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Pitcher's ERA

MLB Betting: How to Judge a Pitcher’s ERA

What is a Good and Bad Earned Run Average?

By Loot MLB Handicapper,

A pitcher’s ERA (earned run average) is perhaps the single-most important statistic he can have. It really is the telltale stat that we use to determine a pitcher’s effectiveness. Sure, there are other stats that carry a lot of impact, namely a pitcher’s won-loss record or his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). But this is a sport that revolves around runs--not hits or walks. In that sense, the ERA is still the king of pitcher stats.

The ERA is expressed in a number that expresses how many earned runs a pitcher averages over the course of 9 innings. If he gives up an average of 2 runs per 9 innings, his ERA would be expressed as 2.00. If he averaged 4-and-a-half runs per 9 innings pitched, his ERA would be 4.50. With wins and losses sometimes achieved in dubious ways, fans, media, and people in the business tend to look at ERA first.

It is no coincidence that the best pitchers in the big leagues have the lowest ERA. Simply, the fewer runs you allow, the lower your ERA will be. A pitcher can have a lot of strikeouts, complete games, or whatever it is--and it doesn’t necessarily mean he is very good at limiting teams to a small amount of runs in the long-haul. For pitchers who do that, look for a low ERA. It paints a good overall picture.


What constitutes a good ERA can differ. First of all, you have starters, middle-relievers, and closers, all of whom have different standards of greatness. Still, there are some hallmark numbers that work for all hurlers. Here are some of the more common watermarks in ERA: (Note: We've mixed in some single season numbers with career numbers)

Under 1.00: Only seen rarely, either with a pitcher with a scant number of innings pitched or a relief pitcher having a phenomenal year. (Only 3 pitchers have been under a 1.00 for their careers and all were at the turn of the century; 1900'ish)

1.50: If a pitcher, whether a starter or reliever has an ERA in this area, he is undoubtedly a premier pitcher and probably a star or well on his way. (We're talking Bob Gibson/Christy Mathewson/Walter Johnson/Cy Young type numbers)

2.00: The universal mark of a dynamite pitcher. A thrower who is in this neighborhood is probably one of the top pitchers in the league. (Pedro Martinez/Tom Seaver/Clayton Kershaw/Lefty Grove)

2.50: A very good ERA for any pitcher to have. (Greg Maddux/Randy Johnson/Mariano Rivera/Babe Ruth/Dan Quisenberry)

3.00: For a starter who puts up a lot of innings, 3.00 is in fact a good ERA. A closer might be expected to have a lower ERA, but for the most part, an ERA of 3.00 is getting it done. (Jim Palmer/Bruce Sutter/Trevor Hoffman/Rollie Fingers/Felix Hernandez)

3.50: Not bad, getting a little iffy for a reliever, but probably good enough for a spot in the starting rotation.

4.00: In some parts of baseball history, where the balls are flying all over place, an ERA of 4.00 isn’t terrible, but for the most part, 4.00 is sort of a magic number when it comes to ERA. If you’re below 4.00, you’re OK. Over 4.00 and you’re in iffy territory.

4.50: OK for a new pitcher developing in the Majors or a guy battling through some hard times, but otherwise, a 4.50 ERA isn’t going to get a player where he wants to be.

5.00 or over: Unless improvements are forthcoming an ERA or 5.00 or over is not going to keep you in the Majors for long.

For starters in modern times, Bob Gibson leads the way with a 1.12 ERA in 1968. Some of the better ERAs since then have been Tom Seaver with 1.76 in 1971, Ron Guidry with 1.74 in 1978, Nolan Ryan with 1.69 in 1981, Dwight Gooden with 1.53 in 1985, Greg Maddux with 1.56 and 1.63 in 1993-94, and Pedro Martinez with 1.74 in 2000. But the ERA champion is usually somewhere from the high-ones to the high-twos. Career-wise, no starter who played as recently as the 70’s is in the top 100.

Relievers do not throw enough innings to qualify for season ERA titles. Still, relievers like Mariano Rivera (13th) and Dan Quisenberry (93rd) threw enough to be on the all-time list. Some of the lower ERA totals in recent memory have been recorded by relievers, such as 0.60 by Fernando Rodney in 2012 and .061 by Dennis Eckersley in 1990.

If you want to see when a top pitcher from the past started to go downhill, look at his ERA. It might not tell the whole story, but it tells a big part of it. It is the most telling stat that reflects how good a pitcher is at what he’s supposed to do--limit opposing teams to as few runs as possible.

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