Five Innings For A Win?

Join me in a hypothetical, starring a manager who has shown a past willingness to use his starters in limited relief on their “throw” days, Bobby Cox.

It’s Javier Vazquez’s turn and Derek Lowe’s throw day (or, if you fear I’m jinxing Vazquez, I think you might be able to flip them). The Braves are up 2-0 with nobody out as Vazquez takes the mound for the two outs in the top of the third inning. He throws an obvious strike, which the ump calls outside. Vazquez detonates and is ejected.
You supply the reason – his bullpen is short, or it’s overworked, or Lowe really needs to work on something in a game situation, or the All-Star break looms and he’s going to get too much rest – but, for whatever purpose, Cox summons Lowe, intending to have him throw no more than 25 pitches. Lowe does so with maximum efficiency, and exits for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth, the Braves now up 4-0. They win 6-0.
By the rules of scoring, Lowe is going to be credited with the win. The starting pitcher, Vazquez, is, alone among all pitchers, required to finish five innings with an unvanquished lead. Of course we have just constructed the scenario in which two pitchers, both of them starters, have produced nearly identically: Vazquez has thrown 2.2 scoreless, Lowe 2.1.
Now, obviously, in this case Lowe is literally, if not traditionally, a relief pitcher. But this hypothesis is designed to show a scenario in which merely the act of being the relief pitcher earns Lowe a win, while merely the act of being the starting pitcher disqualifies Vazquez from a win. And it is built to underscore the point: why does this rule exist?
In the He-Man Days of the Complete Game the inference was obvious to us. Starting pitchers who didn’t make it through five were not only not worthy of getting a victory, they were not really worthy of being starters, and should suffer the ignominy of that halfway house that was known as the bullpen. Certainly we have lost nearly all of that bigotry towards the reliever, that he is necessarily a failed starter. If that still existed, it was certainly killed off by the conversions of guys like Righetti, Smoltz, and Lowe himself, from starter to closer (and in two cases, back again).
There was, as I recall from the ’60s, a certain lingering fear that the Five Innings Rule was necessary to protect against a statistical armageddon. You could construct a scenario based on the 1972 Phillies where there is a horrific team with one unhittable pitcher with a rubber arm and the a chance to win 30 games in a season. Why not start him every third day for the last month of the season, and pull him after three innings or the attaining of a lead, whichever came first? Our alternate-universe Carlton could’ve won 30 or 35 that way.
Certainly that fear has to be gone by now. Faced with going down 3-1 to the Indians in the 2007 playoffs or starting Josh Beckett on short rest, Terry Francona bit the bullet and took the former. In their life-or-death battle last September, the Mets had to be talked into letting Johan Santana pitch on three days’ rest rather than four – by Santana. The likelihood of abuse in a world without a Five Innings Rule seems almost nil.
There was certainly also the belief that a reliever coming in for a starter struggling with a lead before five innings had been completed, was probably going to pitch as long, or nearly as long, as the starter. How often is that true?
And I’m not of the opinion that a sudden elimination of the rule would lead to managers yanking starters even earlier – or at least any earlier than a batter or two, usually in the fifth. Ask all 30 managers what one wish they’d ask of a Baseball Genii and I think all 30 would answer “starters going seven every night.”
All these ruminations come from the Mets-Rays game in New York this afternoon. Jeff Niemann of Tampa Bay did not pitch well by any stretch of the imagination (4 IP, 4 BB, 3 H, 2 ER). But he left for a pinch-hitter in the top of the fifth, losing 2-0; they rallied in that inning to lead 4-2. If the Rays had held onto the lead (they did not; Lance Cormier coughed it up) Niemann would have been ineligible for the win even though he was technically the pitcher of record when the runs were scored, and Cormier or one of the others who pitched even more poorly than he did, would necessarily have gotten it.
Just a thought here: is the Five Innings Rule a meaningless vestige of the past? Should it be eliminated? Modified to four innings? Left to the Official Scorer’s discretion?

22 Comments

Don’t know myself but I will give you my Dad’s opinion (seeing as it’s Father’s Day): Pitchers today are creampuffs who should be able to go 9 innings, they could back in the day, why not now? Of course, back then the Gashouse Gang would come to the ballpark hammered, or so I’ve been told. Maybe booze helps. Thanks for explaining this rule. I’ve been wondering how the winning pitcher was chosen and now I know.

