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15 All-Time Greatest Offensive Seasons by a Pitcher

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIDecember 1, 2011

15 All-Time Greatest Offensive Seasons by a Pitcher

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    A hit by the pitcher is a blow for the common man—a confirmation that, if given enough opportunities, even the ungainliest of athletes can run his bat into a major league fastball.

    It’s a novelty even the opposition can usually appreciate.

    Emphasis on usually.

    With the pitchers on the following list, the quaint logic of luck rarely applied. These guys could rake, and their line drives rarely met with a sigh and chuckle from their opponents.

    These hurlers posted season numbers worthy of everyday All-Stars, and in this list their esteemed batsmanship gets a literary round of applause.

    Call it a long, slow clap for the masters of both mound and plate..

15. Earl Wilson, 1966

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    Stats: .240/.299/.500 7 HR, 22 RBI

    One of only two pitchers to eclipse six home runs in a season twice, Earl Wilson reached the pinnacle of his hitting prowess during a trying time in his career.

    After being refused service at a Florida bar because of his skin color during spring training of 1966, Wilson broke Red Sox protocol by reporting the incident to the press. In retaliation, the famously backward Boston front office traded him to the Detroit Tigers midway through the season.

    In Detroit Wilson thrived, hitting five of his seven home runs and going 12-6 with a 2.59 ERA on the mound.

    To complete the poetic justice, Wilson would hit more home runs over the rest of his career than than the middling outfielder Boston received as trade collateral.

14. Micah Owings, 2007

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    Stats: .333/.349/.683 4 HR, 15 RBI

    The latest, greatest hitting season by a pitcher would rank a lot higher on this list had Micah Owings gotten to the plate a bit more.

    Owing to the frequent use of relievers in the modern game as well as Owings’ own relative ineffectiveness, the hitting sensation batted only 64 times in 2007. When he did, though, the results were impressive.

    Owings hit a home run every 15 at bats and his 1.033 OPS that year is tied for first all-time among pitchers with more than 50 plate appearances.

13. Jack Bentley, 1923

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    Stats: .427/.446/.573 1 HR, 14 RBI

    Jack Bentley was the Micah Owings of the Roaring Twenties, a marginal pitcher with tremendous batting acumen who, because of the first bit, didn’t get long to showcase his offensive prowess.

    Bentley only had four major league seasons as a full-fledged starting pitcher, but when he was in the lineup the southpaw delivered with the lumber. Bentley’s .427 average in 1923 is the second best all-time by a pitcher and he finished with a career .291 mark.

    He was so good at the plate that the Philadelphia Phillies gave him 56 starts at first base in 1926. Not surprisingly, the Diamondbacks once bandied about the same notion during Micah Owings’ breakout 2007 campaign.

12. Jack Coombs, 1911

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    Stats: .319/.356/.418 2 HR, 23 RBI

    I’ll admit this is a novelty pick, but the novelty is strong with this one.

    Jack Coombs pitched 336.2 innings in 1911 and struck out 185 batters.

    Coombs made 152 plate appearances that same year and never struck out. Not once, not never.

    He isn’t the only pitcher to do that, but he’s the only one to back it up with a .300-plus average. Bravo, “Colby” Jack Coombs—you have a cool nickname and a cool season to your credit.

11. Babe Ruth, 1915

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    Stats: .315/.376/.576 4 HR, 21 RBI

    The man we all expected to find on this list makes his first appearance just outside the top 10.

    Before his feats were Ruthian and the word “great” clung to his name like a prefix, Babe Ruth was already a pretty awesome hitter. In 1915 he swatted a team-high four home runs and notched the first of what would be many .300 seasons.

    On the mound he posted a 2.44 ERA and helped lead his Boston Red Sox to a World Series title.

10. Bob Lemon, 1949

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    Stats: .269/.331/.556 7 HR, 19 RBI

    Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon was more than his pitching resume suggests. He was a damn good hitter, too.

    From 1948 through 1950 Lemon hit 18 home runs in 363 at-bats (roughly just over half a season’s worth). That power streak peaked in 1949, with Lemon launching seven home runs and boasting a respectable .269 batting average.

    He also led a staff that featured fellow legend Bob Feller in ERA, wins and strikeouts.

9. Mike Hampton, 2001

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    Stats: .291/.309/.582 7 HR 16 RBI

    The same mountain air that ruined his pitching career turned Mike Hampton into a homer-swatting phenomenon.

    It started in the offseason before 2001 when Hampton signed a record-setting $121 million with the star-crossed Colorado Rockies. With expectations high and the atmosphere thin, Hampton’s ERA ballooned during the first of two miserable seasons in Denver.

    He momentarily diverted attention from those failures by hitting five home runs in the first three months of the year and finishing the season with seven.

    Remarkably, in the steroid-fueled environs of the early 2000s, Hampton’s heroics resulted in just a 1.1 WAR as a hitter.

8. Babe Ruth, 1917

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    Stats: .325/.385/.472 2 HR, 12 RBI

    Another visit from the Babe at No. 8 in the year that jump-started his career as a hitter.

    In his third professional season, Ruth posted a new high in batting average and became one of just five players to post a WAR of 2.0 or above as a pitcher. Even before that metric was a gleam in Bill James’ eye, the Red Sox knew Ruth could be something special at the plate.

