What Makes a Run an Earned Run?


What Makes a Run an Earned Run

When it comes to sports like baseball and softball, the objective of the game is simple – score more runs than the other team. However, we quickly run into issues once we start looking at the statistics of how each run was scored. One of those statistics I always thought was simple, but after doing some research it turned out to be complicated, was the concept of an earned run. What makes a run an earned run?

As a general rule, an earned run is any run the offensive team scores that were not assisted by an error or a passed ball by the defense. However, a scorekeeper will reconstruct a half-inning that contains an error or a passed ball to determine if a run was earned or unearned.

Reconstructing an inning to determine an earned run may be a new concept to a lot of baseball fans, even for the most veteran of fans. So below we’ll go over the scenarios of what makes a run an earned run, including how scorekeepers reconstruct innings to determine earned runs.

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

Earned Run vs Unearned Run

Professional baseball pitcher throwing the ball
Professional baseball pitcher throwing the ball

Baseball is a game that is full of statistics. In fact, there are 121 statistics in baseball. However, some statistics rely on the accuracy of counting earned runs and unearned runs. But what’s the difference between an earned run and an unearned run?

An earned run is any run that a pitcher is responsible for giving up. An unearned run is any run that scores because the defense made an error or threw a passed ball. For any game, earned runs plus unearned runs equals the total number of runs scored.

Earned Runs are relatively straightforward – they’re any runs scored that were not aided by the defense committing an error or throwing a passed ball. On the other hand, unearned runs are a little trickier to identify. Let’s dive into what is an unearned run.

What is an Unearned Run (UER)?

The MLB rulebook identifies 3 ways to determine if a run is unearned:

  1. When a runner reached first base:
    1. After they’ve had an at-bat extended due to a muffed foul ball
    2. Due to interference or obstruction
    3. Due to a fielding error
  2. If a runner remains on base due to an error, but they would have been out if the error did not occur
  3. If a runner advanced to any base because of an error, passed ball, obstruction, or interference

If any of the above 3 scenarios occur and that runner safely crosses home plate, the pitcher is credited with an unearned run.

This is just a high-level overview of an earned run vs an unearned run. Let’s answer some common questions people have around earned runs and unearned runs.

If a Pitcher Commits an Error While Fielding, the Run is Unearned

Pitchers are treated as fielders when they are not on the mound. So if a pitcher were to field the ball, make an error, and a runner scored, the run would be considered an unearned run.

This might seem counterintuitive to some because the pitcher is the one who is charged with an earned run or an unearned run. If they fielded the ball, then they were responsible for that error and they should be responsible for that runner who scored.

However, pitchers are fielders after they deliver the pitch. And the rules simply state an unearned run comes from the defense committing an error or a passed ball.

A Relief Pitcher is Not Responsible for Runners Already on Base When Entering the Game

A common scenario for a relief pitcher is to enter the game with runners already on base. The good news for the relief pitcher is that they will not be charged with an earned run if any of those runners score.

This is because the runners on base were already there from the previous pitcher. If those runners score, it’s because the previous pitcher was responsible for them getting on base and that previous pitcher would be charged with those earned runs.

A Wild Pitch is an Earned Run

It may seem like a wild pitch could be considered an error, but remember that an earned run is counted whenever a pitcher is responsible for a run.

A wild pitch is the pitcher’s fault. Therefore, whenever a runner scores on a wild pitch, an earned run is credited to the pitcher.

Plays Need to be Reconstructed if There Was an Error or a Passed Ball

Unfortunately, an earned run and an unearned run are not as straightforward as what we’ve already covered. If an error or a passed ball occurs, a scorekeeper will need to “reconstruct” the inning to determine if the passed ball or the error had any impact on the runner’s ability to score.

Let’s dive into how scorekeepers reconstruct innings to determine an earned run or unearned run.

How to Reconstruct an Inning to Determine Earned vs Unearned Runs

To understand how to reconstruct an inning for the purpose of determining earned runs and unearned runs, keep in mind that earned runs are determined by how each individual base runner got on base and how each individual base runner was able to advance.

Innings Are Reconstructed When There is an Error or Passed Ball

If there are no errors and no passed balls, then all runs that score are considered earned runs.

However, whenever there is an error or a passed ball, the scorekeeper must “reconstruct” the previous half-inning by imagining what would have happened if there were no errors or passed balls. 

If the scorekeeper believes the runners would have advanced without the help of the error or passed ball, then the run is earned. If the scorekeeper believes the error or passed ball allowed the runner to advance, then the run is unearned.

Reconstructing an inning is best explained by going through 3 out of the 4 examples listed in the MLB Rulebook (Rule 9.16(a) Comment).

Reconstruction Example #1

The scenario is that there are two outs with nobody on base and the next batter gets on base because of an error.

The next two batters hit home runs, which means a total of 3 runs have scored. However, no earned runs are credited to the pitcher. This is because the batter who reached because of an error should have been the third out of the inning.

Reconstruction Example #2

The scenario is that there is one out with nobody on base and the next batter safely makes it to third base by hitting a triple. The pitcher then throws a wild pitch and allows the runner on third base to score. The pitcher then gets the next two batters out to end the inning with one run scored.

This run is considered an earned run because the pitcher was responsible for the wild pitch.

Reconstruction Example #3

The scenario is that there are two outs with nobody on base and the next batter reaches first base due to a catcher’s interference. The next batter hits a home run and the following batter is retired. Two runs have scored, but only the home run is credited to the pitcher as an earned run.

This is because the rules state that runners who reach first base due to catcher’s interference will not count as an earned run.

Is a Home Run an Earned Run?

After reading some of the examples above, you may have noticed that a home run didn’t count as an earned run. But a home run is typically the pitcher’s fault, which is what counts as a home run. Which one is it? Is a home run an earned run?

Generally, a home run is considered an earned run. However, a home run will not be an earned run if the home run was hit after a previous batter extended the inning due to an error or a passed ball.

In these scenarios, the scorekeeper must “reconstruct” the half-inning to determine what would have happened if the error had not occurred. Since the previous batter should have been out and the inning should have been over, the scorekeeper can determine the runs that were scored from the home run are unearned.

Are All Runs After an Error Unearned?

Whenever there are two outs in the inning and the inning is prolonged because of an error, any runs that occur after that error will be unearned.

This is because the scorekeeper must reconstruct the half-inning and imagine what would have happened if the errors did not occur. If the scorekeeper believes there would have been 3 outs if that error had not occurred, then all runs after that error will be unearned.

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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