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Official Scorer’s Challenge

Posted by John Autin on July 4, 2011

According to the MLB rules, which pitcher should get the win in the following situation?

  • Starting pitcher is removed in the 5th inning with a 1-run lead, 1 out and a runner on 1st base.
  • Reliever A strikes out the next 2 batters to end the inning and preserve the 1-run lead.
  • The leading team adds 6 runs in their next turn at bat, forging a 7-run lead.
  • Reliever A pitches the 6th inning and allows 2 walks and a 3-run HR. He's removed at the end of the inning with his team leading by 4 runs. His final line: 1.2 IP, 1 hit, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO.
  • The leading team pads the lead to 8 runs in their next time up.
  • Relievers B and C allow no runs in stints of 1 and 2 innings, respectively.

I have reproduced the relevant section of Rule 10.17 below. (I omitted paragraphs (d) and (e), which have absolutely no bearing on this situation.) Note especially the comment on 10.17(b), which emphasizes that the first reliever should not automatically get credit for the win, if a later reliever pitches more effectively; but this comment also says that the scorer should consider "the context of the game at the time of each relief pitcher’'s appearance."

Although Relievers B and C were clearly more effective <em>on a ratio basis</em>, Reliever A had by far the highest leverage, coming in with the tying run on base and 1 out. The other guys each pitched with an 8-run lead.

Who deserves the win? The official scorer gave it to Reliever A. My first reaction was shock -- how can a reliever who give 3 runs while getting 5 outs be considered more effective than relievers who allowed no runs? But upon reflection, I'm inclined to agree with him, because of the leverage issue. What do you think? Let the arguments begin!


10.17 Winning And Losing Pitcher

(a) The official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher that pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not relinquish such lead, unless
(1) such pitcher is a starting pitcher and Rule 10.17(b) applies; or
(2) Rule 10.17(c) applies.

Rule 10.17(a) Comment: Whenever the score is tied, the game becomes a new contest insofar as the winning pitcher is concerned. Once the opposing team assumes the lead, all pitchers who have pitched up to that point and have been replaced are excluded from being credited with the victory. If the pitcher against whose pitching the opposing team gained the lead continues to pitch until his team regains the lead, which it holds to the finish of the game, that pitcher shall be the winning pitcher.

(b) If the pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not relinquish such lead, is a starting pitcher who has not completed
(1) five innings of a game that lasts six or more innings on defense, or
(2) four innings of a game that lasts five innings on defense, then the official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the relief pitcher, if there is only one relief pitcher, or the relief pitcher who, in the official scorer’s judgment was the most effective, if there is more than one relief pitcher.

Rule 10.17(b) Comment: It is the intent of Rule 10.17(b) that a relief pitcher pitch at least one complete inning or pitch when a crucial out is made, within the context of the game (including the score), in order to be credited as the winning pitcher. If the first relief pitcher pitches effectively, the official scorer should not presumptively credit that pitcher with the win, because the rule requires that the win be credited to the pitcher who was the most effective, and a subsequent relief pitcher may have been most effective. The official scorer, in determining which relief pitcher was the most effective, should consider the number of runs, earned runs and base runners given up by each relief pitcher and the context of the game at the time of each relief pitcher’s appearance. If two or more relief pitchers were similarly effective, the official scorer should give the presumption to the earlier pitcher as the winning pitcher.

(c) The official scorer shall not credit as the winning pitcher a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when at least one succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain its lead. In such a case, the official scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the succeeding relief pitcher who was most effective, in the judgment of the official scorer.

Rule 10.17(c) Comment: The official scorer generally should, but is not required to, consider the appearance of a relief pitcher to be ineffective and brief if such relief pitcher pitches less than one inning and allows two or more earned runs to score (even if such runs are charged to a previous pitcher). Rule 10.17(b) Comment provides guidance on choosing the winning pitcher from among several succeeding relief pitchers.

51 Responses to “Official Scorer’s Challenge”

  1. Proudhon Says:

    John - I'm going with reliever A. Here's a slightly different scenario (same game) in which reliever B would have gotten the win from me.

    - Leading team scores 3 runs instead of 6, so that reliever A starts the 6th with a 4-run lead.

    - reliever A gives up his 3-run homer and is removed immediately for reliever B, who closes out that inning and pitches a scoreless 7th.

