Any player/Any era: Wes Ferrell

What he did: It started with something I read on Twitter that Dwight Gooden hit eight home runs lifetime. That didn’t seem all that awe-inspiring, given that I recently wrote here about Don Drysdale’s hitting prowess, noting he went yard 29 times during his career. I got to wondering if Drysdale had the record for most home runs hit by a pitcher. He does not. That record belongs to Wes Ferrell, whose brother Rick might be the worst player in the Hall of Fame. When people complain about Rick’s induction, they sometimes cite that he wasn’t even the best member of his family. Wes Ferrell isn’t enshrined, but even so, he’s a unique player in baseball history.

In a 15-season career between 1927 and 1941, Ferrell went 193-128 with a 4.04 ERA, winning 20 games six times. It’s his career batting numbers, though, that place him in a special class: players with 10+ WAR for both pitching and hitting. Over 1,176 at-bats, Ferrell hit .280 with 38 home runs, 208 RBI, and 11.2 lifetime offensive WAR. His career OPS+ of 100 suggests he was comparable to an average batter of his time, no easy feat in the hitter-friendly era immediately preceding World War II. The 37 homers Ferrell hit as a pitcher are a record, as are the nine he hit in 1931. In another era, his offensive numbers could be greater still.

Era he might have thrived in: In his own time, Ferrell was a rotation-anchoring pitcher, sometimes brilliant, often temperamental. He also pinch hit and occasionally roamed the outfield, even smacking one of his home runs while in the lineup as a field player. With the Colorado Rockies in the late 1990s, Ferrell could have his choice of playing outfield full-time or being the best-hitting pitcher in the modern era, bar none.

Why: I’ll start by running the Baseball-Reference.com stat conversions, which are insane. In 1931 with the Indians, Ferrell hit .319 with nine home runs and 30 RBI in 116 at-bats. On the 1999 Rockies, Ferrell’s numbers convert to 10 home runs, 41 RBI, and a .341 batting average in 126 at-bats. Projecting those conversions to a 600 at-bat season, Ferrell would theoretically hit 48 home runs and 195 RBI (though some leveling off in production over a year would be expected.) The idea of Ferrell playing full-time in the field isn’t too outlandish. His pitching arm, good for a career-high of 143 strikeouts in 1930, might make him a great sidekick for cannon-armed right fielder Larry Walker.

Course, Ferrell’s already-colorful pitching line might get grotesque on the ’99 Rockies, who surrendered 1,028 runs and boasted a 6.01 ERA as a staff. Converting Ferrell’s 1931 numbers– 22-12 record with a 3.75 ERA for Cleveland– he’d go 18-12 with a 4.57 ERA and 144 walks for Colorado if he stuck with pitching full-time. It’d be nothing Cy Young-worthy, and Ferrell’s career ERA might approach 5.00. But Ferrell still could be the Rockies staff ace, and it’s worth nothing he pitched some of his best actual years in League Park II, perhaps the Coors Field of its time. Even if Ferrell were more a position player for Colorado, say the starting left fielder, he’d at least make a heck of a surprise relief pitcher from time to time, a secret weapon for the Rockies if there ever was one.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Al SimmonsAlbert PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly BeaneBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioDon DrysdaleEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus WagnerHugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie RobinsonJim AbbottJimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul Derringer, Pedro MartinezPee Wee ReesePete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally BunkerWill ClarkWillie Mays

One thought on “Any player/Any era: Wes Ferrell

  1. When I re-introduced the Hall of wWAR with my reworked wWAR metric, I commented about how well Ferrell ranked within the new system (one of the key changes was adding offensive value for pitchers):

    Wes Ferrell, to me, was the most surprising new addition. Despite his high career ERA (4.04), Ferrell’s pitching career is actually quite similar to Andy Pettitte’s. Ferrell threw 2623 innings with a 117 ERA+ and 41.3 WAR. Pettitte threw 3055 innings with a 117 ERA+ and 49.9 WAR. So, two full 4.3 WAR seasons separate them. Substantial, but not enormous. There are two bigger differences between the two, though. Ferrell has a very condensed peak. In his age 21 to 28 seasons, he was worth 42.3 WAR on the mound. That’s actually more than his career total. The other eight seasons of his career were under replacement level. This condensed peak really boosts his WAE and WAM numbers. The other thing that sets Ferrell apart from his peers is his offense. He was worth an additional twelve wins at the plate. That not only boosts his career WAR total, but it also boosts his single season WAR totals, which in turn gives him even more WAE and WAM. During his age 21–28 seasons, he was worth 10.3 WAR at the plate. Combine that with his pitching and you have 52.6 WAR in eight seasons (6.6 WAR per season). Now it starts to make sense.

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