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While Babe Ruth has become an American icon and a legend of baseball, this is due mainly to his incredible results as a precision batter and slugger. However, how fast could “The Sultan of Swat” throw a baseball?
Babe Ruth was initially signed to the Red Sox in 1916 as a left-arm pitcher, whereby he was instrumental in the team’s success. Therefore, Babe Ruth was an excellent pitcher that would have matched the speeds of some of the top pitchers during the 1910s at approximately 80 miles per hour.
To better understand why Babe Ruth was considered a world-class pitcher in the 1910s, despite a pitch of 80 miles per hour being an average speed in modern baseball, we will look at the history of Babe Ruth’s time as a pitcher and compare his results to modern pitchers:
Was Babe Ruth A Pitcher?
Although Babe Ruth was an all-around baseball player, there’s no denying that his legendary status derived from his batting records and his legacy as a world-class slugger, hitter, and runner. However, he actually entered major league baseball as a left-hand pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in 1914.
During his five years as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (although he was brought in to bat on rotation), Babe Ruth achieved:
- An ERA title (1.75 in 1916)
- A top 10 finish in wins, and
- And WHIP three times.
Further to the above, Babe Ruth finished his career as a pitcher, having achieved:
- An 11th best winning percentage of all time (.671)
- The 17th best ERA of all time (2.28), and
- 94 career wins.
During the postseason and his two trips as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox to the World Series, Babe Ruth made three starts, winning all three and posting an exceptional 0.87 ERA.
Babe Ruth’s postseason success is best illustrated with the record for the longest scoreless streak in the World Series, posting 29.7 innings without surrendering a run (although this record would eventually be broken in 1961.)
Consequently, had Babe Ruth remained a pitcher, maybe experts believed he would have still been inducted to the Hall of Fame, despite his true talents lying with the bat.
What Was Babe Ruth’s Pitching Average?
Although modern baseball pitchers have world-class coaching and technology to help them maximize and measure their pitching speed, these systems were not available during Babe Ruth’s time as a pitcher in the late 1910s.
However, some studies from other pitchers from wind tunnels in the early 1910s, coupled with examined footage of babe Ruth and other pitchers in the 1910s pitching a baseball at approximately 80 miles an hour.
How Does Babe Ruth Compare To Modern Pitchers?
The advancement of technology in sport led to the introduction of the PITCH/FX system in 2006 in Major league baseball. The introduction of the PITCH/FX system was a significant breakthrough for the sport, as it helps players, coaches, fans, scientists, and historians to accurately measure the speed of baseball pitchers.
An interesting statistic is the average speed of baseball pitchers has been on a steady increase from 2002 until the present. For example, the average pitch speed in Major league Baseball in 2002 was a respectable 88. Miles per hour, the 2021 season recorded an average fastball speed of 94.9 miles an hour.
Whereby, current data across the 2022 baseball season suggest that the average baseball pitcher’s speed will likely increase to over 95 miles per hour!
Since the introduction of the PITCH/FX system, the official record for the fastest pitch in baseball has been held by Aroldis Chapman. On the 24th of September 2010, Chapman made MLB history for the Cincinnati Reds when he pitched a fastball traveling at 105.8 miles per hour!
Therefore, while Babe Ruth was likely one of the fastest pitchers during the 1910s, it is unlikely that his pitching average or top speed would match the average and/or top speeds of MLB pitchers in the modern era.
Is Babe Ruth The Best Baseball Player Ever?
Many baseball players, experts, fans, and historians believe that Babe Ruth was the greatest baseball player of all time. Before going into some subjective opinions regarding his legacy, let’s examine some raw data points during his MLB career:
- Home runs: 714 (the most in MLB history upon retirement and the third most home runs of all time)
- Batting average: .342 (10th best batting average of all time)
- OPS: 1.164 (best OPS of all time)
- OPS+ 206 (best OPS+ of all time)
- Slugging percentage (.690, having slugged at least .700 in nine seasons)
- On-base percentage: .474 (2nd best on-base percentage of all time)
- RBI: 2.213 (2nd best RBI of all time)
- Win-Loss record as a pitcher: 94 – 46
- ERA: 2.28
- World Series Winner: seven times
- Set the record for the most home runs in a season and then beat it three times,
- Set the record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched in World Series: 29.7 (since broken)
- Only player in history to have pitched both a shutout and record a multihomer game in the World Series,
- Wins above replacement: 183.1 (best WAR of all time)
- An inductee of the first ever Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936.
Along with being the holder of multiple baseball records and an outlier among multiple data points across all positions, Babe Ruth’s legacy extends to his reinvention of baseball as a sport and commercial property.
Furthermore, Babe Ruth achieved his incredible results during a time when sports nutrition, training, and psychology were rudimentary compared to modern baseball. Whereby the scandals of modern baseball, like performance-enhancing drugs, were basically non-existent during the 1910s.
Finally, Babe Ruth continued his incredible form and results with multiple teams and seasons, all the while being subjected to brutal training, playing, and traveling schedule (which very few modern baseball payers will ever be subjected to, given the professionalism of the sport.)
In conclusion, while Babe Ruth’s pitching speed is considered average by modern MLB standards, his pitching speed in the 1910s and his knowledge of the sport made him an excellent pitcher for the Boston Red Sox.
Consequently, his prowess as a pitcher, coupled with his impressive batting statistics, means that many people consider Babe Ruth to be the greatest player of all time!