Baseball: Past and Present

1.) George Uhle: Uhle might have played an everyday position had he not pitched so well, inventing the slider, once walking a batter to strike out Babe Ruth, and winning 200 games lifetime. One of a handful of pitchers with more than 10 offensive WAR for his career, Uhle hit .289 in his career with a .339 on-base percentage and 21 triples. His speed and contact hitting earns him the lead-off spot.

2.) Red Ruffing: Hall of Fame pitcher Ruffing hit at least .300 eight of his 22 seasons and topped out at .364 in 1930. Projecting his numbers that year to a 500 at-bat season, Ruffing would have had 182 hits with 18 homers, 100 RBI and a .984 OPS. Better, Ruffing went 15-8 on the hill in 1930 after consecutive 20-loss seasons.

3.) Wes Ferrell: I’ve said this before here, though it bears repeating. When people knock Rick Ferrell’s 1987 Hall of Fame induction, they sometimes note he wasn’t the best player in his own family. Rick doesn’t even have the best OPS+ despite playing catcher while Wes served primarily as a rotation-anchoring pitcher, winning 20 games six times. Wes bests Rick for OPS+ (100 to 95), home runs (38 to 28) and slugging percentage (.446 to .378) among other offensive categories. Fittingly, he fronts a 1979 SABR book, Great Hitting Pitchers.

4.) Earl Wilson: Wilson’s 35 home runs aren’t tops for pitchers, but his one homer every 21.14 at-bats might be. It trumps Ferrell, who went yard once every 30.9 at-bats (and hit a record 37 homers as a pitcher and one more as a pinch hitter.) Wilson played¬†just 11 seasons, being stuck much of the 1950s in the minors with the Boston Red Sox, who waited until 1959 to integrate. He also mostly played in the 1960s, one of the worst offensive periods in baseball history. Imagine Wilson’s hitting stats for a longer career in a better offensive era.

5.) Don Drysdale: Like a few of the men here, Drysdale’s career hitting stats are non-imposing: ¬†.186 lifetime batting average with an OPS+ of 45 and a 162-game average of 110 strikeouts. He rates a mention for his one sensational offensive year, 1965, when he was the Dodgers’ only .300 hitter and had seven homers, 19 RBI, and an OPS+ of 140. He also went 23-12 on the mound, helping Los Angeles to a World Series crown.

6.) Carlos Zambrano: For his epic 2011 meltdown in Chicago, Big Z hit .318 with a career-high 130 OPS+ in 44 at-bats. He hit better still in 2008, .337 with four home runs, 14 RBI, and a 122 OPS+ in 83 at-bats. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in Miami, given that Zambrano had a lower batting average but better slugging numbers in Wrigley than elsewhere.

7.) C.C. Sabathia: Sabathia might be the hitting king of American League pitchers, batting .269 in interleague play lifetime. His .250 career batting average overall pales in comparison to many other pitchers, even active ones, though like Wilson, I wonder what Sabathia could do with more at-bats.

8.) Bob Gibson: Gibson, like Drysdale, is considered one of the best-hitting pitchers of the 1960s and had better peak offensive value than longevity, batting .303 in 1970 and .206 lifetime. Gibson and Drysdale share another thing in common: Each owned the other man at the plate, with Gibson going 2-20 and Drysdale 1-23, though surprisingly, neither hit the other with a pitch despite their reputations as brushback artists.

9.) Walter Johnson: The Big Train had incredible durability, placing third in baseball history with 5,914 innings pitched, though when his skills went, they went fast. Johnson had his last great year at 37 in 1925 when he went 20-7 for the AL champion Washington Senators and hit .433 with two homers, 20 RBI, and a 162 OPS+ in 97 at-bats. He even smacked a triple, his 41st and final. As a man of surprises, he makes a perfect ninth hitter.



7 Comments so far

  1.    Tim Newey on January 25, 2012 10:03 pm      

    When I was a kid, I saw Catfish Hunter hit a home run in Oakland. In 1971, he not only won 21 games with a 2.96 ERA, he also had 103 AB with a triple, a home run, 12 RBIs and a .350 batting average. What a year, of course the following three years, he and the Oakland A’s won the World Series three times in a row.

  2.    Albert on January 26, 2012 7:19 am      

    Bob Carouthers? Maybe he’s more of a hitter than a pitcher, but he pitched a good amount of innings

  3.    Paul on January 26, 2012 8:32 am      

    Mike Hampton over 2001-2002 (height of steroid era/Coors field disclaimers):

    152 PA, 10 HR, 21 RBI .315/.329/.552

  4.    Graham Womack on January 26, 2012 9:52 am      

    Interesting stuff, though it definitely deserves some context, seeing as Hampton hit no home runs and .221 over seven seasons in the Astrodome.

  5.    Mike Cook on January 26, 2012 8:52 pm      

    Great lineup, Graham. I like your selections and the order you put them in. For any of you who are interested in reading more about the greatest hitting pitchers, SABR will be re-publishing the aforementioned book from 1979 as both an e-book and print on demand edition. We are also planning to bring the records and commentary up to the present day with an addendum on the best slugging pitchers from 1980 forward. Once finished it will be available in the SABR Digital Library at: http://sabr.org/ebooks

  6.    David on January 27, 2012 8:53 pm      

    I’m a little surprised not to see Don Newcombe or Warren Spahn on here. Both were outstanding hitters. Newcombe’s 1955 is the stuff of legend: 125 PAs, .359/.395/.632(!!!). 9 2B, 7 HR, 18 R and 23 RBI. I don’t care if you’re playing in a hitter’s park – those numbers are OUTSTANDING. He was also great in ’58 and ’59, though nothing is really going to match that ’55 season. B-R credits him that year with 2.3 WAR . . . as a hitter! Only 2.6 as a pitcher, so nearly half his value in 1955 was with the bat.

    As for Spahn, considering his high number of PAs (2055), his line of .194/.234/.237 is phenomenal. With him, though, it’s not a few outstanding seasons that bring up the numbers artificially. Rather, it’s the consistency that counts. He had at least 1 HR every year from 1948-1964. That’s a longer streak than Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, or Rod Carew (okay, the first two are kind of cheating, but the third one is legit – Carew hit a homer in hi final 13 straight seasons, but not the year before, when he famously won the batting title without hitting a homer). Pretty solid, I’d say.

    Oh – and I hear that Ruth fellow was a pretty good batsman, as well. :)

  7.    Graham Womack on January 27, 2012 10:37 pm      

    Good call on Newcombe and Spahn. Regarding Ruth, I intentionally left him out here. I only had nine spots, and I didn’t want to waste one on a player everyone already knows about.

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  • Written by Graham Womack