Is Your ERA Important as a Pitcher?

If anyone has watched at least one baseball game, you would have seen the abbreviation of "ERA." This abbreviation is seen when statistics of pitchers are being presented. It can be confusing for those who are not avid watchers of the sport to know exactly what that means and if a higher ERA statistic is good or if a lower ERA is good. In this blog, I will tell you exactly what this number means and why it is so important for pitchers to keep it on the lower side. 

What Is ERA?

First, it is good to know that ERA stands for "Earned Run Average." This means how many runs a pitcher is giving up during a game. The term was created by Harry Chadwick, who is also known as the "Father of Baseball." An earned run is any run scored by the opposing team that comes completely as a direct result from the pitcher; it does not consider when there are fielding errors. If there is an error in fielding, that would be called an unearned run and not go against the pitcher’s ERA. The ERA is based on how many runs they allowed throughout a nine-inning game. This gives them a good enough estimate to figure out a ballpark estimate of how that pitcher did for an entire season.

How ERA Is Calculated?

The way ERA is calculated is fairly simple. The formula is the total number of runs allowed divided by the total number of innings pitched multiplied by nine. This gives the average amount of runs that were given up per inning. ERAs are written to two decimal places and can be averaged for a pitcher throughout one season or throughout their entire career. 

Something To Consider

One extra piece of this calculation that some may not think of is if an inning ends for a pitcher with runners on base, this can still go against a pitcher’s ERA. Even though the runner did not score a physical run while the pitcher was still on the mound, the pitcher still allowed them to get on base while pitching to them. When a pitcher exits in the middle of an inning and the base runner scores while the new pitcher is on the mound, this will not go against their ERA because they were not the ones who pitched to that specific base runner. 

High Or Low ERA?

Since a pitcher’s main goal is to prevent the other team from scoring as many runs as possible, the lower the ERA, the better. Having a lower ERA means that they have allowed the opposing team to score fewer runs. The average ERA for a pitcher to have is around 4.00, and anything below it is considered good. Once you start getting lower than 3.00, the ERA is considered great. Anything below a 2.00 is considered extremely rare, and exceptional pitching has been done by this player.

On the other end, if a pitcher’s ERA is above a 5.00, this is considered awful, and they normally only pitch during blow-out games where their team knows there is no chance left for them to win, or they are sent back down into the minor leagues until they can get their ERA stats back down. One important fact to point out is it is next to impossible to have a zero ERA. Players can have a zero ERA listed; however, they are usually called undefined or infinite ERA’s. 

The only way you could see a player have a zero ERA listed is because the earned run results for ERA scores can be slightly higher than people initially think. This is because earned runs make up over 90% of the runs in baseball and unearned runs are extremely rare. This is why even if a pitcher can start out at zero at the beginning of the season, it will never end up staying this way after a couple of games. 

Is There A Difference Between Starters And Closers?

Sometimes, a closing pitcher's stats can seem very off from what a starting pitcher's stats look like. This is because a starting pitcher can be in the game for five to six innings, and they’ve paced themselves with their pitches. A closing pitcher usually only has one inning each game to pitch, so they are throwing much harder pitches and not pacing themselves. Even though the number of innings pitched in a week might be the same, their ERA’s can be very different because when a closer is pitching harder, they could give up many runs in a small amount of time causing their ERA’s to be much higher than a starting pitcher's ERA.

The opposite could also apply here. Since they have one inning to come out here and give it their all, it is very possible they give up little to no runs because their arm is completely rested. Compared to the pitcher who was out there for more than half of the game, the closer does not feel tired out causing their pitches to be at their peak and harder for a batter to hit. 

Flaws Within The ERA System

An ERA is the ideal evaluation for pitchers because it gives the basic idea of how well a pitcher does and how many runs he lets in on average. With everything pro, however, there are always some cons. Pitchers that do not have as strong of a defense behind them and only an average one will have a higher ERA than a pitcher who has a very strong defense behind him. This puts the pitcher with an average defense at a disadvantage because even though he is a great pitcher, the rest of his team would not be helping him out, causing his ERA to suffer. 

It is also hard to calculate accurate ERA’s in the National League of the MLB because they do not have designated hitters while the American League does. Since the National League does not have designated hitters, this tends to keep a pitcher's ERA lower than those in the American League. They have designated hitters, which again can become an unfair disadvantage. 

The last flaw in this system is that even different ballparks can have different effects on pitcher's ERA’s. This is because some stadiums make it more likely for hitters to get more runs causing a pitcher's ERA to greatly increase at these particular fields.

Some Of The Bests And Some Of The Worsts

Over the years, there have been many great players in the major leagues, and some not so great. I wanted to take a minute to highlight the highs and the lows of pitchers ERA’s past. Ed Walsh, who played from 1906-1914, has the lowest career ERA ever at 1.79. Bob Gibson was also an amazing pitcher who had a career ERA of 2.19, with one season coming in at just 1.12 ERA! 

Obviously, we have to mention the legendary Babe Ruth as well. He was a force to be reckoned with when he was up at-bat, but he was also a strong left-handed pitcher with a career ERA of just 2.28. 

For a more recent outstanding ERA statistic, Pedro Martinez who played on the Red Sox had a career ERA of 2.93 and a 1.74 ERA during his season in the year 2000. For those overachievers who were a force that could not be stopped, Tim Keefe had a season in 1880 where his ERA was only 0.86, and Dutch Leonard had a season ERA of 0.96 in 1914. Those are two guys who I would never want to bat up against!

The MLB clearly has many pitchers out there who knew what they were doing, and while there were many great ones I could’ve continued listing, I thought it would be fun to also take a trip back to those who had the worst ERA’s of all time. With the number one worst ERA in a season, Les Sweetland had 7.71 in 1930. After him came Jim Deshaies in 1994 with a season ERA of 7.39 and Jack Knott in 1936 with a season ERA of 7.29. There are surely many others who climbed high up on the ERA scale, but these three are enough to look at to know back then, pitchers with high ERA’s were not getting pulled from games as quickly as they are now. As stated before, pitchers above a 5.00 nowadays are being pulled or brought down to the minor leagues, but back then, a stat around 5.00 would be considered pretty good.


In conclusion, ERA statistics are extremely important when looking at pitchers. They are not as specific as the WHIP statistic, which calculates walks and hits per innings pitched. Still, they are highly effective when evaluating pitchers because, in the end, runs let in are more important than how many hits or walks a pitcher had. 

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