Editor’s note: Please welcome Adam Darowski. Adam is a loyal reader, a regular in the comments section here, and also a fine baseball history writer in his own right. He contributes often to Beyond The Boxscore and did a post about this site last year. Today, Adam covers one of the more interesting classes of ballplayers in baseball history.
Babe Ruth: There’s not really much I could write about Babe Ruth that hasn’t already been written. One thing I’ve been wondering about is how good of a pitcher he could have been if he stuck with it. He was worth 18.3 WAR as a pitcher in Boston through his age 24 season (his Yankee pitching appearances were more for novelty). How many other pitchers have been worth that much through their age 24 seasons? Well, it turns out that in the 19th century there were a ton. Silver King, for example, already piled up 52.9 WAR. Granted, he did it in 2727 innings. If we limit it to 1500 innings, we get Bob Feller on top with 35.6 WAR followed by Frank Tanana at 30.9 and Dwight Gooden at 30.2. Ruth is actually only 24th, surrounded by pitchers like Robin Roberts, Mel Harder, Dutch Leonard, Dizzy Dean, and Dick Ellsworth. So, while these are all very good pitchers—and some are Hall of Famers—Babe Ruth the pitcher probably wouldn’t have been quite as dominant as Babe Ruth the hitter. But the very fact that he could have been a Hall of Famer as a pither or hitter is remarkable.
Walter Johnson: In addition to being one of the very best pitchers of all time (if not the best), Johnson hit .235/.274/.342 for a 76 OPS+. While a 76 OPS+ sounds weak, let’s remember that Omar Vizquel’s career OPS+ is 82 and some are talking about him for the Hall of Fame. For a pitcher, that winds up being worth 12.1 WAR when you keep it up over 2517 plate appearances. In 1925 (at age 37), he hit .433/.455/.577 in 107 PAs, good for 1.9 WAR.
Al Spalding: The first great pitching star of the major leagues, Spalding also played 64 games in the outfield and 52 at first base (among other positions). He hit .313/.323/.379 (an OPS+ of 116) over 1988 plate apparances. His 10.0 WAR as a hitter accents 70.6 pitching WAR (10.4 listed on Baseball-Reference, but an estimated 60.2 from his National Association career).
Bob Caruthers: It really is a wonder that Bob Caruthers is not in the Hall of Fame. In his 10-year career, he posted a 218-99 record as a pitcher with a 2.83 ERA (123 ERA+). He posted a pair of 10+ pitching WAR seasons (and two more above 8.0). His total of 52.6 pitching WAR is in addition to the 18.8 wins he provided as a hitter (71.4 total). He hit .282/.391/.400 in 2906 plate appearances., good for a 133 OPS+. He actually appeared in more games in the outfield (366) than at pitcher (340). He also played first base 13 times and second nine times.
Red Ruffing: Not your typical Hall of Famer, Red Ruffing posted a 273-225 record in 22 years. His ERA of 3.80 gives him an ERA+ of 110. He didn’t have much of a peak, maxing out his pitching WAR at 6.3 en route to a career total of 53.6. Compare him to Tommy John, who went 288-231 over 26 years with an ERA of 3.34 (111 ERA+) and 59.0 WAR (career high of 5.7). Where they differ is that special little extra Ruffing provided at the plate. He turned a .269/.306/.389 line (81 OPS+) and 36 homers into another 13.7 WAR. That gave him a total of 67.3. John, if you’re wondering, was worth -2.0 WAR at the plate.
Monte Ward: John Montgomery Ward is the only player in history with 25 WAR as a position player and 25 WAR as a pitcher. He is also one of the most interesting figures in baseball history. He was a Columbia Law School graduate. He started the first player’s union—and then formed the Player’s League. He literally wrote the book on how to be a baseball player. He could hit, run, play a mean shortstop, and pitch. Like Ruth, his pitching career was over with the end of his age 24 season. He had accumulated 25.4 WAR in nearly 2500 innings already, but an injury forced him to become a position player. In fact, while his arm healed, he taught himself to throw left-handed so he could play center field. Once his arm was healed, he became an exceptional shortstop. In all, he played 826 games at short, 493 at second, 214 in the outfield, and 46 at third while accumulating 39.5 WAR (for a total of 64.9).
