Top 100 Indians: #27 Wes Ferrell

The next player on our Top 100 countdown was the best hitting pitcher in franchise history. And oh yeah, he could pitch, too.

Wesley Cheek Ferrell

Starting Pitcher, Pinch Hitter 1927-1933

Height: 6'2" Weight: 195 lbs

Throws: Right; Bats: Right

How Acquired: Amateur Free Agent, 1927

Left Via: Trade, May 25, 1934: Traded with Dick Porter to the Boston Red Sox for Bob Weiland, Bob Seeds and $25,000

Ferrell was born and grew up in North Carolina, one of seven boys. He and his brothers pretty much ran the family farm, as their father had a full-time job with the Southern Railroad, and after the harvest was done, they'd use the fields to play baseball. Four of the Ferrell boys would go on to play professional baseball, with Wes and older brother Rick the only two to play in the big leagues.

This being North Carolina, Wes played basketball in addition to baseball in high school, but as professional basketball didn't exist, he concentrated fully on baseball after graduation. An Indians scout, who had he gotten to know in high school offered him a contract with the Indians, and he signed it over a competing offer from the Detroit Tigers. He got a cup of coffee in 1927 just after signing with the club, but the following year was spent mostly with Terre Haute of the Three-I League. But in 1929 he was in the big leagues to stay.

The Indians of the late-20s had struggled since the departure of Tris Speaker, but their fortunes turned around in 1929 with the arrivals of both Earl Averill and Ferrell. Averill, who was a 27-year-old rookie, had an outstanding rookie season (136 OPS+), and Ferrell, who up this point had thrown 17 major-league innings, also a fine first full season, posting a 123 ERA+ for the Indians. Ferrell was a big pitcher for that era, standing 6'2" and weighing a listed 195 lbs, and used his size to good advantage. He had one of the better fastballs in the big leagues, and threw it with a seemingly effortless motion.

The 21-year-old struck out 3.7 batters per 9 innings, which in today's era would not be impressive at all but in the late-20s/early-30s ranked as one of the better rates in the league. Even though baseball had long since left the Dead Ball Era, it was a contact league, with Ferrell's teammate Joe Sewell epitomizing this; the future Hall of Fame shortstop only struck out 4 (!) times during the entire 1929 season. Earl Averill's 53 strikeouts led the team and ranked 8th in the league, with Jimmy Foxx's 70 whiffs leading the league. So striking out 100 in 242.2 innings was a very good ratio.

Ferrell not only helped the Indians with his pitching, but helped at the plate as well. He struggled at the plate in his first full season (.237/.283/.387, 69 OPS+) but quickly became one of the best hitting pitchers in the game, hitting for both power and average. In 1931, he hit .319/.373/.621, which was a better line than everyone else on the club expect for Earl Averill. The Indians would use Ferrell as a pinch-hitter on days that he wasn't starting. In his career, he accumulated 12.7 WAR just as a hitter.

Between 1929 and 1931, Ferrell threw 816 innings, or an average of 272 innings per season, in his Age 21-23 seasons. So it was no surprised in started to suffer from a sore shoulder, which would at times turn him into a pitcher with a batting practice fastball. The injury got progressively worse to the point where the Indians tried him out as an outfielder in 1933. Had Ferrell been at least a competent fielder, he may have gone on to have an outstanding career as a position player because of his prowess at the plate, but the experiment was short-lived because he was brutal in the field.

The worsening shoulder as well as a mercurial personality (during a 1932 game, he refused to give the ball to manager Roger Peckenpaugh) led the Indians to deal Ferrell to the Boston Red Sox in May of 1934. The player return wasn't very good for the Indians, but then again, it was well-known that Ferrell was damaged goods. Ferrell joined brother (and future Hall of Famer) Rick Ferrell in Boston, and had some of his finest seasons for the Red Sox. No longer a power pitcher because of the shoulder injury, Ferrell transitioned into a control pitcher, posting a 134 ERA+ in 1935 and finishing second in AL MVP voting thanks largely to his 25 victories. Between 1935-1937 Ferrell pitched an amazing 904.1 innings, so when he started to struggle again in 1937 it shouldn't have come as a surprise. The Red Sox traded both Ferrell brothers to the Washington Senators in June of 1937. Ferrell was released by the Senators in 1938 in the midst of an awful season (and I'm sure it help that he called Washington Clark Griffith cheap), signed on with the New York Yankees just in time to help them win yet another World Series.

