Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Some Unsung Babe Ruth Facts

The idea for this post developed while I was searching if Babe Ruth ever hit a home run, stole a base and pitched in the same game. I had heard some facts on Pablo Sandoval and his exploits of that trifecta being the first time anyone had performed such a feat since 1905. And no, Babe Ruth never hit a home run and stole a base in the same game that he pitched. But checking it out and looking at Babe Ruth's baseball-reference.com page did show me some things that blew my mind. So I thought I would share them with you.

There are two ways you can tell analytics did not exist back in Babe Ruth's time and one of those also showed how much animosity the press had with Ruth back in his playing time:

  1. During his post-pitching career--basically from 1919 on, Babe Ruth sacrifice bunted 99 times in his career. What!? The most fearsome hitter of his era (or perhaps any era) gave himself up 99 times. Either his managers were dopes or Ruth did those things on his own to try to be a team player. In 1930, Babe hit 49 homers and batted .359 with a 1.225 OPS. Incredible numbers, but even so, he had 21 sacrifice bunts that season after having 13 the season before. At the peak of his powers, he either was asked to bunt or bunted on his own 66 times in a five year period. He even had 14 Sacrifices in 1927 when he hit 60 homers. Bob Shawkey was his manager in 1930. The team finished third that season. Joe McCarthy took over the following season and Babe Ruth never had another sacrifice bunt.
  2. Babe Ruth only won one MVP Award. That was in 1923. The award was re-instituted in 1922 after a hiatus since 1914. Ridiculously, Babe Ruth did not get another MVP vote (not a single vote in between) until 1931 when he finished fifth. The following year, Ruth finished sixth. In contrast, Lou Gehrig won two MVP's and finished in the top five six other times. Babe Ruth played fifteen seasons for the Yankees and hit 659 homers during that time with a compiled 135.5 Wins Above Replacement during those seasons and only received MVP votes in three of those seasons. What a crock.

Most people think of Babe Ruth as the Yankees' right fielder. And for the latter third of his career, he mostly was. But Babe Ruth started almost as many games in his career as a left fielder as he did in right. Ruth started 1120 games in right field during his career and 1040 in left. He also started 64 games in center field and another 23 at first base. Ruth was lousy at first but he had a higher than league average fielding percentage in all three outfield positions. I don't know how b-ref figured range figures for back then, but according to them, Ruth also had better range than league average at all three outfield positions. He was not just a fat guy who slugged homers.

Babe Ruth won all three of his World Series pitching starts (all with the Red Sox). In those games, he pitched 31 innings and gave up three runs on 19 hits. His one start in 1916 lasted fourteen innings and he pitched them all to get the win.

Ruth's World Series OPS at 1.214 in 41 games was higher than his career average of 1.164. He was the original Mr. October. Between his pitching and batting careers, he won eight World Series titles.

Babe Ruth was the best pitcher in baseball in 1916. He led the league in starts with 40, ERA at 1.75, Shut outs (9), and hits per nine innings. He did not give up a home run that entire season. He was nearly as good in 1917 but gave up two homers that season. Add that up and he pitched 650 innings, gave up only 474 hits and only gave up two homers. He was a better pitcher than people realize.

Sometimes, we get images of the great Babe Ruth striking out and it makes us think he struck out a lot. But in all of his seasons, he struck out more than 89 times only twice (93, 90). Lest you think he was only a three outcome kind of guy, he batted higher than .350 eight times in his career.

Babe Ruth led the lead in extra base hits (doubles + triples + homers) six times in his career. In 1921, he had 119 of them (out of 204 hits). That has been a MLB record ever since. It was only threatened once by Lou Gehrig who had 117 in 1927. Barry Bonds had 107 in 2001 and that has been the closest anyone has been since. As you can imagine, Ruth's 457 total bases that season was only threatened once, by Rogers Hornsby with 450. That single season total has also been a record since 1921.

Babe Ruth led the league in Runs Scored eight times and seven times scored more than 150 runs in a season.

I could probably go on a lot longer, but I'm getting hungry. Sometimes I wish I had a time machine so I could go back and watch Babe Ruth play. Yes, I know it was a segregated game back when Babe Ruth played. Even so, no one has ever dominated the sport like he did.

No comments: