Whenever you watch a National League Major League Baseball game (or an interleague game played in a National League city, or during World Series games in National League parks), you almost always see a rather pathetic sight--a pitcher trying to bat. If there are men on first and/or second, they'll probably attempt to lay down a sacrifice bunt (and sometimes look helpless and awful even doing this). Otherwise, they'll take their hacks, and the result is typically dreadful--terrible swings, often late, at pitches, or alternately, no swings at obvious strikes in the hopes of drawing a walk. The overwhelming majority of pitchers are "easy outs," and in the rare instances when they get hits it's usually a big surprise. Which is probably the main reason why the American League went to the designated hitter (or DH) in the 1973 season, to try to increase offense for ratings and fan interest. This designated hitter bats instead of the pitcher, and doesn't play a defensive position. In addition to all regular season games between two American League teams, the DH is used in interleague games in American League parks, and also in World Series games in American League parks.
But, there are some pitchers who are average, or even good hitters. Today I'd like to mention some of these guys, and include some records. To do this, I looked at my copy of "The SABR Baseball List & Record Book," along with my Baseball Encyclopedia and the list of Silver Sluggers (this is the yearly award since the late 1970's which picks the best offensive players at all positions, including pitchers). Also, I checked various articles online and checked the stats with www.baseball-reference.com But statistics about pitcher's hitting prowess are a little spotty, so this list isn't necessarily comprehensive. I welcome more info and opinions from any interested readers.
Also, bear in mind that most sources don't separate hitting statistics achieved while pitching from those achieved during pinch hitting, except for most of the home run totals in the SABR book. I've eliminated players who obviously played significant time at another position, but many of the pitchers mentioned here did pinch hit at least several times because they were so good at it. I more or less arbitrarily came up with 200 at bats as a minimum for these records and lists. Clearly, starting pitchers in the first half of the 20th century, and especially those before 1920 pitched way more complete games and innings, and also started more games period. Meaning they then batted way more than most of their modern contemporaries. Therefore, they have a distinct advantage in cumulative stats like hits, home runs, and rbi. The flipside is that they had to bat effectively over many more at bats, meaning modern day pitchers may have an advantage in non cumulative stats like batting average, on base percentage, slugging, etc. Pre-1900 pitchers pitched even more ridiculous numbers of games and innings, and the game itself was more different, with different rules, etc. Therefore, I'm not including these players, with the exception of Cy Young, who played about half his career before 1900 and half after (1890-1911). Judge his stats accordingly. Finally, I'm just starting to get into more advanced stats, like WHIP and OPS, etc. Some readers may prefer other, even more advanced and detailed statistics, which they feel may be more illuminating. Hopefully I'll continue to progress on this front, but for now I'll stick with the more basic ones I'm familiar with. But let's get to the guys with the following lifetime batting records, as best I can determine.
Highest batting average: .289 George Uhle
.283 Micah Owings
.280 Wes Ferrell
.275 Jack Scott
.272 Les Sweetland
Highest on base percentage: .351 Wes Ferrell
.341 Les Sweetland
.339 George Uhle
.338 Don Newcombe
.328 Schoolboy Rowe
Highest slugging percentage: .502 Micah Owings
.446 Wes Ferrell
.406 Ken Brett
.389 Red Ruffing
.388 Carlos Zambrano
.386 Bob Lemon
Highest OPS+ (on base percentage plus slugging average, adjusted for time period, ballpark, etc 100 is average for a position player.)
106 Micah Owings
100 Wes Ferrell
95 Ken Brett
88 Schoolboy Rowe
87 Tim Lollar
Most home runs hit: 37 Wes Ferrell ( 1 more as a pinch hitter)
35 Bob Lemon (2 more as a pinch hitter)
35 Warren Spahn
34 Red Ruffing (2 more as a pinch hitter)
33 Earl Wilson (2 more as a pinch hitter)
29 Don Drysdale
Most hits: 623 Cy Young
547 Walter Johnson
521 Red Ruffing
393 George Uhle
378 Grover Cleveland Alexander
Most rbi: 290 Cy Young
273 Red Ruffing
251 Walter Johnson
208 Wes Ferrell
190 George Uhle
Now let's move to World Series hitting records by pitchers. Single series ones first.
Most at bats: 18 Deacon Phillips, 1903 Pittsburgh Pirates (series was 8 games, best out of 9 games)
Most hits: 5 Jack Coombs, 1910 Philadelphia Athletics
Most runs: 3 (tie) Jesse Barnes, 1921 New York Giants, Dizzy Dean, 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, and Mudcat Grant, 1965 Minnesota Twins
Most doubles: 2 (tie) Dizzy Dean, 1934 St. Louis Cardinals, Marius Russo, 1943 New York Yankees, Murray Dickson, 1946 St. Louis Cardinals, Ken Holtzman, 1973 Oakland Athletics, Orel Hershisher, 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers
Most triples: 2 Dutch Ruether, 1919 Cincinnati Reds (bear in mind this was the infamous "Black Sox" scandal Series, so many of his opponents weren't playing their best!)