Had Ferrell played in a more recent era, I think he would have had a much more successful career, either as a pitcher (with teams managing his innings better) or even as a position player. But after 1938 (his Age 30 season) Ferrell would only throw 37.1 innings. He had developed bone chips in his elbow, and had surgery to have them removed, but the wear and tear on his arm from so many innings early in his career had taken their toll. His last major-league game was on May 6, 1941. He played and managed in the minors off and on throughout the rest of the 40s, and eventually retired to North Carolina. He died in 1976.

Indians Career Stats

Year Age Tm Lg ERA GS GF CG IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
1927 19 CLE AL 27.00 0 1 0 1.0 3 3 0 2 0 21 5.000 27.0 0.0 18.0 0.0 0.00
1928 20 CLE AL 2.25 2 0 1 16.0 15 4 0 5 4 187 1.250 8.4 0.0 2.8 2.3 0.80
1929 21 CLE AL 3.60 25 12 18 242.2 256 97 7 109 100 123 1.504 9.5 0.3 4.0 3.7 0.92
1930 22 CLE AL 3.31 35 8 25 296.2 299 109 14 106 143 145 1.365 9.1 0.4 3.2 4.3 1.35
1931 23 CLE AL 3.75 35 4 27 276.1 276 115 9 130 123 123 1.469 9.0 0.3 4.2 4.0 0.95
1932 24 CLE AL 3.66 34 3 26 287.2 299 117 17 104 105 131 1.401 9.4 0.5 3.3 3.3 1.01
1933 25 CLE AL 4.21 26 2 16 201.0 225 94 8 70 41 107 1.468 10.1 0.4 3.1 1.8 0.59
CLE (7 yrs) 3.67 157 30 113 1321.1 1373 539 55 526 516 126 1.437 9.4 0.4 3.6 3.5 0.98
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2013.
Year Age Tm G PA R H 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
1927 19 CLE 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1928 20 CLE 2 4 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 .250 .250 .750 1.000 153
1929 21 CLE 47 102 12 22 5 3 1 6 28 .237 .283 .387 .670 69
1930 22 CLE 53 133 19 35 8 3 0 12 15 .297 .362 .415 .777 94
1931 23 CLE 48 128 24 37 6 1 9 10 21 .319 .373 .621 .994 152
1932 24 CLE 55 140 14 31 5 2 2 6 21 .242 .276 .359 .635 58
1933 25 CLE 61 161 26 38 7 0 7 20 22 .271 .363 .471 .834 115
CLE (7 yrs) 267 668 95 164 31 10 19 54 107 .274 .334 .454 .788 99
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/21/2013.

