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Chicago White Sox pitcher Ed Walsh holds the lowest career ERA (1.82).

In baseball statistics, earned run average (ERA) is the mean of earned runs given up by a pitcher per nine innings pitched. It is determined by dividing the number of earned runs allowed by the number of innings pitched and multiplying by nine. Runs resulting from batters who reach base on an error (even a pitcher error) and later score are called unearned runs, and do not count toward ERA.

Contents

Origins

\mathrm{ERA} = 9 \cdot \frac{\mathrm{Earned~Runs~Allowed}}{\mathrm{Innings~Pitched}}

Henry Chadwick is credited with first devising the statistic, which caught on as a measure of pitching effectiveness after relief pitching came into vogue in the 1900s. Prior to 1900 — and, in fact, for many years afterward — pitchers were routinely expected to pitch a complete game, and their win-loss record was considered sufficient in determining their effectiveness.

Some means had to be found to calculate the apportionment of earned-run responsibility where multiple pitchers assume responsibility in a single game since pitchers have sole responsibility to earn strikes against opposing batters. A pitcher is assessed an earned run for each earned run scored by a batter (or pinch-runner) who reached base while batting against that pitcher. After pitchers like James Otis Crandall and Charlie Hall made names for themselves as relief specialists, gauging a pitcher's effectiveness became more difficult using the traditional method of tabulating wins and losses. The National League first kept official earned run average statistics in 1912 (the statistic was called Heydler's Statistic for a while, after then-NL secretary John Heydler), with the American League following suit afterward.

Modern-day baseball encyclopedias notate ERAs for earlier years, but these were computed many years after the actual accomplishments. Negro League pitchers are often rated by RA, or total runs allowed, since the statistics available for Negro League games did not always distinguish between earned and unearned runs.

ERA in different decades and baseball eras

As with batting average, the definition of a "good" ERA varies from year to year. In the 1910s, a good ERA was below 2.00 (two earned runs allowed per nine innings). In the late 1920s and 1930s, when conditions of the game changed in a way that strongly favored hitters, a good ERA was below 4.00. Only high-caliber pitchers, for example Dazzy Vance or Lefty Grove, would consistently post an ERA under 3.00 during those years. In the 1960s, sub-2.00 ERAs returned, as other influences such as ballparks with different dimensions were introduced. Today, an ERA under 4.00 is again considered good, with pitchers such as Greg Maddux and Pedro Martínez achieving this mark.

The all-time single-season record for lowest ERA is 0.86, set by Tim Keefe in 1880. The modern record is 0.96, set by Dutch Leonard in 1914. The lowest single-season ERA of a pitcher since 1950 is 1.12, achieved by Bob Gibson in 1968. The career record is 1.82, held by Ed Walsh (1904-17). The active player with the lowest career ERA (among those with more than 1,000 innings pitched) is Mariano Rivera, with an ERA of 2.29 through the 2008 season.

Some sources may list players with undefined or infinite career ERAs. This can happen if a pitcher allows one or more earned runs without retiring a batter (usually in a single appearance). Additionally, an undefined ERA occasionally occurs at the beginning of a baseball season. It is sometimes incorrectly displayed as zero or as the lowest ranking ERA, even though it is more akin to the highest.

In modern baseball, ERAs can be interpreted in the following way:

ERA Meaning
<2.00 Considered exceptional and is rare.
2.00 to 3.00 Excellent, only achieved by best pitchers in the league.
3.00 to 4.00 Better than average.
4.00 to 5.00 Average.
5.00 to 6.00 Worse than average.
>6.00 Consistently having an ERA this high risks demotion to the bullpen, or a lower league.

ERA: starters vs. relievers; DH rule; ballpark; altitude & climate

It can be very misleading to judge relief pitchers solely on ERA, because they are charged only for runs scored by batters who reached base while batting against them. Thus, if a relief pitcher enters the game with his team leading by 1 run, with 2 outs and the bases loaded, and then gives up a single which scores 2 runs, he is not charged with those runs. If he retires the next batter (and pitches no more innings), his ERA for that game will be 0.00 despite having surrendered the lead. (He is likely recorded with a blown save in this situation.) Starting pitchers operate under the same rules but are almost never called upon to start pitching with runners already on base. In addition, relief pitchers know beforehand that they will only be pitching for a relatively short while, allowing them to throw each pitch with maximum energy, unlike starters who typically need to keep something in reserve in case they are asked to pitch 7 or more innings. This freedom to use their maximum energy for a few innings, or even for just a few batters, helps relievers keep their ERAs down.

