This Unique Baseball Rule Gave Tanner Banks the Win in Detroit


If you were looking at the box score during yesterday’s 11-5 victory against the Detroit Tigers, you may have noticed something interesting. Tanner Banks was awarded the win, despite the fact that two other relievers – Jose Ruiz and Jimmy Lambert – pitched with the lead and kept it after they departed. The decision to award Banks the win – rather than a three-inning save – appeared to some to be a mistake.

However, this was a completely valid ruling by the official scorekeeper of yesterday’s game, thanks to a unique clause within baseball’s official rules. So, what happened?


Rule 9.17 in the MLB’s official rule book is the rule that deals with the winning pitcher in each game. Rules 9.17 (a) and (b) are likely the rules we are most familiar with as baseball fans, which read as follows:

Rule 9.17 (a)

“The Official Scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher that pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not relinquish such lead, unless ( 1) such pitcher is a starting pitcher and Rule 9.17(b) applies; or (2) Rule 9.17(c) applies.”

Rule 9.17(a) Comment:

Whenever the score is tied, the game becomes a new contest as far as the winning pitcher is concerned. Once the opposing team assumes the lead, all pitchers who have pitched up to that point and have been replaced are excluded from being credited with the victory. If the pitcher against whose pitching the opposing team gained the lead continues to pitch until his team regains the lead, which it holds until the finish of the game, that pitcher shall be the winning pitcher.

– MLB’s 2019 Official Rule Book

Rule 9.17(b)

“If the pitcher whose team assumes a lead while such pitcher is in the game, or during the inning on offense in which such pitcher is removed from the game, and does not relinquish such lead, is a starting pitcher who has not completed

(1) five innings of a game that lasts six or more innings on defense, or

(2) four innings of a game that lasts five innings on defense, then the Official Scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the relief pitcher, if there is only one relief pitcher, or the relief pitcher who, in the Official Scorer’s judgment was the most effective, if there is more than one relief pitcher.”

Rule 9.17(b) Comment:

“It is the intent of Rule 9.17(b) that a relief pitcher pitch at least one complete inning or pitch when a crucial out is made, within the context of the game (including the score), in order to be credited as the winning pitcher. If the first relief pitcher pitches effectively, the Official Scorer should not presumptively credit that pitcher with the win, because the rule requires that the win be credited to the pitcher who was the most effective, and a subsequent relief pitcher may have been most effective. The Official Scorer, in determining which relief pitcher was the most effective, should consider the number of runs, earned runs and base runners given up by each relief pitcher and the context of the game at the time of each relief pitcher’s appearance. If two or more relief pitchers were similarly effective, the Official Scorer should give the presumption to the earlier pitcher as the winning pitcher.”

– MLB’s 2019 Official Rule Book


So, as you start to read these rules, they should be very familiar to you. In short, a pitcher must complete five innings in a standard game to be considered in line for a win. If they fail to complete five innings, then it will go to a relief pitcher – likely the next one that pitches with a lead that is never lost. These are things we all know as fans who have watched a ton of games.

But, there’s that pesky line: “…who, in the Official Scorer’s judgment, was the most effective…”. This line, when accompanied by Rule 9.17 (c), explains just what happened yesterday.

Rule 9.17(c)

The Official Scorer shall not credit as the winning pitcher a relief pitcher who is ineffective in a brief appearance, when at least one succeeding relief pitcher pitches effectively in helping his team maintain its lead. In such a case, the Official Scorer shall credit as the winning pitcher the succeeding relief pitcher who was most effective, in the judgment of the Official Scorer.

Rule 9.17(c) Comment

The Official Scorer generally should, but is not required to, consider the appearance of a relief pitcher to be ineffective and brief if such relief pitcher pitches less than one inning and allows two or more earned runs to score (even if such runs are charged to a previous pitcher).


Given the rules abovelet’s take a look at the box score for the White Sox’ pitching yesterday:

Let’s take it player-by-player:

  • Vince Velasquez (SP) did not complete four innings; he cannot win
  • Jose Ruiz (RP) gave up two runs in 1+ innings of work; he is eligible for a win
  • Jimmy Lambert (RP): gave up no runs in one inning of work; he is eligible for a win
  • Tanner Banker (RP): gave up one run in three innings of work; he is eligible for a win OR save

Given the “most effective” clause from 9.17 (b), we can begin to understand why Jose Ruiz was passed over – giving up two runs in just one inning of work when given a five-run lead is not effective. But, what about Jimmy Lambert? He is next in line, and he completed a scoreless inning. That’s where the nuances of the game came into play. Lambert came in with the bases loaded, walked a run in, and allowed another to score on a sacrifice fly. Because those were Ruiz’s inherited runners, he was given the runs on his box score. Lambert, in allowing two of his inherited runners to score, including by walking one in, allowed the Tigers to get back into the game at the time, making it a 7-4 game in the sixth: “The Official Scorer, in determining which relief pitcher was the most effective, should consider the number of runs, earned runs and base runners given up by each relief pitcher and the context of the game at the time of each relief pitcher’s appearance.”

In addition, Rule 9.17 (c) is clear about how to judge inherited runners: “The Official Scorer generally should, but is not required to, consider the appearance of a relief pitcher to be ineffective and brief if such relief pitcher pitches less than one inning and allows two or more earned runs to score (even if such runs are charged to a previous pitcher).”

This leaves Tanner Banks, who gave up just one run in three innings. In the official scorer’s judgement, he was the more effective pitcher between himself and Lambert. While the scorer could have easily given Ruiz or Lambert the win and credited Banks with a three-inning save, they instead chose to credit Banks with the win, using Rules 9.17 (b) and 9.17 (c) as the basis for this decision.


IN personally cannot remember the last time I’ve seen this rule enforced, especially considering that, usually, relief pitchers are effective enough to deserve wins. When they’re not, they usually are given losses or no-decisions based on the result of the game. However, when instances like this occur, they’re usually memorable enough to raise an eyebrow at the result and require the context of the game situation to fully understand.

While individual pitcher wins may not mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, Banks’ awarded win yesterday gave us a great opportunity to explore some of the unique aspects of baseball’s many rules that we take for granted.


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Featured Image: Brian Sevald-USA TODAY Sports

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