Selected Awards/Leaders

  • AL All-Star: 1933
  • AL MVP: 11th, 1931; 19th, 1932
  • AL WAR: 4th, 1930-9.1; 4th, 1931-8.0; 6th, 1932-7.2; 9th, 1929-6.6
  • AL WAR Pitchers: 2nd, 1930-8.0; 2nd, 1931-6.1; 2nd, 1932-6.7; 5th, 1929-6.1
  • AL ERA: 2nd, 1930-3.31; 7th, 1929-3.60; 8th, 1932-3.66; 9th, 1931-3.75
  • AL Wins: 2nd, 1929-21; 2nd, 1930-25; 2nd, 1931-22; 4th, 1932-23
  • AL W/L Percentage: 3rd, 1929-.677; 5th, 1930-.658; 6th, 1931-.647; 9th, 1932-.639
  • AL Hits/9 IP: 8th, 1930-9.071
  • AL Strikeouts/9 IP: 8th, 1929-3.709; 9th, 1931-4.006; 10th, 1930-4.338
  • AL Games Played: 3rd, 1929-43; 5th, 1930-43
  • AL Saves: 4th, 1929-5; 10th, 1930-3; 10th, 1931-3
  • AL Innings: 2nd, 1930-296.2; 3rd, 1932-287.2; 4th, 1931-276.1
  • AL Strikeouts: 4th, 1930-143; 6th, 1931-123; 8th, 1929-100; 10th, 1932-105
  • AL Games Started: 3rd, 1930-35; 3rd, 1931-35; 4th, 1931-34
  • AL Complete Games: 1st, 1931-27; 2nd, 1930-25; 2nd, 1932-26; 7th, 1933-16; 10th, 1929-18
  • AL Shutouts: 3rd, 1931-2; 3rd, 1932-3; 10th, 1929-1
  • AL Home Runs: 7th, 1932-17
  • AL Bases On Balls: 1st, 1931-130; 2nd, 1930-106; 3rd, 1929-109; 6th, 1932-104
  • AL Hits: 3rd, 1930-299; 4th, 1932-299; 10th, 1931-276
  • AL Home Runs/9 IP: 3rd, 1929-0.260; 5th, 1931-0.293; 10th, 1932-0.358
  • AL Wild Pitches: 6th, 1930-5
  • AL Adjusted Era+: 2nd, 1930-145; 6th, 1932-131; 7th, 1929-123; 7th, 1931-123
  • AL Putouts as P: 1st, 1930-19; 3rd, 1931-19
  • AL Errors as P: 1st, 1931-74; 3rd, 1932-59; 5th, 1929-63
  • AL Fielding Percentage as P: 1st, 1933-1.000; 2nd, 1932-0.986
  • AL Range Factor/Game as P: 2nd, 1931-2.33; 3rd, 1933-2.14; 4th, 1932-1.92

Cleveland Indians Career Leader

  • 10th WAR Pitchers (30.3)
  • 43rd ERA (3.67)
  • 14th Wins (102)
  • 9th W/L Percentage (.622)
  • t-47th Games Played (195)
  • 20th Innings Pitched (1321.1)
  • 37th Strikeouts (516)
  • 25th Games Started (157)
  • 13th Complete Games (113)
  • t-34th Shutouts (8)
  • 49th Home Runs (55)
  • 14th Bases on Balls (526)
  • 16th Hits (1373)
  • 28th HR/9 IP (0.375)
  • 31st Losses (62)
  • 19th Earned Runs (539)
  • t-6th ERA+ (126)

Cleveland Indians Season Leader

  • t-18th Pitching WAR (7.9, 1935)
  • t-32nd Pitching WAR (6.7, 1932)
  • t-42nd Pitching WAR (6.1, 1929, 1931)
  • t-7th Wins (25, 1930)
  • t-14th Wins (23, 1932)
  • t-24th Wins (22, 1931)
  • t-34th Wins (21, 1929)
  • t-23rd Innings Pitched (296.2, 1930)
  • 30th Innings Pitched (287.2, 1932)
  • t-40th Games Started (35, 1930, 1931)
  • t-27th Complete Games (27, 1931)
  • t-30th Complete Games (26, 1932)
  • t-34th Complete Games (25, 1930)
  • t-13th Bases on Balls (130, 1931)
  • t-34th Bases on Balls (109, 1929)
  • t-42nd Bases on Balls (106, 1930)
  • t-48th Bases on Balls (104, 1932)
  • t-12th Hits (299, 1930, 1932)
  • 38th Hits (276, 1931)
  • t-21st Earned Runs (117, 1932)
  • t-24th Earned Runs (115, 1931)
  • t-44th Earned Runs (109, 1930)
  • t-47th ERA+ (145, 1930)

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