    I'm not sure how to classify the differences between the way it really happened and my revision, but to me there's enough of a difference to swing the verdict.

    Thanks for the post!

  2. John Autin Says:

    @2, Proudhon -- Would that be a Cajun name, by any chance?

    Laissez les bons temps rouler, mon frère!

  3. Proudhon Says:

    Proudhon is my nom-de-internet...I stole it from a 19th Century French philosopher.

    My only Cajun connection is a love for the music.

  4. DavidRF Says:

    I'd go with pitcher A, too, but the scoring is left to use his discretion here.

    With the play index, can you search for worst performances where the pitcher entered with a lead and got the W? It would be fun to pick over a list of a dozen box scores of these types of games.

  5. tomasher Says:

    I just assumed that it was reliever A because he was the first pitcher pitching with the lead once the starter failed to make it out of the fifth.

  6. Carl Says:

    Is it time to revisit the win rule? I assume the 5 inning rule was to keep a starter who is leaves early with a huge lead from getting a win automatically, but it means that the most effective pitcher in a game may not get a win.

    Take the above example and have the starter leaving a 1-0 game with 2 outs in the 5th with an injury.

    Then have his team score a bunch of runs and never lose the lead - but each reliever give up a run or two.

    The SP cannot get the win in this case, even though he was clearly the best pitcher his team had that day.

  7. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    Who gets the win? Reliever A. Who would deserve the win? That would be a choice between Reliever B and Reliever A. After all, despite blowing up the next inning, A did preserve the lead after a no-decision exit by the starter. And since Reliever A was the only one who faced the tying run and got the win, there should be no save awarded in this game.

  8. John Autin Says:

    @5 Tomasher / @7 Frank -- Just to be clear: By rule, it is not automatic that the first reliever gets the rule in this situation. It is up to the official scorer's discretion. The rule specifically says that the first reliever does not presumptively get the win if a later reliever is more effective.

  9. John Autin Says:

    @4, DavidRF -- Good question about searching these games with the Play Index. I can't see a direct search method; the only way I know to specify that the reliever entered with a lead is to designate it a Save Opportunity, which was not the case in this instance. (First reliever can't get a save if the SP doesn't get a win.) The Game Finder lets me specify that it was a Blown Save or a Game Finished, it doesn't allow a "not" on those conditions. And the Game Finder can't search on a saved report, as the Season Finder can.

  10. Doug Says:

    I go with reliever A, because he did pitch effectively in preserving a slim lead. When he later had a big lead, he may understandably have pitched more aggressively, possibly contributing to surrender of the HR.

    Given the context of the big league and his effectiveness in the previous inning, it may be appropriate to attribute the surrendered homerun to a calculated risk (i.e. pitching aggressively) that didn't pay off. And, regardless of the HR, he still handed the game to the next pitcher with a comfortable lead.

    As to how most official scorers would handle it, I suspect it would be reliever A almost 100% of the time, even if that pitcher was considerably less effective than in our example. From what I've observed, that first reliever would be "deemed" as the "pitcher of record" as soon as he entered the game, even though the rule book says otherwise.

  11. Doug Says:

    That should be "Given the context of the big lead ..."

  12. John Autin Says:

    @10, Doug -- I'm inclined to agree. My only reservation is the 2 walks that preceded the 3-run HR. Issuing walks while pitching with a 7-run lead is reprehensible.

  13. Chuck Says:

    Reliever A.

  14. Axl Says:

    Well Blake Wood did get the win and he should've. Came in with tying run on base and struck out 2 hitters.

  15. John Autin Says:

    There seems to be a growing consensus that the win was appropriately credited.

    Any dissenting voices?

  16. SocraticGadfly Says:

    I dissent. Reliever C.

    It's unfair to 'handicap' relievers B and C just because their team "padded" the lead after Reliever A wrapped up his appearance.

    That said, per the rule, it may be time to revisit it to allow scorers the option of still crediting a starter with a win, even if he doesn't go five full innings.

  17. DoubleDiamond Says:

    If it's spring training - the starter!

  18. Dave Says:

    Reliever A because he "pitched to the score" ala Jack Morris. 🙂

  19. Brian Says:

    I'm going to dissent with the rule. Here's a somewhat absurd scenario:

    The starter goes 4 2/3 shutout. His team takes a 27-0 lead. For the remainder of the game, every other member of the pitching staff (13 more pitchers) come in for one out each, but each one gives up two runs.

