Saturday, August 20, 2005

Editor's Note: Generally what I do here is history. Sometime--ok, quite a bit--I slip some editorial in there, and maybe try to look at things a new way. But usually it's just telling a story that's been told, just making sure it's not forgotten. Chris Jaffe however, is more of a 'breaking new ground' kind of guy. He's done great work on his site, from chronicalling walk-off grand slams to the amazing "Run Support Index" which tracks the run support--park and era adjusted--for nearly every notable pitcher. Today he writes about a subject I usually shy away from, 1800's ballplayers, in this case, one of the more underappreciated ones.

August 20th, 1880

Pud Galvin Throws a No-Hitter

Pud Galvin’s one of the stranger pitchers in the encyclopedia. With the possible exception of Bobby Mathews, no other pitcher had a career quite so foreign to the modern observer. From one perspective he’s a clear cut Hall of Fame great pitcher. He is second on the all-times innings pitched list. More impressively, he’s fifth on the wins list. He’s in the top ten in games started (8th), and complete games (2nd). Even more impressively he did it while playing part of his career in the International League when it attempted to start not a minor league (which it became) but a rival to the NL. Had he played in the NL instead he likely would have broken the 400 win barrier and possibly had more wins than even Walter Johnson.

Yet he’s still one of the least respected 300 game winners. Bill James didn’t put him in the top 100 pitchers in the New Historical Abstract. Though he’s 6th in wins, he’s 2nd in losses. His winning percentage is an underwhelming .540. His ERA+ is a mere 108. He never led the league in wins, winning percentage, or strikeouts, and the only time he led the league in ERA was the 1875 NA. Aside from his NA ERA title, he led baseball in some counting stats in 1883 (IP, GS, CG, G), and shutouts twice.

He’s a triumph of counting stats, and he played in an era when pitchers racked up an ungodly number of innings each year. Most, including John Clarkson, Old Hoss Radbourn, and Jim McCormick, had their arms fall off after about a decade but Galvin kept going for 15 years (including the NA but not the IA). Not only was he an amazing workhorse by modern standards, but even compared to his peers who pitched from 50 feet - Mickey Welch, Tim Keefe, Old Hoss Radbourn, Silver King, Will White, Jim McCormick, Tony Mullane, John Clarkson, and Bobby Mathews - from the plate he stands out as the consummate innings eater. No one had more years of 600+ IP than him. Only Jim McCormick had more years at 500+ innings, and Galvin had almost twice as many seasons at 400+ innings than McCormick. He had 9 years with at least 400 innings, while none of the other 1880s pitchers had 8 seasons, and only two had 7. He leads in 300+ innings years, and 200+ innings years as well. He clearly appears to be nothing more than a barely above average innings eater who fluked his way into the record books because he happened to pitch at a time when pitchers ate more innings than at any other period. He looks to be nothing more than a Glorified Steve Trachsel. Clearly that’s what his ERA+ indicates.

But that’s where the worm starts to turn. His ERA+ is mediocre, but how indicative is it of his overall talent. I have a stat I call my defensive adjustment. It’s very simple. Take a copy of Win Shares, and add up all the fielding win shares given out in a given season, divide by the league’s total IP, and multiply by a pitcher’s own IP. Then take the fielding win shares for the pitcher’s team, divide by team IP, and multiply by the pitcher’s IP. The difference between these two is the defensive adjustment. According to its results, Pud Galvin received some of the worst defensive support of all time. Of the 190+ pitchers I have checked on, only five had worse fielding support.

More impressively, this happened at a time when fielding support appears to be at an all-time high in importance. Below is a list of the career fielding support for some of the most important pre-1893 pitchers (also includes their ERA+ at the end):

John Clarkson +29.9, 134
Al Spalding +18.5, 142
Tony Mullane +17.5, 118
Jim McCormick +16.7, 118
Bob Caruthers +16.6, 123

Old Hoss Radbourn +15.7, 120
Tim Keefe +15.1, 125
Tommy Bond +14.3, 111
Charlie Buffington +11.9, 114
Silver King +11.5, 123

John Ward +9.5, 118
Will White +8.5, 120
Bobby Mathews +8.2, 107
Bill Hutchinson +6.8, 112
Mickey Welch +5.4, 113

Candy Cummings +5.4, 120
Jim Whitney -2.2, 105
Pud Galvin -7.3, 108

Though these pitchers make up about 10% of the pitchers I have figured the adjustment for, they make up half of the pitchers in its top 16. If you think about it, there’s a logic to it. Pitchers tallied those insane IP totals, indicating that either their arms were of superhuman strength or that an inning pitched was not as valuable as it would later be. If it wasn’t as valuable then what element of baseball would pick up the slack in its value? Defense is a logical place for it to be.

His ERA+ is not impressive, but in the context of his defensive support, Pud Galvin’s ERA+ is frankly remarkable. He combined an incredible ability to pitch a huge amount of innings with high quality pitching that doesn’t show up in his ERA+. The man, IMHO, is a legitimate Hall of Famer. The Steve Trachsel of the 1880s? More like the Bert Blyleven or Don Sutton.

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