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The Quality Start, The Maddux, And Now…The Williams

Behold: the face of a new way to categorize starts. Photo by AP.

Trevor Williams is a lot of things. Professional baseball player. Podcaster. SABR mystery. Master of getting soft contact. Meme lord. And now, the namesake for a new category of start I ?m creating: the ?Williams. ?

This is a play on quality starts and the Maddux. A defined ?quality start ? is an outing where the starter goes at least six innings and allows no more than three earned runs. It ?s not a perfect stat. A pitcher could allow six unearned runs and still qualify, but to generalize it, a quality start puts your team in a good position to win. A ?Maddux ? is a much rarer. To qualify, a pitcher must throw a complete game in under 100 pitches — a feat Greg Maddux accomplished numerous times throughout his illustrious career.

Ok, so what is a ?Williams ? (Williamses, pl.)? I ?m defining it as an outing where a starting/marquee pitcher goes at least six innings in their outing without allowing a run. To be clear, they have to finish with no runs allowed. Jameson Taillon started Wednesday’s start with six shutout frames, but he surrendered a seventh inning homer, meaning he did not earn a Williams that night.

Some would argue going 7 IP/1 R or 8 IP/2 R is just as valuable or better than going six scoreless, but in today ?s game, six strong innings is all a starter needs to do. It ?s a really good day at the office when he ?s able to hand the ball off to the backend of the bullpen with a goose egg on the scoreboard. A complete game or a shutout may be sexier and more valuable, but every pitcher, manager and fan will take six shutout innings from any of their starters 100 times out of 100. It is not just a quality start, but an elite one.

Trevor Williams (who will be referred to as Trevor from now so I can cut down on ?Williams ?es and ?Williamses ?es) gave such a start Sunday in Cincinnati. It was the 11th time he has gone at least a half dozen spotless innings since 2018 and the 14th time of his career. There ?s a reason why his name is the preferred nomenclature for this new category. Since 2018, Trevor leads all of baseball in Williamses.

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool. Click to enlarge.

That ?s impressive, but it isn ?t exactly new information. That factoid is displayed on AT&T SportsNet before almost every one of his starts and has popped up in plenty of columns. Let ?s dive a little deeper and get a little weirder.

Since he became a full-time starter in May of 2017, the only player with as many Williamses as the Pirates ? right-hander is Chris Sale. Sale has 16 since the start of 2017, two of which came in April of that year. That comp alone is impressive, but it’s worth noting Sale was in his prime by then. Trevor was a rookie.

Trevor has picked up these Williamses fast, appearing in only 70 games as a major leaguer so far. In the Live Ball era, through a player ?s first 70 games, only three players have recorded more Williamses than him: Dwight Gooden, Jose Fernandez and Jacob deGrom. Plus, 12 of Williams ? outings were as a reliever, where he didn’t have the opportunity to earn a Williams.

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool. Click to enlarge.

The Pirates version of this is even more eye-opening. 70 outings may seem like a bit of an arbitrary number, so I decided to spot every other pitcher in Pirates history 30 games and make it an even 100. Trevor still leads the Pirates all-time in Williamses through their first 100 games.

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool. Click to enlarge.

From a career standpoint, Trevor is currently tied for 12th in franchise history in this category. He ?s shooting up the standings, but his volume of starts are low and holding him back. However, it is a large enough sample size to take a look at what rate he achieves a Williams.

In 2018, there were 469 Williamses across baseball, meaning about 9.7% starts (and marquee appearances in the case of the Rays and their opener) resulted in a Williams. While that number may indicate this is a somewhat common occurrence, there are only 17 pitchers in the live ball era to average a Williams in at least 15% of their career starts. Trevor is near the very front of that grouping.

Min. 50 starts. Courtesy of Baseball-Reference’s Play Index tool. Click to enlarge.

Out of pitchers with at least 50 career starts, Trevor ?s 24.1% Williams rate is the second best over the last 100 years, behind only the late Jose Fernandez. Clayton Kershaw is the only other player to crack 20%.

To be fair, there is a recency bias to this list. Fourteen of the 17 pitchers with a Williams rate of at least 15% are active. The three who aren ?t (Fernandez, Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana) have pitched within the last 10 years. I have two theories as for why. The first is all of these pitchers are either in their prime or not too far removed from it. Their twilight years haven ?t weighed down their career averages yet.

The other explanation is expanded bullpens have de-emphasized the innings pitched part of the equation. In Trevor ?s first start of the season, he was pulled after six innings and 80 pitches. If this was the 70s or 80s, he probably would have been trotted out for the seventh. I ?m sure earlier generations of players lost countless Wililamses late in an effort to protect a smaller bullpen.

Whatever the reason for why older players aren ?t cracking the list, Trevor still leads all active players in Williams percentage. He’s one of the very best all-time at going deep into games unscathed. There are plenty of projections and analytics that say he’s a house of cards ready to fall. Finally, here’s one that celebrates how unique his career has been so far.

Alex is a Pirates and Duquesne basketball contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Point Park University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Comm. and a minor in English in 2014. Everything can be explained with numbers. If you want to keep up to date on both teams or have a story idea, you can follow or reach him @AlexJStumpf.