    In 1918 they transitioned him to the outfield where he would lead the league in home runs and slugging percentage over each of the next two seasons.

    And they still traded him...

7. Red Ruffing, 1930

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    Stats: .364/.402/.582 4 HR, 22 RBI

    Like the Great Bambino, Red Ruffing didn’t let a trade from the Red Sox to the Yankees cool his bat.

    Swapped midseason from Boston to New York, the future Hall of Famer sizzled at the plate during the latter part of 1930 while also winning 15 games on the rubber. His four home runs included a two-homer day against the St. Louis Browns and his 40 hits included three, three-hit outings.

    Ruffing finished his career with 36 home runs as a pitcher, good for third all-time, and 13.7 lifetime WAR as a hitter, the best ever mark at the position.

6. George Uhle, 1923

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    Stats: .361/.391/.472 0 HR 22 RBI

    Though he wasn’t much for the big fly, George Uhle certainly knew how to put it where they weren’t.

    In a 17-year career spent mostly with the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers, Uhle hit .289 with a .339 on-base percentage. The former still stands as the highest ever mark for a pitcher.

    In 1923, the righty notched a pitcher-record 52 hits. Though Wes Ferrell later tied Uhle’s mark, the eight decades since have not seen another hurler eclipse him.

5. Don Drysdale, 1965

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    Stats: .300/.331/.508 7 HR, 19 RBI

    Were they posted by any pitcher in any era, Don Drysdale’s hitting statistics in 1965 would stand out. When you consider Drysdale registered those totals during the most pitching-dominant era in baseball history, his season goes from stand-out to all-time great.

    Drysdale led all Dodgers with at least 20 at-bats in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS. Even more remarkable, he finished just five home runs behind Lou Johnson and Jim Lefebvre for the team lead in long balls on a squad that eventually won the World Series.

    Granted, the Dodgers were a terrible hitting team in a terrible hitting era. But in some ways that makes Drysdale’s offensive accomplishments all the more impressive. The opposition could always pitch around him.

4. Wes Ferrell, 1931

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    Stats: .319/.373/.621 9 HR, 30 RBI

    In three fewer seasons and over 4,852 fewer career at-bats, Wes Ferrell hit 10 more home runs than his Hall of Fame catcher brother Rick Ferrell.

    And while it takes two to make that astounding stat possible, Wes Ferrell’s 38 career home runs were no small feat. No pitcher has hit more over their career.

    Likewise, no pitcher has hit more home runs in a single season than Ferrell did in his remarkable 1931 campaign. That year the right-handed hurler, known primarily for his rubber arm, hit a home run once every 12.8 at bats.

    Only two regulars on Ferrell’s Cleveland Indians hit more home runs that year, and none hit them with such regularity.

    He was arguably the best hitter on his team that year, and quite possibly the best hitter in the talented Ferrell clan.

3. Walter Johnson, 1925

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    Stats: .433/.455/.577 2 HR, 20 RBI

    Walter Johnson was a fair batter over his illustrious 21-year career, but that hardly explains what happened in 1925.

    That year, at age 37, the career .235 hitter posted a .433 bating average. More than 80 years later that mark remains the highest ever for a pitcher. The Big Train also fared well on the mound, winning 20 games and guiding the Washington Senators to a World Series appearance.

    Maybe it was his team’s winning ways that spurred Johnson toward a career year. Maybe it was the last masterstroke of a baseball artist.

    Maybe it was just a mad dash of luck written into the winding annals of hardball history.

2. Wes Ferrell, 1935

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    Stats: .347/.427/.533 7 HR, 32 RBI

    After throwing a league-high 322.1 innings in 1935, it’s a wonder Wes Ferrell had the energy to bat.

    But he did, and over 179 plate appearances Ferrell set standards for raw production that, in this era of six-inning quality starts, will likely stand forever.

    He either holds or is tied for single-season marks in RBI (32), hits (52) and total bases (80) among pitchers. Ferrell also drew 21 walks, hit seven home runs and had two four-hit games.

    Though his Red Sox would finish just 78-75 that season, Ferrell was hardly to blame. In his starts, the team went 27-11.

1. Don Newcombe, 1955

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    Stats: .359/.395/.632 7 HR, 23 RBI

    The numbers do all the talking here.

    42, as in the number of hits Newcombe notched in 1955;

    17, as in the number that went for extra bases;

    7, as in the number of those that were home runs;

    1, as in the number of World Series championships won by Newcombe’s Brooklyn Dodgers, the very first title in franchise history.

    There was history at every turn during the Brooklyn Dodgers’ magical 1955 season, a good chunk of it provided by ace hurler Don Newcombe. In addition to going 20-5 with a 3.20 ERA and a league-best strikeout-to-walk ratio on the mound, Newcombe boasted an astounding .359/.395/.632 slash line at the plate.

    Newcombe’s 2.3 WAR as a hitter that year still ranks as the best mark ever posted by a pitcher. By that measure, he was more valuable at the plate than starting left fielder Sandy Amoros and just a tad less productive than the fading Jackie Robinson.

    Yes, baseball was an easy game for the great Don Newcombe in 1955. The league was his toy, and he its master.

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