    Who gets the win?

    The scorer's decision to award a win to the most effective reliever is based on a rule that ignores the starter for no real sensible reason. Why is a relief performance somehow more valid for a meaningless statistic like "win" than a starter's performance? Just because the starter LEFT before the "standard" amount of outs had been made?

    I would love to see the rule revised such that the scorer CAN choose to give the starter the win, even when the starter doesn't complete five innings.

  20. Chuck Says:

    "There seems to be a growing consensus that the win was appropriately credited."

    It was, and I don't see an argument which can be presented otherwise.

  21. John Autin Says:

    Nanny-nanny-boo-boo to you too, Chuck.

  22. -mark Says:

    How about: "It is a dumb rule and can be removed. A pitcher W-L is a meaningless notion that is only of interest to people who don't know any better. Replace it, unconditionally, with ERA+ and all will be well with the world"


  23. Earl Says:

    I don't see how ERA+ is good. Park adjusted means hitter adjusted. That is the only way I can see mariano being so far ahead. The Yankee hitters adjust the park to a hitter's park and then mariano gets out the other team (which doesn't quite have a $200 million payroll).

    Seems like a stacked deck to me. It has validity but no way I believe Mariano is so far out in front on an all time basis.

  24. Neil L. Says:

    JA, you have outdone yourself! My head is spinning.

    This blog should NOT be categorized under "uncategorized". It is a rule interpretation puzzle.

    I need time to figure it out. JA, do not post the answer any time soon, ........ pleeeez!

    May your internet service die so you can't tell us the right answer. 🙂

  25. SocraticGadfly Says:

    Per the actual game and not just a hypothetical, "Reliever C," Louis Coleman, pitched more effectively than "Reliever A," Blake Wood, including getting all three outs on Ks in the ninth. (I reserve "striking out the side" for facing three batters in an inning and striking each out.) So, I stand by my earlier comment; I would have awarded Coleman the win.

    I could "accept" Wood getting awarded the win, but, contra Chuck, it's not a slam dunk.

  26. Dane Says:

    The context of the game matters:

    Since the starting pitcher allowed a runner on base, Reliever A had the highest leverage situation when he came in to pitch 2/3 of the fifth inning with a runner on first and a one-run lead. For the remainder of his time in the game, he gave up three runs with a six-run lead (not seven as you stated).

    Reliever B enters the game with an eight-run lead. In order to have more "leverage" added to his time pitching, his team would need to triple their lead. Same goes for reliever C.

    This is why there are few scenarios (save reliever A pitching less than one inning AND surrendering 2+ runs) in which a pitcher will enter a game as the first reliever with the lead prior (and the starting pitcher failing to complete five innings of play), leave the game with the lead, and not be credited as the winning pitcher.

    I also contend that if the winning team was the visiting club and they took the one-run lead in the top of the fifth, then reliever A's value is even higher in terms of leverage. After all, the starting pitcher failed to complete pitching the inning in which the lead was originally gained. Reliever A, in this scenario, would be the pitcher who completed the inning in which the winning team first took the lead.

  27. Chuck Says:

    "I could "accept" Wood getting awarded the win, but, contra Chuck, it's not a slam dunk."

    You're OK in assigning a win to a guy who pitched one inning with an eight run lead?!

    Or even two?

  28. Neil L. Says:

    Starting pitcher gets a no-decision for pitching only 4.1 innings.

    Reliever A is ineffective, but does not surrender the lead. The lead is held by relievers B and C who pitch more effectively than A.

    I agree with the majority. Reliever A gets the win because of his performance in the fifth inning. No holds or saves to the other relievers.

    Although the rule book leaves some wiggle room for the official scorer's discretion.

  29. Chuck Says:

    Reliever A retired two batters with the tying run on base.

    What he did the next inning after his team scored six runs is irrelevant.

    Reliever A was the only reliever who's performance directly impacted the outcome of the game.

  30. oneblankspace Says:

    Changing the situation slightly: Reliever B, who enters the 7th with an 8-run lead, pitches 3 innings allowing 0 runs. Give the win to A and the 3-inning save to B.

  31. SocraticGadfly Says:

    @Chuck ... "Reliever C" pitched 2 innings, which was more than Reliever A, who very arguably was ineffective, or not greatly effective. As I said, I would accept either one getting the win, but this is also why the rule book should be revisited on the five-inning start.

