As all baseball purists know, the DH is bad for the game.  And nothing is better than watching pitchers who can swing the bat.

In 1925, Hall of Famer Walter Johnson – The Big Train – hit .433 in 107 plate appearances with two home runs and 20 RBI [he also collected 42 hits while striking out only six times].  It remains the highest average in MLB history for a pitcher with a least 100 plate appearances in a season.  That season, the 37-year-old Johnson also went 20-7 while pitching 229 innings.  The second-winningest pitcher in history and one of the First Five inaugural members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the great Walter Johnson collected 547 hits in his legendary career.

Today we examine the best hitting pitchers in MLB history.  To qualify, players must have had 300 plate appearances [PA] and pitched in at least 80 percent of their total games played.  This leaves the greatest-hitting pitcher of all-time – George Herman Ruth – off this list.

Ken Brett – .722 OPS, 10 HR, 42 RBI in 350 PA.  Like his little brother, George, this guy could hit.  Five years older than the Royals Hall of Famer, Ken pitched twice in the 1967 World Series at 19, still, the youngest pitcher ever to appear in a Fall Classic.  Born on this date in 1948, Brett twice served as DH for the Chicago White Sox in 1976.  George was quoted as saying Ken was a better hitter when the two were growing up in Southern California.

Don Newcombe – .705 OPS, 15 HR, 108 RBI in 988 PA.  Newk was a stud.  He was the first pitcher to win Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards during his career.  A right-handed thrower who batted from the left side, Newcombe hit over .300 six times in ten big league seasons.  In 1955, he hit .359 with seven homers, nine doubles, and 23 RBI.  He also went 20-5 while leading the Dodgers to their only World Series title during the club’s time in Brooklyn.

Wes Ferrell – .797 OPS, 38 HR, 208 RBI in 1,344 PA.  Ferrell pitched a no-hitter in 1931 and led the AL in wins in 1935.  He holds MLB records for most homers in a career [37] and in a single season [9] by a pitcher.  The only hurler to win 20 games in each of his first four major league seasons, Ferrell was a career .280 hitter who rarely struck out.  The three-time All-Star returned to the minors after being released by the Boston Braves 1941, where he won two batting titles as an outfielder.

Red Ruffing – .695 OPS, 36 HR, 273 RBI in 2,083 PA.  Despite losing four toes on his left foot in a coal mining accident as a teenager, Ruffing led the AL in strikeouts in 1932 and wins in 1938.  The six-time All-Star batted over .300 in nine of his 22 MLB seasons and four times topped .330.  In 1930, Ruffing collected 40 hits and drove in 22 runs while striking out only eight times in 117 plate appearances.  The red-head helped the New York Yankees capture six World Series titles, amassed 521 career hits and landed in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.

Jack Scott – .673 OPS, 5 HR, 73 RBI in 736 PA.  This durable knuckleballer started both ends of a doubleheader for the Phillies in 1927 and threw complete games in each, allowing just four runs and one walk.  Scott batted over .300 four times in a dozen-year career with a lifetime OBP of .319 [former Rookie of the Year, Evan Longoria, posted an on-base percentage of .318 for the San Francisco Giants in 2018].  Scott, who won the 1922 World Series with the New York Giants, collected 187 career knocks, including four triples.

Carlos Zambrano – .636 OPS, 24 HR, 71 RBI in 744 PA.  Big Z was a “loco” hot-head.  But dude could swing the lumber.  A three-time Silver Slugger Award winner as the league’s best-hitting pitcher, Zambrano collected 20 or more hits in three separate seasons.  A switch-hitter with a career slugging percentage of .396, Zambrano’s 24 homers are the most ever by a Cubs pitcher.  In 2009, El Toro blasted five doubles and four home runs in 69 at-bats.

Don Larson – 662, 14 HR, 72 RBI in 653 PA.  The man who threw the only perfect game in World Series history could also handle the bat.  In 1958, the powerful right-hander hit .306/.364/.571 in 57 plate appearances with four dingers and 13 RBI.  What’s more, Larson only struck out nine times that season.

Mike Hampton – 650 OPS, 16 HR, 79 RBI in 845 PA.  One of the best-hitting pitchers of his era, Hampton won a record five Silver Sluggers and was the first hurler to win a Silver Slugger and Gold Glove in the same season [2003].  A terrific athlete, the southpaw was recruited by Notre Dame, Miami, and Florida State to play defensive back.  In 2001, Hampton batted .291 with seven homers and 16 RBI in 86 plate appearances.

Carl Mays – .663 OPS, 5 HR, 110 RBI, 1,199 PA.  Although he won over 200 games, including 27 in 1921, Mays is most remembered for uncorking a beanball.  While pursuing his 100th career win in August 1920, Mays hit Cleveland’s Ray Chapman in the head with a pitch.  The Indians shortstop died of head trauma 12 hours later.  It remains the only such incident in MLB history.  The four-time World Series champion played 15 seasons, hitting over .300 in three and .406 in 1927.

Dontrelle Willis – .665 OPS, 9 HR, 39 RBI in 447 PA.  After being named 2003 NL Rookie of the Year, the D-Train derailed.  The 2005 NL wins leader couldn’t find the plate and may have been better served following the lead of Rick Ankiel by becoming an outfielder.  In 2007, Willis batted .286, slugged .508 and posted an OPS of .856.  The stylish southpaw played with four teams from 2003 to 2011, then tried to hook on with six other clubs before calling it quits in 2015.

Les Sweetland – .679 OPS, 0 HR, 34 RBI in 324 PA.  Sweetland’s 7.71 ERA in 1930 is the highest in the modern era for a full season.  A terrible pitcher but a talented hitter, he was only able to hang around for five seasons.  The left-handed throwing, right-handed hitting Sweetland collected 26 hits and drove in 12 runs in 1929 for a Phillies team that won just 67 games.

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  1. Another example of why The DD is required reading. I consider myself a sports trivia junkie who is loaded with useless information about all kinds of obscure sports facts. I hadn’t even heard of half these guys, certainly not all of the old era players. Thanks Jim for bringing guys like Carl Mays, Jack Scott, Red Ruffing and Wes Ferrell back into the spotlight.

  2. Bob Lemon was a terrific hitter and Mr. Gibson’s prowess at the plate provided the inspiration for this story idea. Upon further examination of their hitting stats, however, neither of these greats made the cut. Tough list!

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