I understand the original motivation for the rule, despite the contradictions that arise because of it. I personally think that going to four innings would be just as arbitrary as five, so maybe it should be up to the official scorer. I don’t see how else you can fairly assign wins or losses in a situation like the hypothetical Rays win posed above.

In the age of pitch counts and relief specialists, the 5 inning rule makes no sense whatsoever. Olbermann, although you did not take a stand, you did present reasons for elimination of the rule. I am a Dodger fan. Dodgers starters have won only 2 games in June, the remainder of the wins have gone to the Bullpen. Sometimes a W was awarded to a pitcher who threw 2 pitches in the game. It makes more sense to me to eliminate the archaic rules governing the awarding of the W and to give the discretion to the official scorers who would consider the totality of circumstances.

I was confused by this rule for a long time as well, but I think I understand the logic now: The winning pitcher is the pitcher for the winning team at the point when it became an official game (so long as they held the lead continuously).

The starter does not have to pitch five, unlike a reliever, to get a win; he just has to throw a single pitch in an official game.

if anything, the minimum for a win should be RAISED to 6 innings, not lowered.

let’s eliminate the bogus 100-pitch, 5-inning “win” (otherwise known as The Matsuzaka).

I predict starters will suddenly (and miraculously) have the stamina to go deeper into games if you need to go 6 to get the win.

The thing of it is that Baseball does not fare well when it changes time honored rules, whether they make sense or not. I always thought that if you were the “pitcher of record” when your team went ahead for good, then it’s your W. But that can be unfair too. Back in the way back machine we didn’t have holds and saves and another billion or so stats. Some of these things were developed so pitchers would have an argument when it came time to discuss a new contract. There had to be a way to measure their contribution to the ball club. So, here we are. KO, you are on to something here. Does MSNBC ever let you come to the west coast? If they did, would you go see the Dodgers? I would love to read your thoughts on their season. There is one caveat though, can it be done without any reference to Manny the Clown??

Technically, an NL relief pitcher can come into a game with two outs in the fifth inning and a man on first, get to the mound and pick off the runner. If his team bats for him in the very next inning in the process of going ahead, he gets the win without having thrown a pitch. If that’s not arbitrary I don’t know what is. Leave it to the Official Scorer. Award the win to the pitcher who did the most to obtain the win. Can’t the Official Scorer deny a Save to a closer who “does not pitch effectively?”

Can a pitcher get the win and save in the same game?

Situation: Starting pitcher has a 1-0 lead with one out in the ninth inning. He doesn’t have a good history against the upcoming batter. So a relief pitcher comes in and retires that batter for the second out, but the starting pitcher was put into right field, as the manager wanted to use him against what would become the final batter. the starting pitcher then comes back in and records final out.

What’s the ruling?

yanksfanintx: The starting pitcher gets the win. There is no save.

See Rule 10.20. One of the three conditions for a save is that the pitcher is not the winning pitcher.

Thanks, al_9000.

I say leave the 5 inning rule as it is a nuance that makes the game great. My favorite nuance is a winning pitcher never throwing a pitch !!

I think the five inning for a starting pitcher is unfair because a reliever can sometimes get a win by pitching only a third of an inning, whereas the starter must pitch five innings to qualify for a win. I suggest the following replacement for 10.17(a):
Credit the win to the pitcher who closed the half-inning just prior to the scoring of the winning run if he is a relief pitcher, otherwise credit the the first pitcher who got the most outs (innings pitched) in the game. The winning run is the go-ahead run when the opposing team never ties or regains the lead for the remainder of the game.(replace 10.17 a, b, c, and e).
This revision would produce reasonable results in the ‘exceptional cases’ where the game lasts less than five innings, when the winning run is scored in the first half of the first inning, and in exhibition games.
Peter Gaposchkin

I looked at the box scores of two recent games.
The first game was on 30 August 2010 between the A’s and Yankees. The winning run was scored in the bottom of the third inning. The starter pitched 4 1/3 innings, and the reliever 4 2/3 innings. My proposed rule would not change the winning pitcher because the reliever got 14 outs and the starting pitcher 13 outs.
The second game was on 31 August 2010 between the Reds and Brewers. The wining run was scored bottom of the fourth inning. The starter pitched four innings and no reliever pitched more than two innings. My proposed change would award the win to the starter because he received more outs than did any of the relievers.
Not that my rule change would remove the discretion to the official scorer in deciding the winning pitcher and would give reasonable results in most cases.

