Evaluating Pitchers of the 1870's

Tommy Bond with his wonderfully parted hair. Who will bring this look back with me?! | Photo credit: wiki commons.

I've spent time looking at hitters in the 19th century, but haven't spent any time looking at the hurlers of that time period. Adam Darowski can breathe easy, as I'm not going to present some data for the pitchers of the 1870's.

One of the reasons why I hadn't looked at pitchers yet was a relative unease with the fact that pitchers were seemingly only there to let the batter put the ball in play. Given that, it's as opposite from modern day pitching as one can get. I finally settled on using a Base Runs method to get a Base Runs per nine innings (RA/9). I can then compare that to the average rate for the decade to get a runs above average number which can then be prorated to 200 innings - a number we're much more comfortable as representing an full season for a starting pitcher rather than the, oh, say 500+ innings that were thrown with regularity in the 1800's.

Below I present the RA/9 for single years in the 1870's are, with a minimum of 100 innings thrown in a given year.

 

Player Year Age Tm Lg GS IP BABIP RA/9 RAA RAA/200
George Bradley 1876 23 STL NL 64 573.0 0.219 1.87 103.9 36.27
Tommy Bond 1875 19 HAR NA 39 352.0 0.224 1.94 61.0 34.65
Tommy Bond 1876 20 HAR NL 45 408.0 0.232 1.98 69.2 33.92
Cherokee Fisher 1872 27 BAL NA 11 110.0 0.206 1.98 18.6 33.78
Jim Devlin 1876 27 LOU NL 68 622.0 0.233 2.20 90.3 29.03
Candy Cummings 1875 26 HAR NA 47 416.0 0.247 2.20 60.4 29.02
Monte Ward 1878 18 PRO NL 37 334.0 0.250 2.40 41.1 24.58
Sam Weaver 1878 22 MLG NL 43 383.0 0.250 2.43 45.8 23.91
Bill McGunnigle 1879 24 BUF NL 13 120.0 0.270 2.45 14.0 23.39
Cherokee Fisher 1875 30 PHI NA 41 358.0 0.227 2.46 41.4 23.14

 

Tommy Bond threw a ton of innings in the decade and was very effective, given two of the top three RA/9 numbers. He was top-five in ERA from 1876-1879 and finished with almost 41 rWAR - 127th all time - which is almost 10 rWAR more than Catfish Hunter. I'm not sayin', but I'm just sayin'. George Bradley rode a low BABIP - the average BABIP for the decade was .276 - to his decade-best 1.87 RA/9. Bradley is notable for throwing the first no-hitter in National League history with the St. Louis Brown Stockings in 1876.

If we move to decade leaders, we get the following table, minimum of 300 innings thrown in the decade.

 

Player From To Age GS IP BABIP RA/9 RAA RAA/200
Tommy Bond 1874 1879 18-23 320 2866 0.260 2.68 263.0 18.35
George Bradley 1875 1879 22-26 222 1989.2 0.255 2.77 161.2 16.21
Terry Larkin 1876 1879 99-99 171 1529.1 0.258 2.67 140.9 18.44
Jim Devlin 1875 1877 26-28 153 1405 0.258 2.68 129.1 18.38
Al Spalding 1871 1877 20-26 325 2886.1 0.265 3.16 110.2 7.64
Monte Ward 1878 1879 18-19 97 921 0.258 2.46 106.5 23.13
Will White 1877 1879 22-24 130 1175 0.263 2.73 100.1 17.05
Pud Galvin 1875 1879 18-22 73 655 0.252 2.43 78.3 23.89
Sam Weaver 1875 1878 19-22 44 389 0.250 2.44 45.9 23.62
Candy Cummings 1872 1877 23-28 241 2149.2 0.273 3.33 41.5 3.87

Tommy Bond was clearly the class of the starting pitchers in the 1870's picking up more than 100 RAA over second place George Bradley - who proved that his fantastic single-season effort of 1876 wasn't just a low-BABIP, one-year fluke. Al Spalding gets a lot of pub as being a dominant pitcher of the early years of pro baseball, and he shows up fifth here as well. You'll recognize the name as Spalding, in the off season, started the sporting goods store that bears his name. In fact, the baseball bearing his name became the standard in baseball for a time, though the name is more widely known in basketball circles. Another fun fact: much like the baseball annuals coming out from various team-specific blogs, the Spalding Brothers Company released a baseball guide from 1909-1924.

In doing this, I wanted to see what the strikeout totals were like. I found the decade average as being just 3.6% K/PA with BB/PA being 1.8% - vastly different than modern baseball. I converted that to a K+ and BB+ number which is on the same scales as ERA+ and OPS+ where 100 is league average and each point above that is 1% better/worse than league average.

 

Player From To Age GS IP SO BB K% BB% K+ BB+
Bobby Mitchell 1877 1879 21-23 43 374.2 182 71 0.110 0.043 302 -33
Monte Ward 1878 1879 18-19 97 921 355 70 0.094 0.018 257 100
The Only Nolan 1878 1878 20-20 38 347 125 56 0.085 0.038 233 -6
Jim McCormick 1878 1879 21-22 74 663.1 233 89 0.083 0.032 227 29
Will White 1877 1879 22-24 130 1175 408 115 0.082 0.023 225 74
Terry Larkin 1876 1879 99-99 171 1529.1 401 114 0.062 0.018 170 104
Sam Weaver 1875 1878 19-22 44 389 97 23 0.060 0.014 164 123
Tommy Bond 1874 1879 18-23 320 2866 707 121 0.060 0.010 164 145
Pud Galvin 1875 1879 18-22 73 655 144 32 0.054 0.012 147 136
Harry McCormick 1879 1879 23-23 54 457.1 96 31 0.049 0.016 133 115

 

I couldn't write a 19th century post without the obligatory Monte Ward reference, right? He was the Pedro Martinez of his time, in terms of strikeout-dominance. Bobby Mitchell was a southpaw that helped dispel the notion that left-handers couldn't be successful pitchers. I will post the single-season K+ and BB+ numbers in the comments this afternoon.

The most astounding thing about all of this: none of these guys could throw overhand until 1883!

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join Beyond the Box Score

You must be a member of Beyond the Box Score to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Beyond the Box Score. You should read them.

Join Beyond the Box Score

You must be a member of Beyond the Box Score to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Beyond the Box Score. You should read them.

Spinner

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker