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What is a Good ERA for a Closer?

The earned run average (ERA) is based on how effective the pitcher can prevent runs from the opposing team, measured in a nine-inning timeframe. However, closers rarely pitch more than one inning at a time, and that can easily skew their ERA in either direction. So, what’s a good ERA for a closing pitcher?

A good ERA for a closer is between 2.00-3.00, which means the pitcher will allow two to three runs per nine innings on average. Closers typically pitch one inning in a game, which translates into an ERA that is generally lower than other types of pitchers.

A left-handed pitcher in a white uniform follows through after delivering a pitch while an umpire, catcher, and left-handed batter wait for the pitch to cross the plate

In this article, we will briefly share a general rating system when it comes to ERAs for closing pitchers, then we dive into why ERAs are lower for closers.

Note: this article specifically discusses a good ERA for closing pitchers. To learn more about a good ERA for all pitchers, read about what is a good ERA in baseball. Or learn about what is an ERA by reading A Beginner’s Guide to Baseball’s ERA Statistic.

ERA Ratings for Closing Pitchers

While determining a “good” ERA is subjective, the table below should give you a general idea of how to rate a closing pitcher’s ERA.

RatingEarned Run Average (ERA)
Exceptional 1.00 and below
Excellent 1.00-2.00
Good 2.00-3.00
Below Average4.00-5.00
Poor5.00 and above

You can judge the accuracy of the table above by looking at the stats for closing pitchers on a year-over-year basis. In general, a good ERA for a closing pitcher is between 2.00-3.00, with most closing pitchers landing somewhere between 3.00-4.00.

Keep reading to see what the ERAs are for MLB’s best closers.

ERAs for MLB’s Best Closers

To get a better understanding of what is a good ERA for closers, let’s take a look at the ERAs for some of MLB’s best closers over a ten-year period. The table below lists out the top 3 closers in each year, based on the overall number of saves they earned each season.

YearPlayer NameTeamERASavesSaves Percentage
2012Jim JohnsonOrioles2.495194.4%
2012Fernando RodneyRays0.604896.0%
2012Jason MotteCardinals2.754285.7%
2013Jim JohnsonOrioles2.945084.7%
2013Craig KimbrelBraves1.215092.6%
2013Mariano RiveraYankees2.114486.3%
2014Fernando RodneyMariners2.854894.1%
2014Craig KimbrelBraves1.614792.2%
2014Trevor RosenthallCardinals3.204588.2%
2015Mar MelanconPirates2.235196.2%
2015Trevor RosenthallCardinals2.104894.1%
2015Jeurys FamiliaMets1.854389.6%
2016Jeurys FamiliaMets2.555191.1%
2016Kenley JansenDodgers1.834788.7%
2016Zack BritonOrioles.544788.7%
2017Alex ColomeRays3.244788.7%
2017Kenley JansenDodgers1.324197.6%
2017Corey KnebelBrewers1.783986.7%
2018Edwin DiazMariners1.965793.4%
2018Wade DavisRockies4.134387.8%
2018Craig KimbrelRed Sox2.744289.4%
2019Kirby YatesPadres1.194193.2%
2019Roberto OsunaAstros2.633886.4%
2019Josh HarderBrewer2.623784.1%
2020Brad HandGuardians2.0516100%
2020Liam HendriksAthletics1.781493.3%
2020Josh HarderBrewers3.791386.7%
2021Mark MelanconPadres2.233986.7%
2021Liam HendriksWhite Sox2.543886.4%
2021Kenley JansenDodgers2.223888.4%

As you can see from the table above, some players are listed more than once as they have consistently been one of the top 3 relief pitchers in terms of saves. And as you may have also seen, almost all of these players range from 1.00 to 3.00 in ERA.

Only one player in the table above has an ERA of 4.00 and only a few managed to stay below an ERA of 1.00 for their seasons.

These stats may come as a shock to some, especially when comparing these stats to a good ERA for a starting pitcher, because these stats are lower than other types of pitchers.

In Major League Baseball, closing pitchers are usually thought to be the best relief pitchers on the team. And this starts to make more sense when you compare ERAs between starting pitchers, relief pitchers, and closers (which are a special type of relief pitcher).

Although some people don’t believe ERA is a good way to judge the effectiveness of a pitcher. Read about the 4 pros and 4 cons of using ERA as a statistic to judge for yourself.

Closers Have Lower ERAs Than Other Types of Pitchers

The closer is a pitcher that takes over the pitching responsibility when their team is ahead by less than 3 runs and only a few outs are needed to end the game. Basically, the closer is responsible for finishing out a close game by pitching one inning.

Closing pitchers tend to pitch one inning, but they only enter the game when their team is ahead. So closers pitch a lot fewer innings than other types of pitchers, which is an important piece to calculating a pitcher’s ERA.

Closers pitch in fewer games, pitch fewer innings, and give up fewer runs – all of this translates into a lower ERA for closing pitchers. And as most fans know, a low ERA is better than a high ERA.

But nonetheless, due to a lot of closers having a low ERA, some believe that closing pitchers are the best pitcher on the team. In addition to having a low ERA, closing pitchers tend to come into the game in high-pressure situations where it is crucial to not allow a run.

While there is plenty of debate about whether a starting pitcher or a closing pitcher is better, some fans believe closing pitchers are better because they have a low ERA and they routinely enter games in high-pressure situations.

What is an ERA?

Earned run average (ERA) is a statistic in baseball that calculates how many earned runs are allowed per nine innings on average. However, not all runs are counted the same. Read my other article to learn more about what makes a run an earned run.

Pitchers are always striving to lower their ERA. The better they pitch, the lower their ERA will be. And for a closer, between 2.00 and 3.00 is considered a good ERA. To learn about the formula for calculating ERA, read the 3 steps to calculating a pitcher’s ERA.

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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.