One of the most common stats you’ll see for pitchers is their win-loss ratio. The way to calculate these stats seems fairly straightforward – if you’re pitching at the time you’re team takes the lead, you get the win. But as it turns out, it can be more complicated than that. How does a pitcher get a win in baseball?
As a general rule, pitchers earn a win if they were pitching when their team took the lead and their team maintained that lead. However, starting pitchers must pitch a minimum of five innings to earn a win while relief pitchers must be deemed the most effective pitcher to earn a win.
For the rest of this article, we’ll look into the two ways to earn a win in baseball – either as a starting pitcher or as a relief pitcher.
1) Starting Pitchers Must Pitch a Minimum of 5 Innings
If you’re a starting pitcher in a baseball game that lasts 6 or more innings, the minimum number of innings you can pitch and still be credited with a win is five. If the game is shortened to 5 innings for any reason (usually weather-related), the starting pitcher must pitch a minimum of four of those innings.
In fact, the official rules of the MLB state that if a game lasts longer than six innings, starting pitchers must pitch for a minimum of five innings if they want to be credited with a win. So when the MLB had 7 inning doubleheader games, pitchers still needed to pitch for a minimum of five innings to get the win.
As a general rule, starting pitchers who are credited with a win must be pitching when their team took the final lead change and they must pitch a minimum of 5 innings. But if a game is fewer than 6 innings for any reason, the starting pitcher only needs to pitch 4 of those innings.
However, this rule is slightly different in non-professional baseball leagues – like college and high school baseball.
College Starting Pitchers Must Pitch a Minimum of 5 Innings
According to the NCAA Baseball’s Rules, starting pitchers can get credited with a win if they throw a minimum of 5 innings in games that last 8 or more innings. If a game is shortened to fewer than 8 innings for any reason, the starting pitcher must pitch a minimum of four of those innings.
High School Starting Pitchers Must Pitch a Minimum of 4 Innings
High school games only last 7 innings so, according to the NFHS Baseball Rulebook, the minimum number of innings required for a starting pitcher to be credited with a win is 4. However, when a game is less than 7 innings, the starting pitcher only needs to pitch a minimum of 3 of those innings.
2) Relief Pitchers Must be Considered the “Most Effective” Pitcher
If the starting pitcher was not pitching at the time of the final lead change, then the next in line to be credited with a win is the relief pitcher. Unlike starting pitchers, there is no requirement around how long a relief pitcher has to pitch to be eligible to receive a win.
Generally, a relief pitcher receives a win when they are pitching at the time their team took the final lead change. However, the official scorekeeper has the ability to decide that the most effective relief pitcher gets credit with a win, regardless of when their team took the lead.
In the MLB rulebook, there is a clause that allows scorekeepers to consider a relief pitcher as “ineffective and brief” (Rule 9.17(c)). While it is rare for scorekeepers to use this clause, there is a chance the scorekeeper will think another relief pitcher is the most responsible for maintaining the lead of the game.
A Pitcher Must be the Winning “Pitcher of Record”
There may be multiple players that pitch in a single game, but only one pitcher can be crowned with a win and only one pitcher can be credited with the loss. In order for any pitcher to receive a win, they must be the winning “pitcher of record”. But what is a pitcher of record in baseball?
In short, a pitcher of record is the player who is in a position to receive a win or a loss. Typically, a pitcher of record is determined by which player was pitching at the time of the final lead change.
There are also three exceptions to the “pitcher of record” rule:
- Pitchers are responsible for any runners left on base when a relief pitcher is brought in to replace them. If those runners score and the offense takes the final lead change, the original pitcher is credited with a loss. If those runs tie the game, the “pitcher of record” falls to the most effective relief pitcher.
- If a pitcher is batting and gets replaced by a pinch-runner or a pinch hitter, that pitcher still gets credit for any runs their team scores in that half-inning. This is because no other player has yet pitched.
- If a pitcher is ineffective, either because the starting pitcher didn’t throw 5 innings or because the relief pitcher was ineffective, the official scorekeeper can give the win to the relief pitcher considered to be the most effective at maintaining the lead.
Can a Pitcher Get a Win Without Throwing a Pitch?
The rules around when a pitcher gets credit for a win or a loss don’t specify how many pitches a pitcher needs to throw. This leads some to wonder if a pitcher can get a win without throwing a pitch.
Although rare, pitchers are able to get a win without throwing a single pitch. The most common way this can occur is when a relief pitcher enters the game during a crucial moment of the game, picks off a runner to end the inning, and the offense takes the lead the following inning.
In fact, there are two instances we can look at where this exact scenario occurred.
Alan Embree came into the game at the top of the 8th inning with a runner on first. Alan Embree picked off the runner on first base and ended the inning. In the bottom of the 8th inning, Embree was replaced by a pinch hitter and the Rockies scored one run and went on to maintain that lead.
B.J. Ryan came into the game in the bottom of the 7th inning with a runner on first. B.J. Ryan picked off the runner on first to end the inning. In the 8th inning, the Orioles scored 3 runs to take the lead and B.J Ryan was replaced before he could even throw one pitch. However, he was the pitcher at the time of the final lead change so he was credited with the win.