Wes Ferrell and the greatest season you've never heard of

On Monday at the MLB winter meetings in Nashville, the Hall of Fame will announce the results from the Pre-Integration Era Committee, a committee name that suggests just how long ago it was that anybody paid attention to the individuals on the ballot. The last time this committee voted was 2012 and it elected Deacon White, a barehanded catcher whose career began just a few years after the Civil War ended; an umpire; and an owner who helped keep the game segregated.

So the Hall of Fame voters and various committees are electing barehanded catchers but won't elect obviously qualified modern stars like Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Alan Trammell and Jeff Bagwell, let alone borderline Hall of Famers from the more recent past like Minnie Minoso and Luis Tiant. Other worthy players like Lou Whitaker and Dwight Evans have yet to receive a second look after getting booted off the baseball writers' ballot. Meanwhile, the Hall is giving even more consideration to candidates who have been been passed over for decades, from eras that are already over-represented in Cooperstown. I'm with Jim Caple: It's time to stop the Pre-Integration ballot.

This year's ballot does include one intriguing name: Wes Ferrell, a pitcher from the 1930s who went 193-128 with a 4.04 ERA. Those aren't Hall of Fame numbers but they're better than they look on the surface. That was a high-scoring era, and Ferrell's career adjusted ERA+ of 116 is the same as Dennis Eckersley and higher than Steve Carlton, Fergie Jenkins, Jim Bunning, Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts and Nolan Ryan, all Hall of Famers. Now, that doesn't make Ferrell a Hall of Famer; those guys all had longer careers.

But Ferrell was an outstanding pitcher at his peak. Four times he ranked second in the American League in WAR for pitchers and he ranked third and fifth in other seasons. He led the league in other categories: innings pitched three times, complete games four times, wins once (and he won 20-plus games six times).

Ferrell's Hall of Fame case becomes borderline, however, only when you consider his hitting. He was maybe the greatest-hitting pitcher of all time (excluding Babe Ruth). He hit .280/.351/.446 with 38 home runs in his career, which makes him a league-average hitter for his time. Baseball-Reference rates his hitting as worth 12.8 WAR; combined with his pitching WAR of 48.8, his career WAR jumps to 61.6, higher than many Hall of Famers, including Bunning, Harmon Killebrew, Willie Stargell, Whitey Ford, Tony Perez and others.

Anyway, I'm not really advocating for Ferrell. Cooperstown already features too many players from that generation. But in looking at Ferrell's career I discovered something I hadn't been aware of: His 1935 season was one of the best in major league history.

The brother of Hall of Fame catcher Rick Ferrell (a dubious Hall of Fame selection himself), Ferrell had come up with the Cleveland Indians in 1927 when he was just 19, and was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 1934 after refusing to sign his contract and report to spring training. The Indians were probably happy to trade him. Ferrell was apparently not an easy guy to get along with, and was suspended for 10 days after refusing to hand the ball over to the manager while being removed from a game. From his SABR biography, on his temperament:

This became evident as early as the 1932 season. During that campaign, his ire was easily aroused by what he judged to be a bad umpire’s call or a defensive lapse on the part of one of his teammates, of which there were all too many, to the detriment of his pitching. As one observer noted, “Ferrell is too easily provoked. He has the experience, the ability, and all the necessary requisites to be of greater value to his club and himself if he would remain undisturbed when the breaks of the game turn against him.” An outspoken, competitive individual, Ferrell did not hesitate to speak his mind when angry, and his complaints led to difficulties between him and his teammates and his manager, Roger Peckinpaugh.

Furthermore, the hard-throwing Ferrell had battled a sore shoulder in 1933. "It isn't only the pain, however, it's the mental unrest. It's the worry, the fear that perhaps the arm will not come around and it weighs on a pitcher. Plenty of times it has kept me awake nights," Ferrell said in an interview that year. The arm was bad enough that late in the season he stopped pitching and the Indians tried him in the outfield, but he struggled on defense.

He went 14-5 with the Red Sox in 1934 but pitched just 181 innings, the fewest since he'd become a regular. Then came the monster 1935. He was no longer a power pitcher but worked well with his brother, the Boston catcher. He started 38 games, completed 31 one of them, pitched 322 1/3 innings and went 25-14 with a 3.52 ERA for a team that finished 78-75. Thanks to that huge workload, his pitching WAR was 8.4. He finished second in the MVP voting to Hank Greenberg.

On top of that, Ferrell hit .347/.427/.533 with seven home runs and 32 RBIs in 179 plate appearances, drawing 21 walks with only 16 strikeouts, and appearing in 37 games as a pinch-hitter. Baseball-Reference values his batting at 2.6 WAR.

Total value: 11.0 WAR.

If you're doing a search for great seasons on Baseball-Reference, this season can be missed because you usually just look for batter seasons or pitching seasons. Ferrell's unique double value makes his season unique. Leaving out 19th-century pitchers and pre-1920 pitchers who threw ungodly numbers of innings, there have been just 34 seasons where a player recorded 11.0 WAR or higher.

So there you go. Wes Ferrell may not quite be a Hall of Famer, but he did have one season for the ages.