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People complain somewhat frequently about how Red Ruffing should not be in the Hall of Fame. He has this icky 3.80 career ERA. He only had 273 wins as opposed to the traditional standard of greatness: 300. His winning percentage was only .548. He allowed almost a hit per innings and only struck out 4.1 batters per nine innings! How could this pedestrian pitcher possibly gain entry to the Hall of Fame?
Others use him as a baseline for allowing other pitchers into the Hall of Fame. Jack Morris, for example had an ERA that was only a little higher. He should get in too! However, those people rarely attempt any argument beyond their similar ERAs and Red Ruffing was much more than just his 3.80 career ERA.
First of all, Red Ruffing led in K/9 twice in his career, once with 6.6 K/9 and once with only 5.2 K/9. It was a different game then, so he was a pretty good strikeout pitcher in his day.
His 55.4 career bWAR is good for 72nd all time. That’s right, he has one one of the top 75 total values among all-time Major League pitchers.
Ruffing was a slightly below average pitcher in his time with the Boston Red Sox. He played for the Sox almost six seasons before being traded to the Yankees. He had over 1000 innings pitched with a bland 4.57 ERA and 92 ERA+. Valuable, but not even worth more than a footnote in history books.
Once he got to the Yankees, things took off.
From 1931, his first full year with the Yankees, until 1946, his last year with the Yankees, Ruffing threw 2971 innings and maintained a 3.43 ERA and 120 ERA+. He was robbed of somewhere around 450 innings because he went off to WWII in 1943 and 1944. During this stretch, he was a 6 time All-Star and finished in the top 8 of MVP voting three times.
He went to seven World Series with the Yankees and the team won six. He posted a 2.63 ERA and had a 7-2 record through 85 ⅔ innings pitched in World Series starts. He was an ace.
Now compare that stretch in Ruffing’s career to Hall of Famer Bob Lemon’s career stats, who also lost some years to the war: 3.23 ERA, 119 ERA+, 2850 IP. Many believe David Cone should be in the Hall of Fame with his 3.46 career ERA, 121 ERA+ and 2898 ⅔ IP. I believe he should too.
Those are amazing numbers, but I would point out that Ruffing’s time with the Yankees essentially contained David Cone’s entire career. That right there should be enough to convince anyone who wants Cone in the Hall that Ruffing belongs there, but that’s not all…
He won at least 20 games in four straight seasons, from 1936 to 1939 (remember, this is when a pitcher started a game and usually finished the game, so wins held a little more relevance). During those seasons, he had a 137 ERA+ in 1008 innings. Again, much like Cone’s heyday from 1992 to 1995, with a 140 ERA+ and a Cy Young award. But that’s not all…
Until losing four toes in a mining accident, Ruffing was an outfielder and first baseman for his company team. He was a very good hitter and it carried over to his career in the major leagues. He finished his career with over 2000 plate appearances and an 81 OPS+ as a pitcher.
During his peak hitting seasons, from 1928 to 1935, Ruffing hit .307/.333/.451 with a 106 OPS+. He drove in 3 runs in the 1937 World Series and had another RBI in the 1938 World Series. Just as a hitter, Ruffing posted a 15.0 bWAR.
Ruffing had a total of more than 70 WAR, which ranks him above the likes of Hall of Famers Don Drysdale, Bob Feller, Jim Palmer and Jim Bunning. That’s how awesome Red Ruffing was.
I am a Royals fan who found sabermetrics at an early age. I write professionally. I write leisurely. I am easily entertained, which comes in handy when watching the Royals.