How a Pitcher Is Credited with Winning (or Losing) a Game

Sandy Koufax, a great pitcher, shown in 1966. He won many, lost few, and retired on top.

Long ago life was clean
Sex was bad and obscene
And the rich were so mean
Stately homes for the Lords
Croquet lawns, village greens
Victoria was my queen
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, ‘toria

I was born, lucky me
In a land that I love
Though I am poor, I am free
When I grow I shall fight
For this land I shall die
Let her sun never set
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, ‘toria
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, toria

Land of hope and gloria
Land of my Victoria
Land of hope and gloria
Land of my Victoria
Victoria, ‘toria
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, ‘toria

Canada to India
Australia to Cornwall
Singapore to Hong Kong
From the West to the East
From the rich to the poor
Victoria loved them all
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, ‘toria
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria

My (Evander’s) one and only trip to the British Isles, including what Bernard Shaw called “John Bull’s Other Island,” had my head swimming thro poetry like this, above (from Ray Davies), and, lucky me, I was fortunate to watch cricket played over several evenings in Cambridge. It was a hot summer, but these evenings were cooler. It was early July. They played till 10:00. I was baffled by the complexities and eccentricities, and I was thoroughly entertained.

Baseball has its many complexities and eccentricities as well of course. One of the ideas I have been throwing around (literally) in many of my blogs is the notion of the pitcher’s (called the bowler in cricket of course) record of wins and losses.

Although the pitcher is credited with winning or losing any particular game, naturally all this is a team effort. The pitcher fires the ball, the batter on the other side tries to hit it. When the ball is in play, it is up to the pitcher’s teammates (and occasionally the pitcher himself) to field the ball cleanly and dispose of the batter-now-base runner. The pitcher’s record, his so-called winning percentage, is therefore based in large part on how well his teammates field and hit.

A starting pitcher is credited with a win if he pitches the first five innings. At that point, his team has to be ahead and to stay ahead. Should this “starter” last more than five innings, as they say in France, tant mieux. If he is lifted from the game by his manager or because of injury having pitched four innings and gotten two outs in the fifth inning, even if his team is ahead by twenty runs, this pitcher will not be credited with a win. Why? He has not lasted the minimum number of innings: five complete. (Also of importance: once any pitcher is lifted from a game, he may not return.)

Say the starter goes seven innings and his team is ahead. A relief pitcher is summoned to pitch the eighth inning, and this relief pitcher doesn’t do his job (or his team lets him down, say by making errors in the field) so that his team falls behind. If this team should rally to win in nine innings, this relief pitcher might be credited with the win, but not necessarily.

Complex and eccentric? The entire matter of winning pitcher is left to the discretion of the official scorer, to determine if the relief pitcher, or which relief pitcher should there be a parade of them, deserves to be credited with a win. The only sure thing is that the starter would not receive such credit. There are even occasions wherein a pitcher faces only one batter and is credited with the win: if he were summoned in a tight spot, for example with the bases loaded, one out, and induces a double play to end the inning. Again, this judgment on the pitchers’ records would be in the hands of the scorer. Sometimes, the whole situation, of to whom to credit the win, is reviewed following the game after an earlier judgment is rendered.

Now, to come away with the loss of a game there is no minimum number of innings a pitcher needs pitch or number of batters he must face. Every time a pitcher records an out, he is considered to have pitched one-third of an inning. (There are three outs per inning, remember.) Theoretically, and such certainly happens more than several times in any season, a pitcher will not achieve a single out. He might or might not be tagged with a loss in such circumstances. But he could not be the winning pitcher without recording at least one out. (Technically, this pitcher that has recorded no outs would carry an earned-run average [ERA, the number of runs he gives up per nine innings] of infinity. In fact, the elongated figure-eight-on-its-side infinity sign would be posted as part of his permanent pitching record since there is no other way to express his level of failure that game.)

The concept of pitchers’ wins and losses is a little confusing. I hope I have not added to it.

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About rightoffthebatbook

Co-author of the book, "Right Off the Bat: Baseball, Cricket, Literature, and Life"
This entry was posted in Baseball, Cricket and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to How a Pitcher Is Credited with Winning (or Losing) a Game

  1. calkguy says:

    There was one pitcher who got credit with the name if he left ahead in the third or fourth inning. He played for Cleveland and his name was Early Wynn. 🙂

  2. Pingback: The Savers | Right Off the Bat

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