Every game of baseball has a winning and a losing pitcher, and some will have a third pitcher who gets credit for a save.
Finding the winning pitcher can be simple in most cases, but more difficult in others. In some games it may even be a judgement call on the part of the official scorer.
Generally the winning pitcher is the pitcher of record on the winning team when the winning run is scored. The winning run is one more than the number of runs scored by the losing team. For example, if a team wins 7 – 3, the winning run would be one more than three, so in this case four.
A pitcher is considered to be the pitcher of record until a new pitcher actually throws a pitch. For example, if Bill is the pitcher and his team is losing 2-0 and they pinch hit for him, then score 3 runs in that half-inning, he was technically removed from the game, but still the pitcher of record because no pitcher had replaced him on the mound before his team took the lead. If his team went on to win 3-2, Bill would be credited with the win.
One key thing to remember is that if a pitcher is a starting pitcher–which means he is the first pitcher for his team that day–he must pitch at least five innings to get the win (if a game ends early that is altered, see the rules for the specifics).
In the event there is an ‘ineffective’ pitcher, which the rulebook only defines loosely, then it is at the discretion of the official scorer to decide if he actually should be credited with the win. For example, Mike enters a tie game with two outs in the top of the seventh inning, and proceeds to give up four runs before getting the final out, then his team scores ten runs in the bottom of the seventh inning (while Mike is the pitcher of record). Steve is brought in to replace Mike and pitches the final two innings without giving up a run to give his team the win. Looking at their stats, Mike pitched ⅓ of an inning and gave up four runs; Steve pitched two innings and gave up no runs. Technically, Mike was the pitcher while the winning run was scored, but he was not the most effective pitcher. In this case, Steve should be credited with the win.
Determining the losing pitcher is simple. He is the pitcher on the losing team who gave up the winning run. Again, the winning run is the number of runs scored by the losing team plus one.
Getting credit for a save involves a two part process. He must fulfill these criteria:
- His team won.
- He is the last pitcher for his team.
- He is not the winning pitcher.
- He pitcher for at least ⅓ of an inning (got one out).
If those are fulfilled he must also meet one of the following three criteria:
- He pitches at least one inning with a lead of no more than three runs.
- He enters the game with the potential tying run on base, at bat, or on deck.
- He pitches at least three innings.
The most common one you will see is the first one. A team’s closer, which is a name give to the guy designated to come in and finish the game, will usually pitch in the ninth inning and get the save (but only if he is up by three runs or less).
The second possibility is pretty wide open. In this case the pitcher could potentially come into a game up by five runs, throw one pitch, and earn the save; assuming the bases are loaded.
Conversely, the final option allows a pitcher to come into a game his team is leading by any number of runs and get the save. So even if he were to come into the game leading 17-0, pitch the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings and give up 16 runs he would have earned the save.
Due to these rules, not every game will have a saving pitcher.