On May 5 of last year, the Giants had a bad day. Specifically, a couple of their pitchers had a bad day. In the top of the fifth inning, with his team already trailing 4-3, Matt Cain allowed a leadoff home run to Trevor Story. The next batter, Carlos Gonzalez, doubled. Nolan Arenado hit a grounder to shortstop Brandon Crawford, who bounced his throw to first base. Arenado was safe on the error, with Gonzalez advancing to third. The next batter, Gerardo Parra, singled, scoring Gonzalez, as Arenado advanced to second.

With nobody out, runners on first and second, and the Giants now trailing 6-3, manager Bruce Bochy brought in Vin Mazzaro from the bullpen.

  • The first batter Mazzaro faced, Mark Reynolds, hit a grounder to second baseman Kelby Tomlinson, who couldn’t come up with the ball. The Rockies had their second baserunner reach on error in the inning, and the bases were loaded.
  • With the bases now full, Tony Walters doubled down the right field line, scoring Arenado and Parra, with Reynolds going to third. Rockies 8, Giants 3.
  • Pitcher Chris Rusin hit a soft grounder to second, and the Giants had their first out of the inning, with the runners holding.

At this point, the Giants should have been out of the inning. Crawford’s error should have been the first out, Tomlinson’s the second out, and Rusin’s grounder the third out. Therefore, any subsequent runs would be unearned.

And there were plenty of subsequent runs!

  • DJ LeMahieu singled, scoring Reynolds. Rockies 9, Giants 3.
  • Charlie Blackmon doubled, scoring Wolters. Rockies 10, Giants 3.
  • Story singled, scoring LeMahieu. Rockies 11, Giants 3.
  • Gonzalez walked, loading the bases.
  • Arenado was hit by a pitch, scoring Blackmon. Rockies 12, Giants 3.
  • Parra singled, scoring Story and Gonzalez. Rockies 14, Giants 3.
  • Reynolds doubled, scoring Arenado. Rockies 15, Giants 3.
  • Derek Law relieved Mazzaro. Wolters struck out.
  • Rusin—the pitcher who’d made the first out of the inning—singled, scoring Parra and Reynolds. Rockies 17, Giants 3.
  • LeMahieu ended the inning with a grounder.

Up to the point of Rusin’s groundout, the first out of the inning that really should’ve been the third out, the Rockies had scored four runs. Only two were earned: Story’s homer, and Parra’s single that scored Gonzalez. The third runner who scored, Arenado, had reached base via Crawford’s error, so his run was unearned. Parra, who’d singled, scored on that play too, but his run was unearned as well because he’d advanced to second on Tomlinson’s error. So there were four runs scored, two earned, two unearned.

The next nine runs were all unearned, because there would’ve been three outs if not for the two errors. But here’s the wrinkle: They were unearned to the Giants, not to Mazzaro. When Rusin grounded out, it should’ve been the third out of the inning. Any scoring after that was unearned for the team. But under baseball rules—9.16(i), to be exact—relief pitchers are on the hook for runs they allow. The rule states:

When pitchers are changed during an inning, the relief pitcher shall not have the benefit of previous chances for outs not accepted in determining earned runs.

The rulebook clarifies this via comment:

It is the intent of Rule 9.16(i) to charge a relief pitcher with earned runs for which such relief pitcher is solely responsible. In some instances, runs charged as earned against the relief pitcher can be charged as unearned against the team. For example:

  1. With two out and Peter pitching, Abel reaches first base on a base on balls. Baker reaches first base on an error. Roger relieves Peter. Charlie hits a home run, scoring three runs. The official scorer shall charge two unearned runs to Peter, one earned run to Roger and three unearned runs to the team (because the inning should have ended with the third out when Baker batted and an error was committed).

There are two other examples that I won’t list here. But relevant to the Giants game, when Mazzaro came in, from the point of view of his earned run ledger, there were no outs. The first batter he faced, Reynolds, reached on error, followed by Rusin’s groundout. From the official scorer’s perspective, at that point, Mazzaro should’ve had two outs, not one. So he was still responsible for any additional scoring until the next out of the inning, which should’ve been his third. But the Giants should’ve been out of the inning after Rusin’s grounder, so as a team, any additional runs would be unearned.

When Reynolds scored, it was an unearned run for Mazzaro, because he’d reached on Tomlinson’s error. But the next six runs that Mazzaro allowed—Wolters, LeMahieu, Blackmon, Story, Gonzalez, and Arenado—were all earned to him, because if Reynolds hadn’t reached by error, Mazzaro still would have had only two outs. When Law struck out Wolters following the six-run outburst, it should’ve been the third out of the inning for Mazzaro. So when Law allowed a two-run single to the next batter, those two runs, charged to Mazzaro, were unearned.

For the day, Matt Cain allowed eight runs, six earned. Vin Mazzaro allowed nine runs, six earned. Adding those up, you get 17 runs, 12 earned. But the Giants allowed 17 runs, just six earned. Really. Here’s the box score and everything:

(As an aside, last May 5 wasn’t the first time something bad happened in May for Mazzaro. I was at the Royals game on May 16, 2011. Mazzaro came on in relief with a runner on in the third inning for Kansas City against Cleveland. He didn’t do very well: 2 1/3 innings, 14 runs, all earned. That’s the most earned runs allowed by a reliever since World War II. The Royals lost 19-1. Mazzaro was sent down the next day. Joe Posnanski wrote a wonderful essay about Mazzaro’s game; Mazzaro became a favorite of mine.)

(And as an even further aside, in 1932, Eddie Rommel of the Athletics came on in relief in a game against Cleveland, and, like Mazzaro, allowed 14 runs—and was credited with the win. Here’s the crazy game account.)

Anyway, why have I gone on for 1,000 words about a blowout from last season? Because it introduces the scoring quirk of Rule 9.16(i): The earned runs allowed by a team don’t necessarily equal the sum of the earned runs allowed by all of its pitchers.

I’m not aware of anything else like that in baseball. I mean, I was at the Pirates-Blue Jays game last Sunday. Josh Donaldson, Darwin Barney, and Justin Smoak hit home runs. That’s three dingers for the Jays, whether you look at the team totals or sum up the individual lines. That’s how it works for every other statistic, right? The Rangers handed the ball to 31 pitchers last year, and they combined for 1,443 innings pitched and 1,154 strikeouts. Those numbers are the same if you sum each pitcher’s IP and K or if you look at the team totals.

But if you add up the earned runs allowed by every Rangers pitcher, they sum to 703. The Rangers, as a team, allowed 700. The difference is due to Rule 9.16(i). It’s weird.

I’ll conclude my trip down the Rule 9.16(i) rabbit hole on Thursday.

Thank you for reading

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Cool! I didn't know about that rule.
Yeah, it's weird, isn't it? I can't remember how I discovered this but it's fascinated me.
That is a neat little accounting trick you got there MLB.
But, as I'll illustrate Thursday, it's becoming less of a thing.