There's a new name in the discussion for best hitting pitchers ever, but the most famous name in the game's history still ranks above them all.
The most iconic hitter of all time famously began as a star pitcher, though you might be forgiven if his later exploits distracted you from realizing just how good Ruth was on the mound. With the Red Sox from 1915-1918, he won 78 games as the best left-handed pitcher in the American League. While he'd only tally 31 IP with the Yankees over the remainder of his career, in Boston he was twice among the top 10 in pitching and hitting categories for a single season: 1915 (wins; homers) and 1918 (ERA; everything).
How good has Owings' bat been in his two seasons in the bigs? Small sample sizes be damned, he's been this good: before a recent slump that dropped his OPS from 1.056 to his current .936, Owings ranked fourth in career OPS behind only
How valuable was Wes Ferrell? In 1931, the righty stunningly hit as many home runs (nine) as he surrendered on the hill. His 38 career homers, in fact, still stands as the record among players who pitched their entire career. In 1931, he also threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns, while driving in four with a a double and, of course, a home run.
Sending a pitcher up to pinch-hit seems novel today -- as evidenced by the fact that Owings' game-tying homer on April 30, 2008 made national news -- but Red Lucas earned his team's trust and rendered the substitute hit an art form. From 1923-38 "The Nashville Narcissus" had 437 at-bats and 114 hits as a stand-in, both top-10 marks all-time even today among pinch-hitters of any kind.
By the end of the eighth inning of May 13, 1942, Jim "Abba Dabba" Tobin had already made history: the Boston Braves starter became the only pitcher to ever hit three successive home runs in a game. But in the 6-5 win against the Cubs, he almost launched himself into even more rarefied air: his last shot actually forced outfielder
Bob Gibson's MVP season is most famously punctuated by the number 1.12 (his ERA), naturally. But .233--his OBP--might also merit consideration. Why? In that same magical year of 1968, Gibson allowed opposing hitters to reach base at precisely the same rate that the righthander got on base himself. (For the record, opponents also hit only .184--just .014 better than Gibson's own batting average.)
For Rick Wise, June 23, 1971 was a good day -- likely better than any of ours ever were (yes, even counting
Career hitting (through Wednesday, May 28): 428 AB / 21 HR / 73 RBI / .266 BA / .327 OBP / .470 SLG
The circumstances leading to his present-day success as a full-time slugger may not mirror the Babe's, but
Career pitching: 417-279 / 5914.7 IP / 2.17 ERA / 3509 K / 1.061 WHIP
Career hitting: 2324 AB / 24 HR / 255 RBI / .235 BA / .274 OBP / .342 SLG
The Owings phenomenon raises a seldom-asked question of pitchers: When their hitting is factored into their team contribution, how does their value change? It's something of a complex statistical query, to be sure, but one thing is clear: on the all-time short list of most all-around "valuable" pitchers would have to be