Monday, June 2, 2014

The Greatest Offensive Pitchers (Pre-DH Era) Part II

In my last post, we talked about pitchers who helped their own cause with a bat over the course of their careers. Most of the greatest offensive pitchers played before the advent of the designated hitter--back when hurlers had more opportunities to polish their skills. Thanks to pitch-counts and relief specialists, contemporary moundsmen work every fifth day and are often replaced by the sixth or seventh inning. In the game's early days, pitchers took the hill every third or fourth day and were expected to finish what they started. It stands to reason that they became more adept with the lumber. Let's pick up where we left off last time.

Red Ruffing (1924-1947)
Ruffing pitched with several toes missing from his left foot and also dealt with the misery of adhesions in his right shoulder. He soldiered on nevertheless. His pitching philosophy was simple: "Keep in shape and know where the ball is going. It pays off." Primarily a fastball pitcher, Ruffing appeared in seven World Series for the Yankees and prevailed in 7 of 9 postseason decisions. Ruffing was among the most prolific power-hitting pitchers in history. He blasted 36 homers during his career, attaining an all time rank of #4 in that category. He finished his career with a .269 batting average.

Red Lucas (1923-1938)
Lucas played mostly for the Reds and Pirates. He led the league in shutouts during the 1928 campaign and topped the circuit in complete games on three occasions. He once finished 27 consecutive starts. A right-handed thrower, Lucas hit from the left side. He compiled one of the highest lifetime batting averages among pitchers at .281. During his eight seasons in Cincinnati, he hit an even-.300. The Tennessee native was so skilled with a bat that the Braves tried to convert him to a second baseman early in his career. The experiment failed. Lucas logged 437 at-bats as a pinch-hitter and hit safely 114 times in that role--a record that stood for twenty-five years.

George Uhle (1919-1934)
Uhle was nicknamed "The Bull" for his durability. He led the AL in complete games, innings pitched and wins twice apiece. He has also been credited by some with the invention of the slider, which he described as a "sailing fastball." Uhle was a workhorse for the Indians and Tigers between 1921 and 1930, logging more than 230 innings of work six times in that span. His best season on the mound came in 1926, when he posted a 27-11 record with an ERA of 2.83. Uhle was useful to his clubs at the plate as well, compiling a lifetime .289 batting average. In April of 1921, he collected 6 RBIs in one game. During the '24 slate, he led the league with 11 pinch-hits in 26 plate appearances. He almost certainly could have been a positional player, posting averages above .300 in nine of his seventeen seasons.

Wes Ferrell (1927-1941)
Ferrell is likely the only ballplayer in history with the middle name of "Cheek." He was a 20-game winner on six occasions and led the league in complete games four times. A fiery competitor, he was known to argue with catchers, umpires and managers. In 1932, he was fined by skipper Roger Peckinpaugh for refusing to leave the mound. Despite his 4.04 ERA, there are many who have griped about his exclusion from the Hall of Fame. Ferrell's brother Rick--a catcher--was enshrined in 1984 and the two worked together as battery mates numerous times. What really set Ferrell apart from other pitchers was his remarkable power at the plate. He drilled more homers than any hurler in history with 38. That record has endured the test of time. In fifteen seasons, Ferrell accrued a healthy .280 batting average. Originally a power pitcher, he ended his career as a junk-baller due to arm problems. Had he stayed healthy, he might have joined his brother at Cooperstown.

Walter Johnson (1907-1927)
I have waxed poetic about Johnson's marvelous talents in previous posts. Many would argue that he was the greatest pitcher ever with 417 career wins and a lifetime ERA of 2.17.Additionally, his 110 shutouts are #1 on the all time list. An often neglected aspect of Johnson's game was his hitting. It was a skill that took him years to develop. In his first five major league seasons, he hit just .174 with very little power. After that, he accrued a cumulative .251 batting average with 77 doubles, 34 triples and 20 homers. Statistics indicate that he had become an accomplished batsman by the end of his career. He hit .433 in 36 games at the age of thirty-seven. In his final season, he ran up a .348 average in 46 at-bats. 

Elam Vangilder  (1919-1929)
Elam who? He may not be a household name, but Vangilder was one of the better hitting pitchers before the dawn of the designated hitter. He might have gotten more attention had he not spent most of his career with the Browns. During Vangilder's nine seasons in St. Louis, the team seriously contended for a pennant just once. On the mound, he could be wild at times, leading the AL in walks during the 1923 slate. In an era of heavy offense when hitters made contact more often than not, Vangilder posted lopsided strikeout to walk ratios almost every year. He remained a respectable hitter throughout his career, posting a lifetime batting average of .243 (as compared to Walter Johnson's .235 mark). He peaked at .344 in 1922, the same year he won a career-best 19 games.

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