Peter Gaposchkin

I looked at the box score in a game of the 2011 season. This games was played on Saturday 27 August 2011, between the Oakland A’s and Boston Red Sox. Boston won by a score of 4 to 0, and winning run scored in bottom of second inning. Starter pitched 4 innings and gave up no runs, and was denied victory because of five inning rule for starting pitchers. The win was awarded to the first reliever, who pitched three innings. My proposal would have given the starter the win because he received more outs than any of the relievers. Peter Gaposchkin

Taking a starting pitcher out before the fifth inning of a game has become more common in the playoffs in 2011, possibly because managers want to use more pitchers in postseason play. Examples of games that this happened:

Wednesday 5 October, Milwaukee at Arizona. Arizona won 10 to 6.
Winning run in bottom of first inning. Starter pitched 3 innings, gave up 3 runs
First reliever pitched 2 innings, was awarded win.
My rule would have given victory to starter

Saturday 8 October, Detroit at Texas. Texas won 3 to 2.
Winning run scored in bottom of second inning
Starter pitches 4.2 innings, gives up 2 runs
First reliever pitches 0.1 inning, perfect game, passed over
Second reliever pitches 2 innings, was awarded win
My rule would have given win to starter

Monday 10 October, St Louis at Milwaukee, St. Louis wins 12 to 3
Winning run scored in top of first inning.
Starter pitched 4.1 inning
First reliever gets no outs, gives up a walk
Second reliever pitches 0.2 inning, was awarded win.
My rule would have given win to starter

Friday 14 October, Milwaukee at St. Louis. St Louis wins 7 t0 1
Winning run scored in bottom of second inning
Starter pitches 4.2 innings
First reliever pitches 1.1 inning, was awarded win
My rule would have given win to starter

Saturday 15 October, Detroit at Texas. Texas wins 15 to 5.
Winning run in bottom of third inning
Starter pitched 4.2 innings
First reliever pitched 0.1 inning
Second reliever pitched 2 innings, was awarded win
My rule would have given win to starter

Sunday 16 October, St. Louis at Milwaukee. St. Louis wins 12 to 6
Winning run scored in top of first inning
Starter pitched 2 innings
First reliever pitched 2 innings
Second reliever pitched 2.1 innings, was awarded win.
My rule would not change result, since the second reliever got 7 outs, while the starter and first reliever each got only 6 outs.

My proposed rule: give win to pitcher closing half inning just before winning run is scored, if he is a reliever, otherwise give in to first pitcher with most outs (innings pitched). This rule would give reasonable results, particularly in a game in which the visiting team scored two runs in the top of the first inning, the first pitcher in the second half of the first inning gives up a home run and is immediately taken out of the game, and no subsequent batter reaches first base.

Peter Gaposchkin
., if he is a reliever

In the 2011 World Series, the starting pitcher on the winning team was taken out after only three innings in the third game of the world series. Particulars as follows:

Game 3 of world series, Saturday 22 October, St. Louis at Texas.
St. Louis wins 16 to 7
Winning run scored in top of first inning
St. Louis pitchers:
Starter 3 innings, gives up three runs
First reliever: 1 inning, gives up three runs
Second reliever: 2.1 innings, gives up one run, awarded win by scorer

My proposed rule would have given the starter the win because he got the most outs (9), more outs than any of the relievers. My proposal would give reasonable results in almost all cases, including the case where the visiting team scores two runs in the top of the first inning, the first batter in the bottom of the first inning hits a home run, and the pitcher is taken out of the game immediately after that home run. Afterwards no batter reaches first base, so the final score is 2 to 1.
Peter Gaposchkin

The solution to this, and most egregious “Win” situations, can be made simply: add a 10.7(d): “Final decision on deciding the Winning Pitcher can be decided by the Official Scorer in a case where the pitcher who contributed most to the victory is clearly not the pitcher outlined in the scenarios above.” the clearest example of this occurred on Opening Day (III) 2012 in Detroit – Verlander went 8, giving up one run, leaving with the lead. Valverde came in and exploded, giving up the lead, but finishing the 9th, leaving a tie game. The Tigers came back to win in the bottom of the 9th, so Valverde got the win, since he was in when the final out was scored. This is patently ridiculous and anyone can see it, and would have been the perfect situation for 10.7(d).

