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(Ed. note: Today marks the debut of Keith Woolner as a featured columnist
here at
Baseball Prospectus. Each Wednesday, he’ll be answering a
statistical or sabermetric question from one of our readers.
Click here to submit a question to Keith.)

This week’s question comes to us from Thomas Berman, who asks:


Mike Hampton
hit his first career home run recently. Seeing as how
Hampton has been the best hitting pitcher in baseball for a while, I would
imagine he has a shot to join the pantheon of pitchers who had a historic
year with the bat (Don Newcombe
comes to mind) now that he is in Coors
Field. How well would Hampton have to hit to have an all-time great season?

Thanks for writing, Thomas. Hampton has indeed been one of the better
hitting pitchers of recent times. In fact, his 1999 season (.311/.373/.432)
stands as the best pitcher hitting season of the 1990s (minimum 50 PA). In
addition, he holds two of the top 40 batting seasons by a pitcher since 1978
with his 1999 and 1998 seasons (676 OPS). The top 40 seasons happen to
correspond to a 650 OPS or better, and given that there have been 1,030
pitchers who had 50 or more plate appearances over that span, that puts a
650 OPS in the top 3.8% of such pitching hitting seasons since ’78. That’s
quite an accomplishment.

However, there are some recent pitchers who are ahead of him.
Tim Lollar
and Rick Rhoden
each have three of the top 40 seasons, while
Bob Forsch,
Randy Lerch,
Don Robinson,
and Mark Portugal
match Hampton’s two seasons. Portugal has had the highest OPS in a season
over that span of time, with a 860 OPS in 1994.

Looking back before 1978, there have been a few pitchers who’ve posted a
1000 OPS, with
Carl Scheib
topping the list with a .396/.418/.623
performance in 55 PA for a 1041 OPS. There are a couple of Hall of Famers in
the list who were pretty good with the stick as well as being fair pitchers,
but it’s probably not who you’re thinking of:


YEAR

NAME

TEAM

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

1951

Carl Scheib

PHI-A

55

.396

.418

.623

1041

1925

Walter Johnson

WAS-A

101

.433

.455

.577

1033

1955

Don Newcombe

BRO-N

124

.359

.395

.632

1028

1930

Red Ruffing

NY-A

106

.374

.415

.596

1011

Red Ruffing
actually went 3-for-11 with the Red Sox in 1930, and for
the season missed a 1000 OPS (finishing with "just" a 984 OPS), but we’ll
give him the credit anyways.

As far as lifetime stats for pitcher hitting, Hampton has a long way to go.
Looking just at seasons in which a player was primarily a pitcher, and with
a minimum 250 PA,
Babe Ruth
still leads the pack with a .302/.359/.479 lifetime performance.


NAME

PLAYED

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Babe Ruth

1915-1917

382

.302

.359

.479

837

Wes Ferrell

1929-1938

1273

.282

.353

.446

799

Bob Caruthers

1885-1891

1038

.280

.388

.410

799

Jack Stivetts

1889-1896

1750

.294

.338

.438

776

Erv Brame

1928-1932

408

.306

.326

.429

755

Doc Crandall

1908-1915

625

.279

.346

.399

744

Clint Hartung

1947-1950

271

.250

.292

.445

737

George Uhle

1919-1934

1433

.289

.338

.382

720

Schoolboy Rowe

1933-1949

967

.266

.332

.388

719

Fred Klobedanz

1896-1898

329

.278

.307

.408

715

Don Newcombe

1949-1960

971

.271

.338

.367

705

Red Ruffing

1925-1945

1971

.272

.309

.394

703

Note: I tried to select players who were primarily pitchers, and looked at
the years in which they were primarily pitchers. Players who split time
within a season between pitching and a regular position were excluded, as
were the years after a player moved away from the mound (e.g., Ruth).

Also, I excluded pre-1893 pitchers, other than to call attention to
Bob Caruthers‘s
great offensive performance in the late 19th century.

Wes Ferrell
was a fine pitcher in his own right, with a 193-128
record and a 4.04 ERA during a high offense era (1927-41). He led the league
in wins in 1935 with 25 (one of his six 20-win seasons), and in innings
pitched three times. He may fall just short of the Hall of Fame on his
pitching merits, but does he get enough extra credit for being arguably the
best-hitting full-time pitcher ever to push him over into
induction-worthiness? So far, the Hall says no, but there’s an interesting
case to be made.


Keith Woolner is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by

clicking here
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