Most home runs: 1 (I'll list all 15, by 13 different players)
Jim Bagby, 1920 Cleveland Indians
Jack Bentley, 1924 New York Giants
Rosy Ryan, 1924 New York Giants again
Jesse Haines, 1926 St. Louis Cardinals
Bucky Walters, 1940 Cincinnati Reds
Lew Burdette, 1958 Milwaukee Braves
Mudcat Grant, 1965 Minnesota Twins
Bob Gibson, 1967 St. Louis Cardinals
Jose Santiago, 1967 Boston Red Sox
Bob Gibson, 1968 St. Louis Cardinals
Mickey Lolich, 1968 Detroit Tigers
Dave McNally, 1969 Baltimore Orioles
Dave McNally, 1970 Baltimore Orioles
Ken Holtzman, 1973 Oakland Athletics
Joe Blanton, 2008 Philadelphia Phillies
Most rbi: 4(tie) Dutch Ruether, 1919 Cincinnati Reds and Dave McNally, 1970 Baltimore Orioles (McNally hit a grand slam)
Batting average (3 at bat minimum) 1.000 Orel Hershisher, 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers (he went 3 for 3)
Now on to lifetime World Series hitting records by a pitcher
At bats: 49 Whitey Ford, all with the New York Yankees
Runs: 4 (tie) Ken Holtzman, Oakland Athletics, Bob Gibson, St. Louis Cardinals, and Whitey Ford, New York Yankees
Hits: 9 Christy Mathewson, New York Giants
Doubles: 3 Ken Holtzman, Oakland Athletics
Triples: 2 Dutch Ruether, Cincinnati Reds
Home runs: 2 (tie) Bob Gibson, St. Louis Cardinals and Dave McNally, Baltimore Orioles
Rbi: 6 Dave McNally, Baltimore Orioles
Batting Average, minimum of 10 at bats: .417 Jack Bentley, New York Giants
(5 for 12),
Slugging percentage, at least 10 at bats: .833 Ken Holtzman, Oakland Athletics
On base percentage, at least 10 at bats: .462 Jack Bentley, New York Giants
Finally, I'd like to end with brief profiles of (arguably) the 20 best hitting pitchers, all time, not in order. Some who just missed the cut were Mike Hampton, Carlos Zambrano, Gary Peters, Don Robinson, Rick Rhoden, Les Sweetland, and Jack Coombs. "Slash" is batting average/on base percentage/slugging average, with OPS+ (adjusted OPS) and then home runs, rbi and total hits.
1) Wes Ferrell, 1927-41, with several teams, including the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox.
.280/.351/446, 100 OPS+, 38 home runs, 208 rbi, 329 hits.
2) Bob Lemon, 1946-58, with the Cleveland Indians. Hall of Famer.
.232/.288/386, 82 OPS+, 37 home runs, 147 rbi, 274 hits.
3) Red Ruffing, 1924-47, with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Chicago White Sox. Hall of Famer. .269/306/.389, 81 OPS+, 36 home runs, 273 rbi, 521 hits.
4) Earl Wilson, 1959-70, with the Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, and San Diego Padres.
.195/.265/.369, 76 OPS+, 35 home runs, 111 rbi, 144 hits.
5) Walter Johnson, 1907-27, with the Washington Senators. Hall of Famer.
.235/.274/.342, 76 OPS+, 24 home runs, 255 rbi, 547 hits.
6) Jack Harshman, 1948, 1950, 1952, 1954-60, with four teams, including the New York Giants and Chicago White Sox. .179/.294/.344, 73 OPS+, 21 home runs, 65 rbi, 76 hits.
7) Schoolboy Rowe, 1933-49, with the Detroit Tigers, Brooklyn Dodgers, and Philadelphia Phillies.
.263/.328/.382, 88 OPS+, 18 home runs, 153 rbi, 239 hits.
8) Jim Tobin, 1937-45, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Braves, and Detroit Tigers.
.230/.303/.345, 83 OPS+ 17 home runs, 102 rbi, 183 hits.
9) Don Newcombe, 1949-51, 1954-60, with several teams, mostly the Brooklyn/LA Dodgers.
.271/.338/.367, 85 OPS+, 15 home runs, 108 rbi, 238 hits.
10) Micah Owings, 2007-12, with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Cincinnati Reds, and San Diego Padres. .283/.310/.502, 106 OPS+, 9 home runs, 35 rbi, 58 hits.
11) Tim Lollar, 1980-86, with several teams, mostly with the San Diego Padres.
.234/.286/.377, 87 OPS+, 8 home runs, 38 rbi, 54 hits.
12) George Uhle, 1919-36, with several teams, including the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers.
.289/.339/.384, 86 OPS+. 9 home runs, 190 rbi, 393 hits.
13) Carl Mays,, 1915-29, with several teams, mostly the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
.268/.313/.350, 82 OPS+, 5 home runs, 111 rbi, 291 hits.
14) Claude Hendrix, 1911-20, with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs, and with 2 years in the competing Federal League. .241/.275/.366, 86 OPS+, 14 home runs, 97 rbi, 222 hits.
15) Don Larsen, 1953-67, with several teams, most notably the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants. .242/.291/.378, 81 OPS+, 14 home runs, 72 rbi, 144 hits.
16) Jack Scott, 1916-29, with several teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Braves.
.275/.319/.354, 84 OPS+, 5 home runs, 73 rbi, 187 hits.
17) Sloppy Thurston, 1923-33, with several teams, including the St. Louis Browns and Chicago White Sox. .270/.299/.383, 79 OPS+, 5 home runs, 79 rbi, 175 hits.
18) Ken Brett, 1967-81, with 10 teams, including the Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals (also he was Hall of Famer George Brett's brother). .262/.291/.406, 95 OPS+, 10 home runs, 44 rbi, 91 hits.
19) Dutch Ruether, 1917-27, with several teams, including the Cincinnati Reds and New York Yankees. .258/.314/.335, 76 OPS+, 7 home runs, 111 rib, 250 hits.
20) Dontrelle Willis, 2003-11, with several teams, most notably with the Florida Marlins.
.244/.319/.378, 75 OPS+. 9 home runs, 39 rbi, 95 hits.
Oh, and one more bit of trivia, the record for home runs hit by a pitcher in a game was 3 by Jim Tobin (see profile above).
So let the arguments begin, I guess.