Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Ten Best Years A Pitcher Had When Batting

This Fan has always been fascinated by pitchers that could hit. It always seemed that a good hitting pitcher at the bottom of a batting order was a tremendous advantage for a team against its opponent. But it isn't just that. Good hitting pitchers are just fun because they aren't supposed to hit. So when they do, it's exciting. Carlos Zambrano is known for his pitching. But you don't necessarily want to go to the concession stand when he is due at the plate. Of course the National League is the only league now where the pitchers hit. And there are a few good hitters out there. Narveson, Zambrano and Gallardo come to mind. But there are others.

For some kind of context and for the fun of it, let's list the top ten seasons all time for pitchers at the plate. The criteria is at least 50 plate appearances in a season. The list goes mostly by OPS, but you could probably refine it by using OPS+. The list covers 1901 to the present. Without further ado, here is the Fan's list:

  1. Carl Scheb - Philadelphia Athletics (1951). Who? Never heard of the guy. But he had the best offensive season for a pitcher with an OPS 1.041. His season slash line was .396/.419/.623. That really was Scheb's only big year at the plate. He finished with a .264 average and a 66 OPS+. But the funny thing about him is that he had a higher accumulated WAR as a batter than he did as a pitcher. Which only goes to show you that he wasn't much of a pitcher. His record as a pitcher in 1951?  1-12
  2. Walter Johnson - Washington Senators (1925). Johnson, of course, is in the Hall of Fame with over 400 wins as a pitcher. The Big Train might have been the best of all time. But he could hit too. His 1925 season at the plate might be the best ever for a pitcher because of the volume of at bats. Johnson went to the plate 107 times that season and had 42 hits including 9 extra base hits. His slash line was: .433/.455/.577 making his OPS 1.033 (rounded up from decimals). That's quite a season. The thing about it was that Johnson was 37 years old at the time. It was his last 20-win season (20-7) and he would retire after two more seasons. Johnson had 547 hits in his career and accumulated 12.5 Wins Above Replacement with his bat for his career. Johnson's batting average in 1925 was the highest ever recorded by a pitcher with more than 50 at bats.
  3. Micah Owings - Arizona Diamondbacks (2007). Owings who is known more as a good hitting pitcher than a good pitching pitcher, had a great season at the plate in 2007. His 1.033 in OPS ties Johnson but he had about half the at bats. Owings finished with 20 hits in only 64 plate appearances and 12 of those 20 hits were for extra bases including four homers. Owings .683 slugging percentage that season is the highest ever recorded by a pitcher since 1901. Owings is a .293 career hitter with 2.9 accumulated WAR at the plate. His pitching WAR is in the negative numbers.
  4. Don Newcombe - Brooklyn Dodgers (1955). Newcombe would go on to accumulate 9.0 of WAR as a career batter. 1955 was his best year at the plate (even though he did hit .361 in 1958). In 1955, Newcombe slugged 7 homers, had nine doubles and a triple in 125 plate appearances. His slash line that year: .359/.395/.632.  Newcombe was very patient at the plate and four times had an OBP over .400. Oh! By the way, he also went 20-5 as a pitcher that season. Now THAT is a good year.
  5. Jack Bentley - New York Giants (1923). Bentley had 89 at bats in 1923 and finished with 38 hits. His OPS of 1.019 featured a slash line of .427/.446/.573. Bentley went 13-8 as a pitcher that season with a rather high ERA. He would later go play 59 games for the Phillies in 1926. But in 1923, he was strictly a pitcher. He had a .293 career batting average.
  6. Wes Farrell - Cleveland Indians (1931). Farrell hit 9 homers in 1931 and had a slash line of: .319/.373/.621. His 30 runs driven in that season is the third highest total for a pitcher since 1901. He also holds the #2 spot. Farrell added 10 walks that season. Add in his 22-12 record as a pitcher that season and that's some kind of year.
  7. Bob Lemon - Cleveland Indians (1947). Lemon only got 56 at bats that season coming close to our cut off point, but he did bat .321 with a .387 OBP and he slugged .607. Lemon was just in his second year back from WWII which had delayed his career. He went 11-5 that season as a pitcher on his way to his Hall of Fame career. Lemon finished with a .288 career batting average and a respectable 88 OPS+. Too bad he couldn't hit in the World Series. He went 0-14 in his World Series at bats.
  8. Red Ruffing - Boston Red Sox/New York Yankees (1930). The three worst trades the Red Sox ever made to the Yankees were Babe Ruth, Red Ruffing and Sparky Lyle. Ruffing was 0-3 for the Red Sox in 1930 with an ERA over six when they traded him to the Yankees. He went 15-5 the rest of the season and won 234 games with the Yankees. On top of that, he batted .364/.402/582 in 110 at bats. He was a spotty hitter. Some years he was fantastic, others not so much. Ruffing finished his career with a batting average in the .260s.
  9. Wes Farrell - Cleveland Indians (1935). Farrell's batting season might have been more impressive than his 1931 season. He batted .347 in 1935 in 150 at bats. Plus, he walked 21 times, had 7 homers and drove in 32 runs! Farrell ended his career with a 12.0 career WAR at the plate with a career OPS+ of 100. Farrell won 25 games in 1935 and 193 for his career. His pitching WAR came in at 47.5 which is just under the Hall of Fame threshold of 50. But if you add in his batting exploits, Farrell should be in the Hall of Fame. Farrell played in the outfield for 13 games in 1933 and didn't make an error in 32 chances. It was the only season he played any in the field.
  10. Elam Vangilder - St. Louis Browns (1922). This obscure pitcher batted .344 in 93 at bats in 1922. He had 32 hits including 10 doubles, 2 triples and 2 homers. He won 19 games as a pitcher that year which was his best year. His year at the plate was also his only great year there.
The Fan should have gone eleven spots because Babe Ruth would have occupied the 11th spot for his 1915 season when he was still only a pitcher. He batted .315 that season with a .376 OBP and .576 slugging percentage.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

I made a similar list of a lineup using current pitchers. Here's what I came up with:

1. Mike Leake (.333/.407/.354 in 60 PAs, 2010)
2. Dontrelle Willis (8 HRs, 10 doubles, 5 triples in 413 PAs, .232/.279/.355)
3. Micah Owings (.293/.323/.538 for an .861 OPS in 198 PAs, 9 HRs, 14 doubles, 2 triples)
4. Carlos Zambrano (21 HRs, 24 doubles, 3 triples in 660 PAs, .236/.244/.387)
5. Yovani Gallardo (8 HRs, 10 doubles in 189 PAs, .218/.260/.418)
6. C.C. Sabathia (.258/.265/.381 in 101 PAs)
7. Adam Wainwright (2 HRs, 16 doubles, .223 BA in 337 PAs)
8. Jason Marquis (5 HRs, 29 doubles, 2 triples in 576 PAs)
9. Andy Sonnanstine (.318/.400/.364 in 27 PAs)