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Is High ERA Good or Bad in Baseball?

When reading about stats in baseball we tend to see statistics like batting average, home runs, RBIs, and stolen bases. And from these stats, we can reasonably assume that the higher these numbers are, the better the player is. But what does the Earned Run Average (ERA) tell us about a pitcher?

When first learning about pitching stats, a lot of people will wonder if a high ERA is good or bad. In general, pitchers with a low ERA (Earned Run Average) do better than pitchers with a high ERA. The ERA looks at how many runs a pitcher allows, on average, in a 9 inning period. A lower ERA translates into fewer runs scored against the pitcher.

Scott Barlow throwing a pitch to Mike Trout

A lot of people like to focus on a pitcher’s ERA – especially those who are fantasy baseball fanatics – but a low ERA doesn’t always translate into a pitcher being good or bad.

What is Considered a Good ERA?

Although the definition of a good ERA can vary from person to person, there are a few generally accepted guidelines for what is considered a good ERA.

What is a Good ERA in Major League Baseball?

Below is a breakdown of good vs bad ERAs for pitchers who are in the Major Leagues (info courtesy of fandom.com). And for a more in-depth analysis, read my other article on what is a good ERA in baseball.

RatingEarned Run Average (ERA)
Exceptional2.00 and under
Excellent2.00 – 3.00
Above Average3.00 – 4.00
Average4.00 – 5.00
Below Average5.00 – 6.00
Poor6.00 and above

What is a Good ERA in High School Baseball?

It’s important to remember that the depth of a batting lineup in high school is different than the depth of a batting lineup in college or the Major Leagues. Because of the lack of depth in a high school baseball lineup, high school pitchers tend to have lower ERAs.

Below is a breakdown of ERA ratings for high school pitchers.

RatingEarned Run Average (ERA)
Exceptional0.00 – 0.60
Excellent0.60 – 1.20
Above Average1.20 – 2.00
Average2.00 – 3.00
Below Average4.00 – 5.00
Far Below Average5.00 and above

Because there is no standard set for collecting data from High School baseball games, it can be difficult to calculate what exactly is a good ERA for High School pitchers. To do some comparison of the above chart to some actual data, feel free to check out the high school pitching stats listed on MaxPreps and Broward High School Baseball.

It’s also important to remember that high school baseball games are typically 7 inning games. So when calculating the ERA for a high school pitcher, most coaches will calculate the ERA based on a 7 inning game rather than a 9 inning game.

To calculate the ERA for a high school baseball pitcher, take the pitcher’s earned runs, divide that by the number of innings pitched, and multiply the result by 7.

To see that ERA calculation for High School baseball games broken down into a formula:

ERA = 7 * ([earned runs] / [innings pitched])

Is a 4.5 ERA Good?

By itself, an ERA in baseball is not necessarily good or bad – it’s just one of the many indicators a coach can use when evaluating a pitcher. But when looking at specific statistics it’s good to have a general guideline for what each statistic means.

In baseball, a 4.5 ERA falls into the average range for Major League pitchers, which is an ERA between 4.00 and 5.00. However, moving lower in competition correlates with lower ERAs on average, so an ERA of 4.5 in High School baseball falls into the below average range.

So depending on which league you are in, an ERA of 4.5 can be average or it can be below average. This factor also depends heavily on the competition in the baseball league – the better the hitters are in the league, the higher the ERA will be.

What is a Good Career ERA in Baseball?

On average, most pitchers in the Major Leagues will last about 5.6 years, but for those lucky few who are able to make a career out of pitching – what does a good ERA look like for them?

In general, an ERA in the range of 4.00 – 5.00 is considered a good career ERA, with the best pitchers being below 2.00.

According to Baseball Almanac, Ed Walsh is credited with holding the career record for ERA with 1.82.

Why a Low ERA is Better Than a High ERA in Baseball

To understand why a low ERA is better than a high ERA, let’s take a look at what an ERA actually is. ERA stands for Earned Run Average.

The Earned Run Average (ERA) is the average amount of earned runs that a pitcher has given up over a 9 inning period. A pitcher’s ERA is calculated by taking the number of the pitcher’s earned runs, dividing by the number of innings pitched, and multiplying the result by 9.

To see this broken down as a math formula:

ERA = 9 * ([earned runs] / [innings pitched])

As you can see from this formula, the fewer runs a pitcher has given up, the lower their ERA will be.

For a great video on how to calculate a pitcher’s ERA in baseball, check out the video below. Or read my other article that dives deeper into calculating ERA by explaining the 3 steps to calculating a pitcher’s ERA.

ERA Only Calculates Earned Runs

One important piece to remember is that a pitcher’s ERA is only calculated based on that pitcher’s earned runs. This means when a runner scores on an error, that run does not count towards a pitcher’s ERA.

So this stat does not penalize a pitcher when a fielder makes a mistake. This is one of the main reasons coaches love to look at a pitcher’s ERA – because coaches can infer that pitchers with a lower ERA are tougher to hit than pitchers with a high ERA. Learn more about what makes a run an earned run.

On the other hand, some people are not a fan of using ERA because it does not take into account how effective the defense is.

For example, a groundball hit near the shortstop may be a routine play for one shortstop, but it may be a base hit for a slower shortstop. Because of the vast differences among players’ fielding abilities, some people are just not a fan of using ERA to evaluate how well a pitcher has performed.

Just like with most stats, people have both positive and negative reactions to interpreting the meaning behind an ERA number. Read my other article on the 4 pros and 4 cons of using ERA as a statistic to judge for yourself whether it’s useful to use ERA.

Pitchers With a High ERA Give Up More Runs on Average

One of the biggest reasons a lot of people like to focus on a pitcher’s ERA is that ERA is a pretty reliable indicator of how many runs the pitcher allows.

Like most other sports, a game of baseball is won when one team acquires more runs than another team. So it makes sense that pitchers with a lower ERA will give their team a much better chance to win the game.

Although a low ERA doesn’t necessarily translate to more wins, it does mean that the pitcher with a low ERA tends to give their team a better chance to win than a pitcher with a high ERA.

The one anomaly with judging a pitcher with a high ERA is that it’s possible for pitchers to have an infinity ERA. Although infinity is the biggest number, it’s impossible to judge the effectiveness of a pitcher with an infinity ERA. Read my other article to learn more about how to get an infinity ERA.

High ERA Pitchers Allow More Base Runners

Now that we know the ERA is calculated by only tallying up the pitcher’s earned runs, we can also make an educated guess that pitchers with a high ERA will also allow more base runners. Because, after all, the only way for a batter to score is by first getting on base.

Because the run has to be earned, the base runner has to get on base without the defense making an error. So in order for the base runner to be counted as part of a pitcher’s ERA, they will need to get on base with a walk or a base hit.

A lot of games in baseball are decided by just a few runs, so any statistic that a coach or a manager can use to tell them how to allow fewer runs is a benefit to the team.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.

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