Babe Ruth is possibly the greatest player to step on a baseball diamond and most of his accomplishments were as an outfielder, where he spent the majority of his career.
Throughout his career, Ruth slashed (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) a stunning .342/.474/.690 with a record (at the time) 714 home runs as well as 2214 RBI.
He deserves all of the recognition he gets and more.
A well-known fact about Ruth is that he was a pitcher for the first six years of his career with the Boston Red Sox. However, many are quick to forget how great he actually was on the mound. Consider this your reminder.
Ruth made his Major League debut in 1914, but only pitched in four games (three starts.) He went 2-1, with a 3.91 ERA in 23 innings pitched.
However, he became a star in 1915, going 18-8 in 32 games (28 starts and 217.2 innings pitched) and posting a 2.44 ERA, a 1.153 WHIP, a 117 ERA+, and 112 strikeouts (in 1915 that was a fair amount.) He placed in the top ten in the American League in wins, win-loss percentage, (.692), H/9 (6.864), and K/9 (4.631.) His performance helped Boston win the World Series.
1916 was Ruth’s best season as a pitcher. He went 23-12 in 44 games (40 starts and 323.2 innings pitched) with a league-leading 1.75 ERA, a 1.075 WHIP, a 158 ERA+, and 170 strikeouts. He also led the junior circuit in shutouts (9), ERA and hits/9 (6.4.) Even more amazing was that he was one of only three pitchers in the American League to not allow a home run all year. The other two were Walter Johnson and Red Sox teammate Rube Foster.
Ruth also made his World Series debut that season against the Brooklyn Robins, allowing only one run and pitching all 14 innings of a 2-1 Boston win.
The Sox would repeat as champions that season, taking the series in five games.
He had another solid season in 1917, winning 24 games and posting a 2.01 ERA in 41 games (38 starts and 326.1 innings pitched.) He also led the league with a whopping 35 complete games, which is unimaginable in today’s game.
In 1918, Ruth began making a transition to becoming an everyday player. He played in 95 games that year, but only 20 as a pitcher (19 starts and 166.1 innings pitched.) He still managed to win 13 games and post a 2.22 ERA in a limited number of games pitched.
He also pitched two games in the World Series that year, winning both and allowing only two runs in 17 innings pitched. This would help the Sox capture their third championship in four years.
1919 would not only be Ruth’s final year in Boston, but his last as a pitcher as well.
He only pitched in 17 games (15 starts and 133.1 innings pitched) and went 9-5 with a 2.97 ERA. He also led the league by hitting 29 home runs and driving in 113 runs. Now that is an impressive season.
During his career with the Red Sox, Ruth went 89-46 with a 2.19 ERA, a 1.142 WHIP, a 2.76 FIP, and struck out 3.7 batters per nine innings.
Though in a much larger sample size, here are the career averages of a few other pitching greats from that time period:
Walter Johnson: 2.17 ERA, 1.061 WHIP, 2.42 FIP, 5.3 K/9
Smoky Joe Wood: 2.03 ERA, 1.087 WHIP, 2.26 FIP, 6.2 K/9
Eddie Cicotte: 2.38 ERA, 1.154 WHIP, 2.54 FIP, 3.8 K/9
Babe Adams: 2.76 ERA, 1.092 WHIP, 2.72 FIP, 3.1 K/9
Though two of those four (Johnson and Wood) were better than Ruth in each category, they were two of the best pitchers of all-time and Ruth was not that far behind them. He was also better than Cicotte, who could’ve ended up in the Hall Of Fame if not for his involvement in the Black Sox scandal in 1919, and Adams.
Even though he wasn’t at Wood or Johnson’s level, Ruth very likely would have been a Hall Of Famer even if he had never become an outfielder and set all of those batting records.
If you combine both of Ruth’s baseball careers, he is undoubtedly one of the top three players of all-time.