What is a Good ERA for a Relief Pitcher?


Baseball is a classic sport that is reminiscent of American pride. There are leagues of youth players who are just learning the sport and lots of adults who have devoted and crafted themselves into being the best of the best. In these professional leagues, every person on the field must be up to par in order to play, including relief pitchers. One of the ways a relief pitcher can judge their effectiveness is by looking at their ERA. What is a good ERA for a relief pitcher?

A good ERA for a relief pitcher ranges from 3.72 to 4.22. Over a 10-year period, the average ERA of an MLB relief pitcher was 3.97. In other words, a good relief pitcher allows between 3 and 4 runs in nine innings, on average. ERAs are usually lower for relief pitchers than for starting pitchers.

With this in mind, it is important to understand what an ERA is, what other attributes make a relief pitcher good, and consider if an ERA is an effective way to measure proficiency for relief pitchers.

Note: this article specifically discusses a good ERA for relief 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.

What is an ERA?

ERA stands for earned run average. An ERA is a statistic used in baseball to show a relief pitcher’s proficiency at keeping the opposing team from scoring runs. By keeping the opponent’s runs low, you give your team the best chance to win the game, so teams always want pitchers with a low ERA.

Learn more about what is an ERA by reading A Beginner’s Guide to Baseball’s ERA Statistic.

ERA is the most widely used statistic for showing pitching effectiveness. However, there are some flaws to consider. An ERA is calculated by taking nine and multiplying it by how many runs are scored divided by the number of innings a pitcher played.

Unfortunately, this simple calculation does not take some different factors into account: the field played in, the weather, and the defensive abilities of the team a pitcher is on. Each of these can impact an ERA because each of these factors is outside of the control of the pitcher. If any of these negatively impact the game, it can make a pitcher look worse than his or her natural skills suggest.

Learn more about the 4 pros and 4 cons of using ERA as a statistic.

Stats for Relief Pitchers From 2012 – 2021

The best way to figure out a good ERA for a relief pitcher is by looking at all the stats over a large time frame. The table below shows the average ERA for relief pitchers from the 2012 season through the 2021 season. These stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

YearInnings PitchedEarned RunsERA
202118212.284344.17
2020687933954.44
201918265.290494.46
201817422.179064.08
201716469.275864.15
201615893.269463.93
201515184.162633.71
201414621.258203.58
20131497759803.59
201214737.260063.67
Totals152660.4673853.97

As you can see from the table above, relief pitchers have averaged an ERA of 3.97 over this ten-year time frame. When compared with starting pitchers, relief pitchers tend to have a lower ERA. Learn more about what is a good ERA for a starting pitcher.

The Highest ERA is an Infinity ERA

A low ERA is impressive, but having an infinity ERA is also quite impressive. Only a handful of MLB pitchers have been credited with an infinity ERA, but it is extremely rare because of how quickly a pitcher would need to give up a run, come out of the game, and not pitch again for the entire season.

As it turns out, relief pitchers fit this profile very well. Relief pitchers tend to come into the game for a short amount of time so they typically have the best chance of acquiring that infinity ERA. And if they did poorly, they might be sent back down to the Minor Leagues.

Learn more about how to get an infinity ERA.

What Makes a Good Relief Pitcher and What Does Their ERA Look Like?

A relief pitcher is someone who replaces a starting pitcher if they are unable to pitch or a manager takes them out for any reason. Starting pitchers are highly valued players because they are incredibly skilled, their skills continue to be sharpened with time, and they continue to become more valuable over their careers.

Oftentimes, the more the starting pitcher is used, the more likely an injury or fatigue will keep them out of the game long term. Thus, a relief pitcher is necessary. Some of the factors that promote using relief pitchers are injury, fatigue, or poor performance by the starting pitcher.

Once a starting pitcher is out, the relief pitcher is used to fill the gaps in an inning. A team can have multiple relief pitchers to satisfy different needs and strategies. Some batters really struggle with hitting the ball when it is pitched by a left-handed pitcher, so the manager will put in a relief pitcher that is left-handed to improve their defense.

Basically, a relief pitcher is meant to go on the field when needed, and they also need to have good ERAs so that while they are up on the mount, the team doesn’t fall behind. A starting pitcher gets the team going, but a relief pitcher keeps the team going. The difference in starting pitcher’s and relief pitcher’s ERA scores is about .25. So in skill, these players are very similar and can have similar stats to one another.

Relief pitchers also tend to be specialized into two types: middle and closer. A middle relief pitcher is someone who is used in the middle of the game. They are usually used for the long run and multiple innings. They are typically meant to have longer endurance than other relief pitchers who are good in smaller bursts. Sometimes these pitchers could end up playing most of the game if the starter pitcher is struggling.

Closer relief pitchers are the relief pitchers that are intended for the very last inning or two of a game. They are incredibly good at keeping teams ahead in tight games. Usually, they are able to perform better, as they don’t have to worry about endurance nearly as much as middle or starting pitchers do. Oftentimes, closing pitchers have a better ERA than other pitchers. Read more about what is a good ERA for a closer.

Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball on two different adult baseball teams in the surrounding area.

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