The first instinct of baseball fans when talking about Babe Ruth is to talk about his hitting exploits. He is best known for hitting 60 homers in a season and 714 over his career.
However, he was an excellent pitcher before he became an everyday outfielder.
He had a lifetime record of 94-46 and an ERA of 2.2770. His ERA is 16th best among all major league pitchers. Five of the pitchers with a lower ERA than Ruth pitched before 1900 at some point in their career.
The only active pitcher with a lower ERA is Mariano Rivera with a 2.2717, which is barely lower than the 2.2770 of Ruth.
Trevor Hoffman is 88th all time with a 2.75 ERA. The next active player on the list is Pedro Martinez, listed 140th with a 2.91 ERA. Johan Santana is 207th with a 3.11.
Ruth may have pitched in the deadball era for the most part, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good pitcher. He allowed only ten homers in 1,221 innings.
He pitched nine shutouts for the Red Sox in 1916, a record that stood until 1978 when Ron Guidry tied it.
He was 5-0 with the Yankees in games he pitched in 1920, 1921, 1930 and 1933.
Ruth was the AL ERA champion in 1916 for the Red Sox with a 1.75 ERA. He was not a strikeout pitcher; he had only 488 strikeouts in 10 seasons.
The World Series brought the best out in Ruth on the pitcher’s mound. He pitched 29 scoreless innings, a World Series record that would stand for 42 years. His World Series record was 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA.
Ruth posted 67 career wins by 1917, his last season as a full-time starter, at the age of 22. He posted 23 wins in 1916 and 24 wins in 1917. He would win 27 more games as a part-time pitcher.
There is no doubt that Ruth could have been voted into the Hall of Fame as a pitcher if he never became an everyday player. However, he was an even better hitter.
In 1918 he had a 13-7 record as a pitcher and hit .300, hit an AL-leading 11 homers, and drove in 66 runs in only 317 at-bats.
These are some of the highlights of his pitching career:
11th all time in winning percentage with a .671 winning percentage.
14th all time in hits allowed per nine innings with 7.17 hits allowed per nine innings.
13th all time in fewest homers allowed per nine innings with a 0.0737 mark.
It is debatable whether Babe Ruth would still be the all-time home run champion if he hadn’t pitched. Nobody was hitting many homers in the AL at the time he was pitching until he hit 11 in 1918.
Ruth made it easy to decide to switch him to being a hitter in 1919 when he hit 29 of the 33 homers hit by the Red Sox that season.
In summary, there is no doubt in my mind that Ruth was the best player in baseball history. He is the only player that I know of that could have made the Hall of Fame either as a pitcher or a hitter.