Wes Ferrell: Because of the era in which he played, Wes Ferrell holds the highest career ERA (4.04) for any pitcher with an ERA+ of 115 or better and 1000 or more innings—and that includes “steroid era” pitchers. For example, in 1936 Ferrell went 20–15 with a 4.19 ERA. But the league was busy posting a 5.04 ERA, so Ferrell’s mark actually gave him an ERA+ of 128. Ferrell was hurt by his era even more than a guy like Andy Pettitte. Pettitte owns a 3.88 career ERA to Ferrell’s 4.04, but both have an ERA+ of 117. Ferrell brought another demention to his game, and that dimension involved hitting the baseball hard. He clubbed 38 home runs to go along with a .280/.351/.446 batting line. That gave him an OPS+ of 100. Think about that. In the most offense-heavy era in history, a pitcher posted a league average batting line for his career. That was worth 12.0 wins, giving him a total of 53.3.
Jack Stivetts: Stivetts was a star hurler in the American Association, spending three seasons in the league and compiling 22.9 of his 42.5 career pitching WAR. He didn’t have the same success in the National League, but he was still a valuable pitcher, averaging about four WAR per season in his first five NL seasons. His career was over at age 31 with 203 wins, 132 losses, and a 3.74 ERA (for a 120 ERA+). What makes him more interesting is his power hitting line. He hit .298/.344/.439 in 2148 plate appearances for an OPS+ of 106. He accented those numbers with 35 homers and 46 triples. His 10.5 WAR as a hitter brings his total to 53.0 WAR.
Dave Foutz: From 1884 to 1891, Foutz was a teammate of Bob Caruthers with St. Louis and Brooklyn. Foutz did the majority of his pitching during his St. Louis years, compiling 1458 of his 1997 innings and 25.4 of his 30.0 career pitching WAR in those four seasons. In 1886, Foutz was worth 12.3 WAR on the mound while Caruthers was worth 9.6. Caruthers was also worth 4.3 at the plate while Foutz brought in 1.4. The team, needless to say, was impressive (going 93–46). Overall, Foutz won 218 and lost 99 for a gaudy .688 winning percentage. That went along with a 2.83 ERA and 123 ERA+. Foutz actually played far more in the field than on the mound, playing 596 times at first, 320 times in the outfield, and 251 times on the mound. He hit .276/.323/.378 for an OPS+ of 102. He was worth 18.1 WAR at the plate and 30.0 on the mound, totaling 48.1.
Mike Smith: Smith, also listed as “Elmer Smith”, was a very unique player in that he’s just one of five on this list with 15+ WAR in both columns. He started his career as a teenage pitcher with Cincinnati in the American Association in the late 1880s. After a nine-game stint in 1886, he posted 11.3 WAR on the mound in 1887. He followed that up with a 6.0 WAR season in 1888 and a -0.6 WAR season with an arm injury in 1889. After missing two seasons, he re-emerged as a power hitting left fielder for Pittsburgh. At the plate, he hit .310/.398/.434 for a 126 OPS+ over 5422 plate appearances (including a pair of 6+ WAR seasons). He totaled 31.6 WAR at the plate and 15.4 on the mound (with final numbers of 75-57, 3.35 ERA, 113 ERA+ in 1210 innings), giving him 47.0 WAR overall.
George Uhle: After three 19th century players, we get back to the 20th century with Uhle. Uhle, a pioneer of the slider, pitched 17 seasons and went 200-166 with a 3.99 ERA (106 ERA+). The three-time 20-game winner earned 34.5 WAR for his performance on the hill. Uhle is a bit unique from most pitchers on this list, as he never played anywhere other than pitcher. He was frequently used as a pinch hitter and accrued 11.3 WAR at the plate thanks to a .289/.339/.384 (86 OPS+) line. He total value overall was 45.8 WAR.
Some other two-way players who don’t quite fit the above criteria include Jim Whitney (35.9 as pitcher, 9.1 as hitter, 45.0 overall), Don Newcombe (29.7 as pitcher, 9.0 as hitter, 38.7 overall), George Mullin (26.3 as pitcher, 11.7 as hitter, 38.0 overall), Smokey Joe Wood (26.2 as pitcher, 9.3 as hitter, 35.5 overall), and Nixey Callahan (11.0 as pitcher, 10.8 as hitter, 21.8 overall). Looking at only modern pitchers, Mike Hampton (20.8 as pitcher, 7.3 as hitter, 28.1 overall), Carlos Zambrano (31.8 as pitcher, 5.3 as hitter, 37.1 overall), Tom Glavine (67.0 as pitcher, 4.6 as hitter, 71.6 overall), and Dontrelle Willis (13.0 as pitcher, 4.3 as hitter, 17.3 overall) come the closest.