I think that the winning pitcher should be assigned by a definite rule instead of giving it to the official scorer. My proposal is to award the win to the pitcher closing the half inning just before the go-ahead run if that pitcher is a reliever, otherwise give the win to the first pitcher with the most outs (innings pitched). During the cactus league games, the starting pitcher was often taken out of the game before the4 fifth inning, and often the win was awarded according to my proposal. As for a pitcher getting on the mound in a save situation, giving up the tying run, then getting a win because his team scored during the

term of the reliving pitcher, this is quite common. What do you do if the starting pitcher finishes eight innings for the home team with a one run lead, gives up three walks in the top of the ninth, then is taken out of the game. The reliever gives up a home run tying the game, then the next batter hits into a triple play to end the first half of the ninth inning, after which the first batter in the bottom of the ninth hits a home run to end the game. I suggest that the reliever should get the win in this case. I notice the rule on saves, in which the one inning rulke applies only to the case when

I do not think the solution is to give the official scorer more discretion as to awarding the title of winning pitcher. My proposal is to award the win to the pitcher closing the half-inning just prior to the go-ahead run if that pitcher is a reliever, otherwise award the win to the first pitcher with the most outs (innings pitched). During the cactus league games, the starting pitcher was often taken out before the fifth inning, and often the win was awarded according to my proposal. As for a pitcher getting on the mound in a save situation, giving up the the tying run, then getting a win because his team later scored, this is quite common. What do you do if the starting pitcher finishes eight innings with a one run lead, then gives up three walks in the top of the ninth, after which he is removed from the game. The reliever gives up a walk to tie up the game, then gets the next batter to hit into a triple play to end the top of the ninth. Then the first batter in the bottom of the ninth hits a home run to win the game. I do not consider this to be an egregious win. I would say that most egregious win is when a pitcher enters the game with a lead in a non-save situation (a big lead) and blows the lead and then gets the win from subsequent run(s) from his team. Maybe we should put in a rule that if the last pitcher enters a game with the lead in a non-save situation, gives up the tying run, then gets the win from a subsequent run, he should be given just a save, and the win awarded to a preceding pitcher by ignoring the runs given up or awarded to the last pitcher. Peter Gaposchkin

Different rules seem to apply for the all star game. The starting pitcher for the National League was awarded the win even though he pitched only two innings. He would have been awarded the win under my proposal because no other pitcher pitched more than one inning in the entire game. Note that the winning run was scored in the top of the first inning so no pitcher closed the half inning just before the winning run scored. That is why I phrased my proposal, give the win to the pitcher closing the half inning before the winning run is scored, if he is a reliever otherwise award the win to the first pitcher getting the most outs (inning pitched). In this case there was no pitcher closing the inning just prior to the winning run, because the winning run was scored in the top of the first inning. Peter Gaposchkin

I looked at some box scores in September 2012.
First, the game on Friday 14 September between Colorado and San Diego.
Colorado beat San Diego 7 to 4 with winning run in top of first inning.
The starter pitched 3.2 innings and was denied win by the five inning rule.
The first reliever pitched 0.2 innings, and got each of the two batters he
faced with a single pitch, and also prevented the inherited runner from scoring.
After making these two pitches, he was taken out of the game and passed
over in the designation of winning pitcher even though he pitched a perfect
game for his duration on the mound. Very strange.
The second reliever pitched 1.2 innings and and was awarded the win.
Under my proposal, the starter would have been awarded the win by pitching
the most innings, and if I had been the official scorer under the present
rules, would have awarded the win to the first reliever.
Second, the game on Tuesday 18 September 2012 between Tigers and A’s.
Tigers beat A’s 12 to 2 with winning run in bottom of second inning.
The starter pitched 2 innings and was denied win by five inning rule.
The first reliever pitched 2.2 innings and was awarded the win.
My proposal would have not changed the result for the winning pitcher
because the first reliever got eight outs and the starter only six outs.
Peter Gaposchkin

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