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Yankees history: The best hitting pitchers of all time

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In the current era, we’re not expecting much from Yankees’ hitters steeping to the plate. However, who throughout history actually had success with the bat?

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

The most obvious story going into the Yankees’ series against the Marlins in Miami was Giancarlo Stanton returning to town. It may not exactly be the first thing that comes to mind, but this is also an interleague series in a NL park. Of course, that means that the Yankees’ pitchers will have to hit. The most likely outcome of that is a pair of 0-2/0-3 games from the starting pitchers before the pinch-hitters, relievers, and double switches start coming into play.

It didn’t end well, but we have seen a pitcher reach base for the Yankees this year. Masahiro Tanaka drew a walk against the Mets, and proceeded to injure both his hamstrings running the bases. While it’s unlikely another pitcher will get on base, it’s not impossible. If one does, they would still be a ways back of the best hitting Yankees’ pitchers of all time.

Tied for the best triple slash line by a Yankees’ pitcher ever are Larry Gowell and Branden Pinder. Both hit 1.000/1.000/2.000 in their major-league careers. Not shockingly, both of those sample sizes consist of one plate appearance. They each hit a double, and never stepped to the plate a second time.

If we bump the minimum plate appearances up to 10, the answer becomes Tom Sheehan. After five years out of the majors, Sheehan appeared with the Yankees in 1921, and pitched in 12 games. His pitching was mostly mediocre, but he randomly hit well at the plate. Sheehan went 5-8 (all singles), and had two sacrifice bunts in his 10 PAs. That’s good for a 1.250 OPS.

What’s funny is that Sheehan was a pretty poor hitter when you look at his career in full. Remove his 10 plate appearances with the Yankees from his career numbers, and his OPS drops by 40 points.

Increasing the minimum plate appearances to 50 now, there was Ambrose Puttmann with a 120 OPS+. He had a relatively short career, but from 1904 to 1905, he had a 135 OPS+. He had 15 hits across 27 games in those two seasons, including three triples.

If you’re looking for the actual answer to this, i.e. someone that played a decent chunk of games, the answers is probably one of two people. Bullet Joe Bush played three seasons with the Yankees, and accumulated over 300 at-bats. In that time, he managed a 103 OPS+. Everyone one ahead of him either had a tiny sample size or was Johnny Lindell, who split time between pitcher and position player in his career.

Bush had 31 extra-base hits. He never quite hit that well in any other stops in his career, but that kind of consistency as a pitcher across three seasons is pretty solid.

The other candidate is Red Ruffing. He doesn’t quite have as a high numbers across his career as some others, but he also played so long that there was bound to be a drop off at some point. For a pitcher, Ruffing’s highs are incredibly impressive.

After seven games in Boston in 1930, Ruffing was traded to the Yankees in early May. He went on to bat in 52 games with the Yankees, making 106 plate appearances. Ruffing hit .374/.415/.596, which equates to a 157 OPS+. He went on to have four more seasons with a OPS+ over 100, with the lowest amount of plate appearances in any of those seasons coming in at 94.

There were also seasons in there where he hit .124/.152/.202, like he did in 1940. However, it’s hard to top the highs of a pitcher hitting double-digit doubles in a season.

All data and stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.