The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Babe Ruth

I’m launching a new series today called, “Baseball’s Surprising Stats.”  The object of this series is to revisit players most of us already know something about, then to uncover one fact or statistic about that player that isn’t widely known.

I got the idea for this series when it occurred to me that although I knew that Babe Ruth was an excellent pitcher for the Boston Red Sox before he became the slugging star outfielder of the New York Yankees, I had no idea how many game Ruth won in his career as a pitcher.

Once I did the research, I was intrigued by what I found.

That leads us to Part 1 of this series.  I hope you find it useful and enjoyable.

Babe Ruth threw his first pitch in a Red Sox uniform at age 19 in 1914, just as the First World War was getting under way across the pond in Europe.

American baseball player Babe Ruth, publicity ...

American baseball player Babe Ruth, publicity photo, 1918, Boston Red Sox (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ruth pitched for the Red Sox from 1914 through 1919, starting 143 games over those six seasons.  Twice he won over 20 games for the Sox, including a career high 24 wins in 1917.  That same season, he led the A.L. with 35 complete games, and posted a 2.01 ERA.

The previous season, Ruth had led the A.L. with 40 starts, a 1.75 ERA  in 323 innings, and nine shutouts.  He won 23 games that season.

In 1916, also compiled a WAR of 8.3, second best in the league among pitchers.

By 1918, though, Ruth was spending substantially more time in the outfield, and, therefore, less time on the pitcher’s mound.  He declined to 13 wins in 1918, then just 9 more wins in 1919, his final year in Boston.

Babe Ruth pitching with Boston Red Sox, Comins...

Babe Ruth pitching with Boston Red Sox, Cominsky Park, 1914 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, Ruth led the A.L. in home runs in 1918 when he swatted eleven.  The following year, his last with the Red Sox, he set a new home run record with 29.

In January, 1920, Ruth was purchased from the Red Sox by the Yankees for the unheard of sum of $100,000.

I was unaware that Ruth started four games for the Yankees in his career, winning each of them, and adding another win as a relief pitcher in 1921.

I should also note that while pitching for Boston, he made three starts across two World Series, winning all three starts while posting an incredible 0.87 ERA.

The most stunning stat I found was that in 1916, in 40 starts and 323 innings pitched, Ruth did not give up a single home run all season!  Now, I know this was the dead ball era, but that is still one unbelievable statistic.

My initial question regarding Babe Ruth was, how many games did he win as a pitcher?  The answer is, he won 94 games in his career while losing just 46.  His career win-loss percentage was .671, the 12th best in Major League history, higher than Christy Mathewson, Roger Clemens, and Sandy Koufax.

Clearly, Ruth was a great pitcher before he was a great position player, and that’s why he’s often considered the greatest player who ever lived.

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13 thoughts on “Baseball’s Surprising Stats: Babe Ruth

  1. Great read! Every time I read something about the Bambino, I invariably see something I did not know before. Thanks for sharing and thanks for stopping by our site and ‘liking’. Appreciate it!

  2. Great read! Every time I read or hear about stats and info regarding Babe Ruth I find something else out that I did not know. Thanks for sharing and thanks so much for stopping by and ‘liking’ our last article.

  3. In regards to your top 20 of all time… It would be nice to see someone write up an article of the most important players of all time. Like Jackie Robinson for being 1 of a few that broke the color barrier… But I would love to see the GREAT, Donald Arthur Mattingly be added to the list. In what is to be considered as the most boring decades in the sport we all love, Donnie Baseball, was not only the best, but a massive record setter, and celebrity in that era. Yes he needed to go 5 for 5 on the last game of his true rookie year to take the batting title as a rookie… Has never been done beside Mattingly. And the following year he wins the MVP, as well as close to winning the triple crown that year. In 86 he becomes well known for being “screwed” out of the MVP by having the award go to a pitcher in Roger Clemens. But here is Donnie’s greatest offerings as a player. #1. As the seats started going empty in all ballparks, it happened in Yankee Stadium, Mattingly put asses in the seats again. #2. He was the 1st plaer to ever earn a Unheard of amount of 2 million dollars a year! #3. He was a player that NOBODY disliked. If you where a Yankee fan, you adored this man, if you where not a Yankee fan, you respected the hell out of this man. BUT, #4. The most IMPORTANT offering by D A M, He is RESPONSIBLE for the baseball card boom! It was Mattingly’s 1984 Donruss card hitting the value of 100$+, that was the 1st big money card produced in a 20 year span. He brought so many people in to collecting, and there for a baseball fan, it is almost immeasurable! the excitement of “pulling” a Don Mattingly card out a pack was second to none! I am a HUGE fan of Donnie, so I am a little biased… But it is amazing that he is not in the Hall of Fame. He is literally LOVED by Millions of people. Hated by None!!!!

    • Fred, Thank you for reading, and for leaving the comment. Not sure there’s ever been a boring decade in baseball. Some are just more hyped than others. I liked Mattingly, too. I think the relative brevity of his dominance is what hurt his chances of making it into The Hall.
      Appreciate your interest,

  4. Another great post, Bill. I knew about his pitching for the Yankees, and will be researching those starts one day, maybe for a post on Grubby Glove. I didn’t know about the relief appearance, however. Thanks for bringing me up to speed. Warmest Regards, Michael, AKA: Grubby Glove.

  5. To me the great stat is the winning percentage. Heck of a pitcher. Thanks for pointing it out.

  6. NIce post Bill. Your analysis of Ruth’s career is concise. Ruth’s conversion from essentially an all-star pitcher to what he was in the outfield has always amazed me. I find myself running into a dilemma with regards to the “greatest player” ever. What are your thoughts on Willie Mays? He consistently is considered by many to be up there with Ruth. As a Yankee fan, and fan of the game, I want to be able to give Ruth that label. However, analysis of Mays creates a compelling argument for the perennial 5-tool Say Hey Kid.

    Vince V.

    • Hi Vince, To me Ruth will always be #1. After that, the next five are (not necessarily in this order), Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ty Cobb, Barry Bonds, and Ted Wiliams. To round out my top ten, add Honus Wagner, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, and Mickey Mantle.
      #’s 11-20:
      A. Pujols, M. Schmidt, R. Hornsby, E. Collins, R. Henderson, F. Robinson, A-Rod, J. Morgan, C. Ripkin, and J. Bench.
      That’s a very subjective list, and I expect others would disagree with some of those picks, but that’s my list for now.
      Take care,

  7. This is a nice post. Very intriguing career Ruth had. Those stats are unheard of in this day and age. Really makes you think about how different the game was in those glory days. Look forward to the rest of the series.

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