In the comments to my "Ten Worst Hitting Pitchers Of All Time" feature from yesterday, this suggestion was made:
how about a list of the best hitting pitchers? just for the heck of it!
So just for the heck of it, here it is. The methodology is the same, except I changed the minimum number of plate appearances to 300 (instead of 200 as in the other article). Why? Well, because I can, and also because making the baseline 200 PA put too many 19th Century pitchers on the list that you don't care about. Doing it this way makes it more interesting and the list has several active pitchers, as well as several who pitched for the Cubs. Those two things are not necessarily related. Also, this list is limited to players who pitched in at least 80% of their total games. I wanted actual pitchers who can hit, not guys like Babe Ruth, on this list.
10) Claude Hendrix: .640 OPS, 14 HR, 97 RBI in 990 PA
Hendrix not only pitched for the Cubs, he pitched for them in a World Series (1918), which is rare enough. He had a 1.000 World Series batting average -- 1-for-1, and oddly, the hit came as a pinch-hitter in Game 4.
9) Carlos Zambrano: .646 OPS, 23 HR, 69 RBI in 708 PA
Big Z loves to hit (a bit too much, according to some; he'll often go to the plate and appear to be trying to hit a 900-foot home run). His 23 home runs is the most among all active pitchers (and by a lot; second is Livan Hernandez with 10). His six HR in 2006 tied a Cubs team record set by Fergie Jenkins in 1971 and was just three short of the all-time record for a pitcher (Wes Ferrell, 1931). Zambrano's OPS would be even higher if his managers didn't keep using him as a pinch-hitter. He's awful in that role: 3-for-29 with 14 strikeouts. Removing those numbers from his total, he'd have a higher (but scary) .666 OPS and rank fourth.
8) Mike Hampton: .650 OPS, 16 HR, 79 RBI in 845 PA
Before Big Z passed him, Hampton was considered the best-hitting pitcher of the 2000s; in 2001 with the Rockies he hit .291/.309/.582 with seven HR and 16 RBI in 86 plate appearances. OK, you're saying, "Coors Field effect", but two years earlier with the Astrodome (never a great hitters' park) as his home field, Hampton hit .311/.373/.432 in 88 PA with three doubles, three triples and seven walks.
7) Don Larsen: .662 OPS, 14 HR, 72 RBI in 653 PA
Surprise! The man who threw the only no-hitter in World Series history, the famous perfect game in 1956, was also good with the bat. In 1958, he hit .306/.364/.571 in 57 PA with four HR and 13 RBI and struck out just nine times.
6) Carl Mays: .663 OPS, 5 HR, 110 RBI in 1199 PA
Mays pitched for the Red Sox, Yankees and Reds from 1915-1929; five HR is actually a fairly large number for anyone who played in the pre-Ruthian era. As a hitter, his best year was 1921, when as a Yankee, he hit .343/.365/.434 with 22 RBI. He pitched in four World Series, but his reputation was as a thoroughly dislikeable man who was a bit of a headhunter. He threw the only pitch that killed a major league player when one of his offerings hit Ray Chapman in the head in 1920.
5) Dontrelle Willis: .665 OPS, 9 HR, 39 RBI in 447 PA
Willis' prowess with the bat has had some wonder at times whether he might be well-served to do "The Ankiel" and convert to being an outfielder, given his pitching woes. He pitched well enough with the Reds in 2011 to get a deal with the Phillies, so he'll get a chance to add to those hitting totals in 2012. He hit quite well while with Cincinnati: .387/.387/.645 (12-for-31 with three doubles, a triple and a home run).
4) Jack Scott: .673 OPS, 5 HR, 73 RBI in 736 PA
Scott is someone who probably should have tried another position; his pitching can be charitably described as "mediocre". But the man could hit; in a 12-year career from 1916-1929 (with some missed years in the middle) he hit over .300 four times and had a career OBP of .319.
3) Les Sweetland: .679 OPS, 0 HR, 34 RBI in 325 PA
There's a reason Les Sweetland has the fewest PA of anyone in this list: he was a terrible pitcher. Even in the high-offense era in which he pitched (1927-31), his numbers were awful. He was part of the 1930 Phillies staff that had a 7.69 team ERA (his 7.71 mark almost matched that precisely). But though he never hit a home run in those 325 PA, he did hit 15 doubles and in 1929, had 12 RBI in 89 PA.
2) Sloppy Thurston: .682 OPS, 5 HR, 79 RBI in 698 PA
Thurston was a decent pitcher for mostly bad teams from 1923-33. (The nickname was ironic, as were many in those years; Thurston was noted as a well-groomed man.) His best hitting year was 1927, when he hit .315/.351/.467 with four doubles, two triples and two HR for the Washington Senators. Oddly, in the hitters' year of 1930, Thurston hit just .200 (10-for-50) with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
1) Ken Brett: .722 OPS, 10 HR, 42 RBI in 350 PA
If that name sounds familiar, but you can't quite place it, he's better known as "George Brett's big brother." Five years older than the Royals Hall of Famer, he pitched twice in the 1967 World Series at age 18 -- still the youngest player ever to play in a World Series. Brett was a good enough hitter that he twice was put into the lineup to hit in a game he started after the DH rule was instituted, by White Sox manager Paul Richards in 1976.
The OPS number above is Brett's as a pitcher only; like Carlos Zambrano, he wasn't a very good pinch-hitter (4-for-27) and his overall OPS was .698, which would still be high enough to top this list. George Brett was once quoted as saying that his older brother was a better hitter when the two were growing up.
Honorable mention to Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, who ranks 17th on this list but had what is generally acknowledged to be the greatest single hitting season ever by a pitcher. In 1925 -- at age 37, no less -- he hit .433/.455/.577 in 107 PA with two HR and 20 RBI. In addition to being a great hitting year "for a pitcher", the .433 batting average is the highest in MLB history for anyone who had at least 107 PA in a season.