Game score is a metric designed by baseball stats guru Bill James which is used to measure the quality of the individual performance by a starting pitcher in a given baseball game.
To determine a pitcher's game score...
- Start with 50 points.
- Add 1 point for each out recorded.
- Add 2 points for each inning completed after the 4th.
- Add 1 point for each strikeout.
- Subtract 2 points for each hit allowed.
- Subtract 4 points for each earned run allowed.
- Subtract 2 points for each unearned run allowed.
- Subtract 1 point for each walk.
The total number of points accrued when the pitcher exits the game can be used as a measure of the quality of his or her performance. A final score of 50 or higher is considered a "quality start," which means that under most circumstances a pitcher giving this type of performance would usually earn a victory for his team. A score of 90 or higher would be one of the greatest games ever pitched in baseball history.
The highest possible game score in a normal 9-inning game, in which the starting pitcher pitches all 9 innings and does not allow any hits, walks, or runs while striking out all 27 batters, would be 114. The theoretical maximum game score in a 9-inning game, which would require an absurd series of events in which the pitcher strikes out 6 batters per inning for 9 innings by allowing three baserunners to reach base each inning on third-strike wild pitches or passed balls, would be 141.
The highest game score ever actually achieved in a 9-inning game was 105, by Kerry Wood in his May 6, 1998 20-strikeout, 1-hit, no walk complete game victory over the Houston Astros. This all-time high game score jives with the widespread notion that this game was the single most dominating game ever pitched.
Higher game scores have of course been achieved in extra inning contests. The highest game score of all time is believed to be 149 by Joe Oeschger, who pitched all 26 innings for the Boston Braves in a May 1, 1920 match against Brooklyn, which was called due to darkness and resulted in a 1-1 tie. Amazingly, Oeschger's counterpart on the Dodgers, Leon Cadore, also went all 26 innings and racked up what is believed to be the second highest game score of all time, at 141.
The lowest game score recorded in the modern era was -52, posted by Allan Travers of the Detroit Tigers in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics on May 18, 1912, in which Travers gave up 26 hits and 24 runs in 9 innings of play. Travers was a local college student pressed into emergency action when the entire Tigers team went on strike in protest of Ty Cobb's suspension, and had no business being in the major leagues.
Game score is a useful metric, because it allows objective comparisons between pitchers, as well as between different games pitched by the same pitcher, and because it eliminates the randomness associated with traditional stats such as the win. The metric does favor recent pitchers over pitchers from earlier eras however, due to the vastly increased prevalence of the strikeout in the brand of baseball played today.