, perhaps someone allowed more than 7 unearned runs in one of these starts. And, lo, it is so: the record here is 9, for 12 total runs.

Yet again, we have the Senators--of course, these are the original Senators, who eventually became the Twins, not those knockoffs that later skedaddled to Texas. But that's beside the point. I still think Ford's start is worse, mostly on account of the homers, despite the different eras these games were played in.

Going back to that Ford start, has anyone else pulled off the seemingly daunting task of allowing more home runs (4) than earned runs (3), in a so-called "quality start" no less? As it turns out, no. Ford is the only pitcher to do this.

But I was not yet quite ready to give up. Ford may have allowed 15 hits, but he walked nobody. What's the record here, for most walks in a quality start? Ten.

Yes, ten. Behold:

Most curious, another Yankee. Of course, you can pretty quickly tell that the walks are the only extraordinary thing here: 5 strikeouts somewhat mitigate things, and he allowed just 5 hits and no unearned runs. This is hardly horrific.

Of course, only after all this effort did I think of the Game Score statistic. However, Game Score also produced the Ford and Speece starts, with their ugly scores of 16. But then I removed the innings cap, and found a Game Score of 14.

That start almost defies words. And not just because we will never again see 20-hit complete games.

I could go on to different metrics, but I think I found my answer with that initial search. Hall of Famer Whitey Ford is the only pitcher to allow 15 hits or 4 home runs in a quality start, let alone both. I hereby declare him the producer of the Worst Quality Start (Retroactively) of All Time.

Of course, I keep adding that word "retroactively." The quality start was not invented until 1985. I just went ahead and looked for the lowest Game Score this time, and found a 26. Although no Whitey Ford, this pitcher was pretty good in his own right:

Lowest Game Score (26):

Another post-85 start worth mentioning is the following. You may recognize a key figure on this game's winning team:

Baseball Reference doesn't recognize the FIP statistic, but this start produced roughly a 11.1 FIP, which I imagine is the worst ever for an alleged quality start.

Anyway, 700 words on this is more than enough. Suffice it to say I overreacted in labeling the Lannan start last night as almost the worst ever quality start, as tough as that performance was to watch.

Let me know which of the starts listed here impresses you most in its awfulness, or tell me about any other games I might have missed.


Looking back on it, I decided that one thing missing from my post yesterday was a sufficient connection to the Nationals beyond Lannan's start on Monday. So now I will look into the worst quality starts in Nationals history (not Expos; 2005-present). This time, I didn't search for anything except the lowest Game Scores with IP>=6 and ER<=3. 

Lannan's start from Monday came a lot closer to being the worst quality start in Nationals history, rather than the worst one ever. In fact, it was basically there.

We will assume that Lannan would have gotten the 18th out without further damage. This would actually add 3 points to his game score (1 for the 18th out and 2 for completing the 6th inning), producing in the end a game score of 38. Only one pitcher in Nationals history has achieved a quality start with a game score that low.

Care to guess? No?

It's John Lannan: 

At least he got a W that time. 

By the way, there have apparently been 457 quality starts in Nationals history. We have played 1,051 games. I am now wondering where that 43.5% mark ranks among all teams since 2005. I imagine pretty low, but I'll leave that research to somebody else.

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