Winning and Losing Pitcher
Rules for determining winning and losing pitcher are covered in section 10.17 of the scoring rules.
When a pitcher throws a complete game and his team wins, he is obviously the winning pitcher. If he leaves after 7 innings with a big lead that his team holds on to, it is also easy to tell he is the winning pitcher. But there are many situations where it’s not clear on who the winning pitcher is. I will cover these points below.
If the pitcher was the starter, he can get credit for the win if the following conditions are met:
1. He pitches at least 5 innings (*). (This is why often when pitchers start to struggle in the 5th, their managers are reluctant to pull them if they are winning and try to squeeze another out or two out of them. Managerial decisions should never be based on impact to a player’s stats, but I’ll rant about that later – probably moreso in relation to the save rule).
2. His team assumes the lead while he is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which he is removed from the game. (e.g., he pitches 6 innings with the score tied, and his team scores in the top of the 7th, and a new pitcher comes in for the bottom of the 7th).
3. His team never relinquishes the lead.
4. And finally, his team wins the game. (Well, you knew that already)
Sort of straight-forward rules, and easy to apply. Not necessarily fair, and it does not matter how effective he is. If he pitches 5 innings at pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium, and leaves leading 10-9, and a relief pitcher comes in and shuts down the scoring, and the team wins 15-9, the starter gets the full credit for the win. Conversely, if he pitches 9 innings and it’s a scoreless game, at home run friendly Coors field, that his team wins in the 12th inning he gets all of a “no-decision” for his efforts.
(*) 5 innings is the standard for games that are 6 innings or longer; only 4 innings need to be pitched in games that last 5 innings. This may apply to a rain shortened game in the MLB, or more commonly at youth levels where “mercy” rules are applicable.
If the starter does not get the win, because he did not meet one or more of the above conditions (say, he left with his team trailing, or only pitched a couple of innings), and his team wins, than the win has to be given to one of the relief pitchers.
The relief pitcher who gets the win is the one who was pitching while his team took the lead, which it doesn’t relinquish.
Again, this sounds straight enough, but there are a couple of important exceptions.
1 – If the starter left with the lead, but can’t get the win because he didn’t pitch enough innings, then it’s the reliever who was deemed to be the most effective that gets credit for the win. There are no hard and fast rules to determine this.
2 – If the reliever who should get the win based on the above rules was “ineffective in a brief appearance”, then the scorer has the right to award the win to the most effective subsequent relief pitcher. An example of this is in a situation where a reliever is called in to get the last out of the inning but gives up a few runs and the lead while finishing the inning. In the next half inning, the offense regains the lead, and then a new pitcher comes in. The first reliever met the condition for being the pitcher of record while his team took the lead, but can (and should) be denied the win based on this rule.
Determining the losing pitcher is much easier. The pitcher who gave up the run that gives the opponent a lead they never relinquish is the losing pitcher.
Note that if a pitcher gives up 1 run and pitches 7 innings, and a subsequent pitcher gives up 10 more runs, and then the team comes back to only lose 11-10, the pitcher who gave up the first run is still the losing pitcher, as he left trailing, and his team never caught up. Conversely, if a pitcher gives up 10 runs, and leaves trailing 10-0, but his team comes back to tie, and lose later, then he does not get the loss, as another pitcher gave the opponent the lead they never relinquished.