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Nats fan tracks pitchers’ poor starts, one stinker at a time

Livan Hernandez had more starts (63) in which he allowed at least six earned runs in six or fewer innings than any pitcher. There's a (made-up) stat for that. (Joel Richardson/The Washington Post)

In 1985, John Lowe, a 26-year-old sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, invented a statistic meant to measure a starting pitcher’s efficacy. The starter would be awarded a quality start if he lasted at least six innings and allowed three or fewer earned runs. The stat was more meaningful than a pitcher’s win-loss record or earned run average, Lowe reasoned, because it wasn’t subject to his run support or skewed by one particularly bad outing.

Twenty-seven years later, two Nationals fans invented their own stat — albeit a much lesser-known one — to measure lesser pitching performances. A quantity shart — a slangy portmanteau combining vulgar terms for poop and flatulence — is awarded to a starting pitcher who allows six or more earned runs in six or fewer innings. Think of it as the opposite of a quality start, with a sophomoric twist.

Jeff Kabacinski, a 51-year-old paralegal and law school student, credits fellow Nationals fan Jerry Sparks for helping to come up with the name for the other QS after former Washington pitcher Jordan Zimmermann allowed seven earned runs in two innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21, 2013. Kabacinski created the @MLBWhoSharted Twitter account soon after and, for the past nine years, has dutifully tracked and shared their little joke with the world.

“I’m just a guy with a Stathead subscription and a free Twitter account,” Kabacinski said, referencing the research tool he uses for his one-man operation. “It’s a little distraction from whatever I’m doing. I run these numbers, put them up on Twitter and people laugh.”

Naturally, the account’s avatar is Bill Schardt, who started 22 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1911. The right-hander was roughed up on occasion but by definition never recorded a quantity shart because the earned run didn’t become an official statistic until 1913.

Most days during baseball season, Kabacinski spends a few minutes poring over box scores on the MLB app, looking for pitching performances that meet his criteria. Over the years, based on suggestions from his followers, he has added additional categories for even worse outings, including the Shartnado (nine or more earned runs in three or fewer innings) and the Supersonic Sewer Sauce (nine or more earned runs in six or fewer innings).

“That’s one you can put in the paper,” Kabacinski said.

On Tuesday morning, after Mariners starter George Kirby allowed seven runs in four innings the night before, Kabacinski’s roughly 1,500 followers learned that the rookie became the “3,615th MLB pitcher and the 159th Mariners pitcher” to earn a quantity shart. “Welcome to the bigs, George!” Kabacinski added, as he does any time a pitcher — no matter how long he has been in the major leagues — records his first.

Kabacinski typically tags the pitchers and their teams in his tweets. Most pitchers don’t acknowledge him, some block him, and only a few have otherwise interacted with the account. In 2021, Derek “Dutch Oven” Holland, who has a great sense of humor and a nickname with a smelly connotation, replied that he appreciated the reminder about his poor outing.

In 2016, while out of the major leagues, right-hander Jeremy Guthrie replied to a tweet to ask how many non-quality starts he recorded in his 12-year career. Guthrie signed a minor league deal with the Nationals the next year and made one more major league appearance, a nightmarish start in which he allowed 10 earned runs in two-thirds of an inning at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. Kabacinski was there with some friends.

“It was kismet,” he said.

Kabacinski, who grew up a Tigers fan, adopted the Nationals after living in D.C. for five years and now lives in Wilmington, Del., has an even greater appreciation for baseball history than juvenile humor. He’s a member of the Society for American Baseball Research and plays in the Mid-Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League, which features 1860s rules and period-specific uniforms. He said his Twitter account is all in good fun.

“It doesn’t mean you’re a bad pitcher,” Kabacinski said, noting that the active leaders in his made-up stat are future Hall of Famers Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke, with 33 apiece. “It means you went out there and put up a stinker — literally — and the team trusts you to go out there again.”

Last season, pitchers allowed six or more earned runs in six or fewer innings in 7.4 percent of all starts. The all-time leader in the stat? Former National Livan Hernandez, who recorded 16 of his 63 with Washington. He’s followed by — heh, heh — Bartolo Colon (60), Tim Wakefield (57) and Scott Erickson (56). The Nationals’ all-time leader is Gio Gonzalez with 19, followed by Stephen Strasburg (18) and Patrick Corbin (15), who has an MLB-high 24 since 2016.

As a Nationals fan, Kabacinski said tracking non-quality starts is one way for fans to “embrace the ugliness” in a rebuilding year. While the team’s starting pitching has been better in recent weeks, the Nationals lead the way with 15 starts of six or more earned runs allowed in six or fewer innings pitched after having 18 such starts all of last season. The next-closest teams, the Reds and Cubs, have 10, and the record is 39 by the 1999 Tigers.

Kabacinski estimates that only a few dozen people, including his wife, know he’s the one behind the account, which picked up a few new followers thanks to a recent mention by the Athletic’s Jayson Stark. He knew his brand was strong when several people tagged him to let him know the Pirates selected a starting pitcher named Owen Sharts in the 2021 draft. Kabacinski plans to keep the account going as long as he continues to get some enjoyment out of it but acknowledged there may be fewer non-quality starts to track in future years, given teams’ increasing use of relief pitchers early in games.

“God forbid the openers,” he said. “How many runs can you give up when a guy only pitches one inning?”