ERA, taken by itself, can also be misleading when trying to objectively judge starting pitchers, though not to the extent seen with relief pitchers. The advent of the designated hitter rule in the American League in 1973 made the pitching environment significantly different. Since then, pitchers spending all or most of their careers in the AL have been at a disadvantage in maintaining low ERAs, compared to National League pitchers who can often get an easy out when pitching to the opposition's pitcher, who is usually not a very good batter. (Interestingly, though, Pedro Martinez and Mariano Rivera, the ERA kings of the last decade or so, have been mostly active in the American League.) Since 1997, when teams began playing teams from the other league during the regular season, the DH rule is in effect only when such interleague games are played in an American League park.

This difference between the leagues (the DH) also affects relievers, but not to the same degree, as National League relievers actually pitch to pitchers far less than do NL starters for a number of reasons, chiefly because relievers are usually active in later innings when pinch hitters tend to be used in the pitcher's batting spot.

ERA is also affected somewhat by the ballpark in which a pitcher's team plays half its games, as well as the tendency of hometown official scorers to assign errors instead of base hits in plays that could be either.

As an extreme example, pitchers for the Colorado Rockies have historically faced many problems, all damaging to their ERAs. The combination of high altitude (5,280 ft. or 1,609 m.) and a semi-arid climate in Denver causes fly balls to travel up to 10% farther than at sea level. Denver's altitude and low humidity also reduce the ability of pitchers to throw effective breaking balls, due to both reduced air resistance and difficulty in gripping very dry baseballs. These conditions have been countered to some extent since 2002 by the team's use of humidors to store baseballs before games. These difficult circumstances for Rockies pitchers may not adversely affect their won-lost records, since opposing pitchers must deal with the same problems. Indeed, hometown hurlers have some advantage in any given game since they are physically acclimated to the altitude and often develop techniques to mitigate the challenges of this ballpark. Still, conditions there tend to inflate Rockie ERAs relative to the rest of the league.

Sabermetric treatment of ERA

In modern baseball, sabermetrics uses several defense independent pitching statistics including a Defense-Independent ERA in an attempt to measure a pitcher's ability regardless of factors outside his control. Further, because of the dependence of ERA on factors over which a pitcher has little control, forecasting future ERAs on the basis of the past ERAs of a given pitcher is not very reliable and can be improved if analysts rely on other performance indicators such as strike out rates and walk rates. For example, this is the premise of Nate Silver's forecasts of ERAs using his PECOTA system.[1] Silver also developed a "quick" earned run average (QuikERA or QERA) to calculate an ERA from peripheral statistics including strikeouts, walks, and groundball percentage. Unlike peripheral ERA OR PERA, it does not take into account park effects.[2]

All-time career leaders

Rank ERA Player Team(s) Year(s)
1 1.82 Ed Walsh Chicago (AL), Boston (NL) 1904–17
2 1.89 Addie Joss Cleveland (AL) 1902–10
3 1.89 Jim Devlin Chicago (NA), Louisville (NL) 1875-77
4 2.02 Jack Pfiester Pittsburgh (NL), Chicago (NL) 1903-04, 1906-11
5 2.03 Smoky Joe Wood Boston (AL), Cleveland (AL) 1908-15, 1917-22
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Career leaders in the live-ball era (post-1920)

Because of rules changes post-1920, most notably the abolition of the spitball and frequent replacement of soiled or scuffed baseballs, and the increased importance of the home run (largely due to Babe Ruth), ERAs have been noticeably higher than in the early decades of the sport.

The players listed here played their entire careers after 1920. Note that only one of the top five in this list, Whitey Ford, was exclusively a starting pitcher. Hoyt Wilhelm spent considerable time both as a starter and reliever, while the other three are all closers.

Rank ERA Player Team(s) Year(s)
1 2.25 Mariano Rivera New York (AL) 1995–
2 2.52 Hoyt Wilhelm New York (NL), St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago (AL), California, Atlanta, Chicago (NL), Los Angeles (NL) 1952–72
3 2.73 Trevor Hoffman Florida, San Diego, Milwaukee 1993–
4 2.75 Whitey Ford New York (AL) 1950–67
5 2.76 Dan Quisenberry Kansas City, St. Louis, San Francisco 1979–90

See also

Notes

  1. ^ See Alan Schwarz, "Numbers Suggest Mets are Gambling on Zambrano," New York Times, August 22, 2004.
  2. ^ See Nate Silver, "Playoff Hurlers," BaseballProspectus.com (September 27, 2006).

Simple English

In baseball statistics, earned run average (ERA) is the mean of earned runs given up by a pitcher per nine innings pitched.



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