|Babe Ruth began his career as a pitcher.|
Ruth though made it to the majors not because of his hitting, but on the strength of his left arm. Ruth began his major league career as a pitcher and a fine one at that. Ruth's lifetime pitching stats shows him with a win-loss record 94-46 and a 2.28 ERA. He accomplished that mostly starting for the Red Sox over just 4 1/2 seasons.
During the years 1914 through 1917, when the Red Sox only used him as a pitcher, Ruth hit just nine home runs. By 1918, the Red Sox realized they not only had a fine pitcher but a hitter as well. The team began playing Ruth in the outfield and first base between starts. When Ruth was sold to the Yankees in 1920 he finally became a full-time position player, pitching rarely after that.
What if Ruth came to the majors today as a pitcher? Would a major league team look beyond his pitching talents to his even greater potential as a hitter? Would the team try putting a good hitting pitcher in a position where he could get more chances at the plate?
I think there is such a good hitting pitcher playing in the majors today. This year the Cincinnati Reds acquired Dontrelle Willis from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Once one of the finest pitchers in the majors, winning 22 games in 2005, Willis has only won five games over the past five full years, starting 40 games during that period which has been marked by injuries.
Willis is showing some signs of reviving his pitching career with the Reds. That's a long-shot though. Pitchers rarely have five years slumps and then make a recovery.
What is apparent though is that Willis, having arrived back in the DH-less National League with Arizona last year and now Cincinnati, is one terrific hitter. While his current .417 average is undoubtedly inflated due to a low number of plate appearances, the way Willis swings the bat and the fear opposing pitchers have when facing him, suggest a hitter with substantial potential if given more at bats.
|Reds Pitcher Dontrelle Willis|
While one obviously hesitates to compare Willis with Babe Ruth, one has to wonder if a hitting talent is being overlooked because he came to the majors as a pitcher. Ruth was an excellent pitcher in the prime of his career when his team decided he might be even be better as a hitter. With Willis though it is a matter of a 29 year old desperately trying to revive a pitching career that's been in limbo for five years. Reportedly, two National League teams last year thought so highly of Willis' hitting that they, assuming his pitching career was over, contacted him about joining their team as a pinch-hitter for the post-season drive. (Willis is 6 for 18 pinch-hitting in his career.) What's the harm in the Reds seeing what Willis can do with a stick, playing a position?