There are seven pitchers on this week’s ballot and I thought I’d take a closer look at six of them. I’m leaving Pratt out of the discussion for two reasons. One, he’s not getting a lot of love from us. Two, he’s a true amateur, so he doesn’t have any hard stats to look at.
I decided first to compare the six by their five best seasons. The categories are Wins, Losses (add 100 loses to White – I wanted to keep the columns even), Winning Percentage, Games Started, Complete Games, Innings and ERA+
173 84 .673 265 256 2369 134 Tommy Bond
170 83 .672 255 246 2279 129 Larry Corcoran
140 80 .636 222 217 1994 130 Candy Cummings
161 93 .634 258 244 2255 128 Bobby Mathews
161 88 .647 252 239 2195 131 Jim McCormick
190 04 .646 297 295 2661 132 Will White
Just looking at the raw numbers, not factoring in other things like the caliber of talent on the teams or the strength of the competition, White is comfortably ahead, followed by Bond, Corcoran, McCormick, Mathews and Cummings. But they are all really, really close. The difference between a 134 and 128 ERA+ over 450 innings is about 1 win.
Over the rest of their careers, the numbers aren’t as even, altho similar in some respects. It’s a matter of quantity. The chart below may look jagged, as I haven’t figured out yet how to make uneven charts presentable on this site. To make it a little clearer, the columns are Wins, Winning Percentage and ERA+. Oh, I didn’t include the UA for Bond and McCormick. If you want to use that odd league in your analysis, that’s up to you. I prefer to ignore it.
48 .407 85 Bond
7 .538 75 Corcoran
5 .263 .61 Cummings
136 .467 .95 Mathews
83 .403 104 McCormick
39 .386 105 White
These are the “padding to the numbers” years. Mathews and McCormick clearly lead the way. Adding McCormick’s UA half-season, he might lead Mathews, but if you include the UA for McCormick, shouldn’t you also include Mathews’ ’69, ’70, ’78 and ’80 seasons to his totals as well? Bond and White come in third and fourth. White might be a little ahead, but it’s close. Corcoran and Cummings bring up the rear, and significantly.
Let’s look at dominance. How many times were these pitchers in the Top Three in Wins, Strikeouts and ERA? The number after the name is how many times in the Top 3, and league leading in parentheses.
Bond 4 (2)
White 4 (2)
McCormicj 2 (2)
Corcoran 2 (1)
Mathews 6 (3)
Cummings 4 (1)
Bond 3 (2)
Corcoran 1 (1)
McCormick 4 (2)
Bond 3 (2)
White 3 (1)
Corcoran 1 (1)
Adding the three categories together:
Bond 10 (6)
McCormick 10 (4)
Mathews 10 (3)
White 9 (3)
Cummings 8 (1)
Corcoran 4 (3)
And finally, their numbers in four “rating” categories, Black Ink, Gray Ink, HOF Monitor and HOF Standards:
46 189 142 48 Bond
17 130 122 47 Corcoran
15 158 088 34 Cummings
30 289 162 49 Mathews
40 220 194 51 McCormick
30 161 141 47 White
Generally speaking, I associate Black Ink with “dominance”, Gray Ink with “excellence”, HOF Monitor with “(quality) durability” and HOF Standards with “HOF viability”.
How I rank them, with someone I think is a decent recent comp:
Mathews, he has some extra little positives that puts him above McCormick. Tommy John, Jim Kaat, Jack Morris
McCormick, after looking at him a little more carefully, I may have ranked him a little low. Fernando Valenzuela, Mike Cuellar
Bond, I still don’t see him as anything special, one great season, 4 good ones, 2 adequate ones and nothing else. ? comp
White, I’m not convinced that Bond is better. ? comp.
Cummings, not really a HOFer, but he has some extra little positives, from 1866 to 1871, that don’t show up in the stats. But he was never THE pitcher, just really good for a while. Dave Stieb, Ken Holtzman, maybe
Corcoran, these short careered guys are hard to find recent comps for, five to seven years of excellence, but otherwise not much to sell. Garciaparra, maybe? Ruben Sierra? I can’t think of any pitchers who fit this model. Spud Chandler? Don Newcombe? Maybe? But they were before my time. Actually, Newcombe might be a pretty good comp for White and Bond
None of these were bad, or even average, pitchers; they were all good pitchers, but none were truly great either. Except for Mathews, of course. He gets mega-bonus points for being a Kekionga. And add in the fact that he didn’t die from some wimpy disease, like Bright’s Disease or Lou Gehrig’s disease. He went out a MANLY way: syphilis. Go, Kekies!!!
I think I may have figured out what is bugging me so much about Bond. Let’s call it the Jack Morris Effect.
I was researching something entirely different, when it suddenly dawned on me. One of Morris’ positives is his leading the decade of the ’80s in wins. But when you compare him to the generation before and the generation after him, he pales in comparison to these guys, pitchers like Carlton, Ryan, Sutton, Niekro, Perry, Seaver, John, Blyleven, Jenkins, Kaat and Palmer, who came before and Clemens, Maddux, Glavine and Johnson who came along just after. That’s 15 guys who were IMO clearly better than Morris, who were active while he was active. The ’80s were just a weak period for starting pitchers.
And so it is with Bond and his dominance in the late 1880s. Granted, Bond dominated his 5 year run more than did Morris his decade, but still in 1893, the voters of that year would have seen the guys who came before, like Spalding and McBride. And by 1893, the voters would also know about the peak and career totals of such guys as Galvin, Keefe, Clarkson, Radbourn, Welch, Mathews, Mullane, White, Buffington and Caruthers. Let me list these pitchers with their win totals and ERA+ thru 1892.
365 109 Pud Galvin
332 127 Tim Keefe
309 121 Hoss Radbourn
307 113 Mickey Welch
304 136 John Clarkson
297 106 Bobby Mathews
259 121 Tony Mullane
252 148 Al Spalding
244 115 Jim McCormick (minus his UA stats)
233 114 Charley Buffington
229 121 Will White
221 112 Tommy Bond (minus his UA stats)
218 122 Bobby Caruthers
(Understanding of course that voters had never heard of ERA+, and very likely didn’t have access to career totals, as there were no encyclopedia to look at – still you don’t need a reference book to know that Aaron and Mays and Mantle were great)
I just think (actually I’m pretty sure) that voters in 1893 would have been aware enough to know that Bond, while a very good, maybe even great pitcher, for a few years, just wasn’t up to the standards that came before and were to come soon after. The more I think about it, Newcombe is a pretty good comp for Bond (and White).