Saturday Morning Quarterback

Remove five-inning rule for starting pitchers
Jun 14, 2014

I was listening to David Price pitch for Tampa Bay earlier this week. He lost 3-0 to Seattle.

His opposite number, Erasmus Ramirez, was pulled after pitching 4 2/3 innings leading by what turned out to be the final score.

Four relievers followed, with none pitching more than two innings. Despite allowing just four hits and no runs, Ramirez didn’t get the win. The official scorer couldn’t award him the victory even if he wanted to.

Baseball scoring rules prohibit a starting pitcher from being rewarded with a victory if he doesn’t pitch five full innings. Thus, the scorer had the freedom to award any of the first three relievers [the fourth, Fernando Rodney, earned the save] the win, but not the pitcher who really deserved it.

The same thing happened to Lebanon’s Jeff Bennett several years ago when he pitched for the Braves. Normally a reliever during his time in Atlanta, Bennett was pressed into an emergency start and had the lead when manager Bobby Cox sensed the gas tank was getting low and pulled him.

The Braves bullpen held the lead but none of the relievers pitched as long as Bennett. But he wasn’t allowed to get the win.

A reliever can come in, throw one pitch [or even pick a runner off base without throwing a pitch to the plate], see his team take the lead and come out before the next inning and end up with the win.

Former Friendship Christian pitcher Stephen Pryor got one out in a six-pitcher no-hitter but got his first major-league win because he was the pitcher who finished the inning before his team took the lead to stay.

Former Cumberland pitcher and Democrat intern Jeremiah McElwain called those kind of decisions ‘vulture’ wins. He got one his junior year during the Bulldogs’ Senior Day, pitching an inning before CU took the lead.

That’s fine in those late-inning situations. But scoring rules should be amended to reflect modern pitching strategies.

It was an accurate statistic for pitchers to get wins and losses when they regularly pitched complete games, or came close most of the time. Those rarely happen anymore.

Actually, it’s a more relevant statistic for quarterbacks, who rarely come out of games barring injury.

The Baseball Writers Association of America, which names the Cy Young Award winner every season, recognizes the dwindling importance of wins for individual pitchers. Unless a closer had a monster year and no starter did, the BBWAA used to pick the pitcher with the most wins. But Seattle’s Felix Hernandez won the award in 2010 with a mediocre 13-12 won-loss record for a bad team.

But King Felix posted other big numbers, including a 2.27 earned-run average, 232 strikeouts and 249 2/3 innings pitched.

My solution: Amend the rule to one similar to the one used in spring training and the All-Star Game where the pitcher on the mound when the lead is changed for the final time gets the win regardless of when it happens. Pitchers can’t exceed three innings in the All-Star Game and rarely do during spring training until the final 10 days.

An exception would be if a starter has to leave after an inning or so with a lead [perhaps due to injury or ejection] and a reliever comes in and pitches the final seven or eight innings. In which case, the win would go to the pitcher who works the longest.

This isn’t the world’s most pressing issue. But it is something baseball can do relatively easy to reflect current pitching trends.

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