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Monday, September 1, 2014

Babe Ruth: if the Babe played today, would he be a relief pitcher?

During Saturday's Yankee game in Toronto the announcers mentioned that the Blue Jays relief pitcher was also a good hitting shortstop in high school.  That led me to something I've wondered about for years: what would they do with Babe Ruth today?

The Babe began his major league career as a starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and set a World Series record of 29.66 consecutive scoreless innings.  Whitey Ford broke that record in 1961, the same season that Yankee teammate Roger Maris broke Ruth's record of 60 home runs, prompting Ford to crack that the Babe had a bad season.

Ruth pitching records with Boston:


1916 23-12; led AL in ERA, GS, SHO, ERA+, H9, HR9.
1918 tied Tillie Walker for AL lead in HR with 11 in 317 AB.
1919 set record with 29 HR in 432 AB.

Gradually Boston had Ruth play every day because he could hit.

The American League adopted the designated hitter rule (DH) in 1973 and today it applies to half the teams in the Major Baseball League (MBL).  The rule has these weaknesses:
- it's restricted to the pitcher, which I never understood; Ruth always came to mind
- it should have been a designated fielder: eight batters with one fielding specialist designated by each team each game, probably the pitcher.

If Ruth played today in the American Conference, he could not both pitch and bat in the same game without his team losing the optional DH.  The problem with letting Ruth start and bat is that if he left the game his relief pitchers would also be required to bat.  Just another reason to embrace my designated fielder rule.

In the early years of the DH there were four games in which the DH was not used:
Ferguson Jenkins (1 for 2) October 2, 1974
Ken Holtzman (0 for 2) September 27, 1975
Ken Brett (0 for 3) twice July 6, 1976 and September 23, 1976

1. Would his team require Ruth to specialize?  Probably, either a pitcher or outfielder.
2. If Ruth became a pitcher, would he start or relieve?

Strikeouts s c a p y 
1916 AL  170 (3rd) 
1917 AL  128 (5th)

Strikeouts per 9 IP s c a p y 
1915 AL  4.631 (8th) 
1916 AL  4.727 (8th)

Not exactly Aroldis Chapman throwing 100 mph but a current team might want to make Ruth a lefty specialist coming out of the bullpen.  What a waste!  Consider:

Would Nolan Ryan be a relief pitcher today?  Wednesday, August 13, 2014

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