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.
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.
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.
|The Only Nolan||1878||1878||20-20||38||347||125||56||0.085||0.038||233||-6|
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!