    Let me give you a much more clearcut answer on why the rule book should be revisited on a five-inning start.

    Starter is throwing all zeros through 4 ... has a five-run lead. Or more

    One out in fifth, batter hits a ball in the gap between 1B and 2B. First baseman fields and flips to pitcher covering bag.

    Pitcher gets spiked on foot by batter or similar. Has to leave game due to injury.

    By end of game, multiple relievers have let that lead slip to just one run. None of the relievers should get credit for the win.

    But .. the rule book doesn't allow for injury to be a consideration with a starter failing to go five full.

  32. John Bowen Says:

    Sounds to me like WPA is the best barometer for that kind of thing.

    The later relievers increased their team's chances of winning by what? Like, maybe 1% each? If that?

    Reliever A preserved the lead when the tying run was on. He probably brought his team's odds of winning from around 50% to around 70%. Then, when he let in those three runs with a huge lead, he decreased their chances from 99% to, oh, 98%.

    Or something like that.

  33. John Bowen Says:

    Actually, looking at the actual box score, it's far less extreme than that.

  34. John Autin Says:

    @26, Dane: "For the remainder of his time in the game, he gave up three runs with a six-run lead (not seven as you stated)."

    Dane, I don't mind being corrected, but in this case you are mistaken. See the play-by-play:

    My description was correct: Blake Wood began the bottom of the 6th inning with a 7-run lead -- Royals 12, Rockies 5.

    BTW, the Win Probability Added method does agree that Wood had a greater positive impact on the win than either of the other relievers, though none of the three had much impact at all.

  35. John Autin Says:

    @29, Chuck: "What he did the next inning after his team scored six runs is irrelevant."

    Chuck, you're obviously smarter than that statement. What a pitcher does is never irrelevant. He deserves credit for getting 2 outs in the 5th, but the fact that his teammates swelled the lead back to 7 runs does not make it irrelevant that he allowed 3 runs in the 6th. It left KC with a 4-run lead and 3 innings to go in Coors Field. Irrelevant? Are you kidding me?

  36. John Autin Says:

    On a side note ... One of the things driving my interest in this particular game was the fact that Blake Wood walked 2 batters in the 6th after being handed a 7-run lead. That would give me conniptions if I were a manager; how do you keep yourself from going out to the mound and chewing him out, or worse?

  37. Chuck Says:

    It was irrelevant to the point of him of doing what he needed to get the win.

    He retired two batters with the tying run on.

    He was the ONLY reliever to face that situation, or to inherit a runner.

    When you're up by seven runs and give up a three run homer, you still have a four run lead.

    I don't care if you're playing in Coors Field or the Grand Canyon, I'm going to beat you many, many more times than you'll beat me.

  38. GrandsBiscuits Says:


    When a pitcher has 4.2 IP in any start - even if he gives up no runs - it is not particularly valuable to his team, as the manager now has to squeeze 4.1 IP from his relievers.

    This is a huge problem, because 1) long- and middle-relievers are usually a team's least effective pitchers, and 2) making your bullpen get 13 outs almost certainly means that at least 2, if not 3 or 4, of your relievers will be unavailable in the next game, which severely reduces your chances of winning the game if it is close in the later innings.

    I don't care if he pitched a perfect 4.2 innings; in the long run, 0 runs in 4.2 IP is probably no better than, say, 4 runs in 7.2 IP - a scenario that probably wouldn't result in a win much more than 50 percent of the time.

    BTW, there is a reasonable answer for your absurd scenario. The winning pitcher is Reliever #13, because he makes the final out with the tying run either at the plate or on base.

  39. ctorg Says:

    This question highlights one of the many problems with the win statistic. Giving it all to one guy makes no sense, since they all contributed in some way to the win. But most people who post here already know that.

    In this case, I guess I'd give it to the first reliever. The guy who performed best in high leverage situations is the one who most deserves the win.

  40. jason Says:

    i think it's pretty obvious that the decision should go to a. the starter didn't go 5, a was in at the point of decision. the team never gave up the lead. a scorer should not be able to subjectively give a reliever of his choice a decision in my opinion. if reliever a is in and he leaves with the lead at the point of decision, and the lead does not change, he gets the win no matter what. if the starter leaves after 4.2 with an 16-0 lead, and reliever a goes 0.1 innings and gives up 7 runs, and reliever b goes the rest of the way perfectly, i still give the win to a.

  41. jason Says:

    whatever reliever got the last out in the 5th is the winner, that's what i'm saying. if a reliever failed to finish the 5th, the second reliever would get it because the game would still not be official until the end of the whatever half of the 5th.

  42. John Autin Says:

    @40-41, Jason -- I hear your opinion. However, the rule as it stands is clear on several issues that you touched on:

    -- The official scorer does have the discretion -- in fact, the responsibility -- to award the win to the more effective reliever. Rule 10.17(b) Comment says: "[T]he official scorer should not presumptively credit [the first relief] pitcher with the win, because the rule requires that the win be credited to the pitcher who was the most effective, and a subsequent relief pitcher may have been most effective."

    -- The scenario you described -- "reliever A goes 0.1 innings and gives up 7 runs" -- is directly addressed by Rule 10.17(c): "The official scorer shall not credit as the winning pitcher a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when at least one succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain its lead."

    -- Finishing the 5th is of no consequence in awarding a relief win.

  43. MarkN Says:

    It's clear that according to rule, Reliever A gets the win. As he probably should because of the leverage.

    Here's and idea - How about basing the win solely on Win Probability Added, regardless of innings pitched?

  44. ToddWE Says:

    A number of people have brought up situations in which effective starting pitchers become injured and cannot complete the fifth inning. I have no problem with these pitchers not being considered for the win; injuries affect virtually all statistics and milestone achievements.

    What bothers me a lot more is when a game is rain delayed after four innings and a very effective starter has to be removed rather than return after a layoff of an hour or more. I don't think it's reasonable to expect the starter to return, but very often that is the pitcher who deserves the win. Sure, he's been removed to AVOID injury, but ultimately it's mother nature, not his own body, causing him to come out of the game. If a guy leaves after 90 minutes of rain with a 9-0 lead in the fifth, he should be eligible for the win.

  45. Proudhon Says:

    Todd - Matt Harrison votes "yes" to your suggestion.

  46. John Autin Says:

    @43, MarkN -- Re: awarding the win based on Win Probability Added --

    Could you elaborate on that? Did you mean just in this type of situation where it's up to the official scorer to award the win? Or to base all wins on WPA?

  47. RUDY SAVIANO Says:

    The situation described is not very compelling one way or the other. The rule that needs to be adopted is ... when a reliever blows a save he is not eligible for a win. If the team wins in it's next ab, the starter should get the win. If it's later, the last reliever should be given the win. As it is now, a reliever can come in to a game in the top of the ninth with a 3 run lead, give up 4 runs, have his team score two in the bottom of the ninth and "earn" a win. Makes me crazy!

  48. John Autin Says:

    Just my opinion, but I don't think there's any easy-to-apply-and-follow way to salvage the Win as an important measure of pitcher performance.

    But I do kind of agree with Rudy Saviano @47 that there's no reason a starting pitcher should be ineligible for a win in a game wherein he clearly contributed more than any other pitcher.

  49. Mustachioed Repetition Says:

    As it is now, a reliever can come in to a game in the top of the ninth with a 3 run lead, give up 4 runs, have his team score two in the bottom of the ninth and "earn" a win. Makes me crazy!

    It's silly, but it doesn't make me crazy because that type of situation is so rare. It doesn't really mean anything. Even people who think W-L record is really important seem to limit it to starters. I don't think anyone really cares about relievers' wins.

  50. -mark Says:

    @40 .. Except it happened tonight (July 5) .

    Seattle at Oakland. Felix pitches 8 good innings, Seattle leads 2-1 at the end of the 8th. Bandon League comes in, blows the lead with a run given up in the bottom of the 9th. Seattle score two in the top of the 10th 4-2. Wright comes in and pitches a scoreless bottom of 10, so Seattle win 4-2.

    The win? League, not Hernandez, even though League gets hit with a B. The Save goes to Wright.

    Make sense to anyone why this is so? It doesn't to me...

  51. Kahuna Tuna Says:

    John Autin . . . Laissez les bons temps rouler, mon frère!

    M'sieu, the pronunciation of your name indicates that you were destined to work with numbers. Jean Autin = j'en ôte un, "I subtract one." Did you really think your alias would be that hard to figure out? (-;þ