Year Inducted: 1965
It’s tough to compare pitchers to each other since the role has changed over the years. When baseball first started, it wasn’t uncommon to see rotations being only 2-man, hence why innings pitched by starters from the pre-1900 pitchers could reach as high as 400 or 500 in a season, where today very few pitchers top 200. Velocity, pitch types, and increased batter strength also affect how we view pitchers (hence why Pedro Martinez is looked at so highly, having low ERA’s when the league average ERA was over 5). The value of the win has also changed over the years. Pitcher’s wins made much more sense back in the early eras of the game, when pitchers would pitch every inning of a game and therefore have much more of an effect on the entire game (where pitchers currently pitch roughly 6 innings most nights). Because of all these changes, it’s useful to break pitchers into “generations” or “groups”, rather than just lumping all starters together. First Generation starters pitched most of their careers before 1910, with the latest pitcher in the group (Cy Young) retiring in 1911. Today’s subject is one of the earliest pitchers to make the Hall of Fame- Pud Galvin.
Galvin was an excellent pitcher for the now defunct Buffalo Bisons. In his 15-year career, he won 364 games against 310 losses, and was the first pitcher to win 300 games in a career. Galvin threw over 6000 innings in his career (not a typo), and early on was on pace to being possibly the best pitcher of the early era. Through the 1884 season, Galvin had already amassed 209 wins, 357 complete games and 36 shutouts to go along with an ERA of 2.48 and an FIP of 2.61. FIP is an ERA estimator that is based off of the three events that a pitcher has the most control of (strikeouts, walks and home runs) in an attempt to find the pitcher’s “true talent” and eliminate the defense from the evaluation of a pitcher. In both of the 1883 and 1884 seasons, when he was 26-27 years old, he threw over 600 innings of sub-3.00 ERA baseball and was worth over 9 WAR each year (including over 10 in 1884). He also set personal highs in strikeouts each year, with 279 in 1883 and 369 the following season.
Unfortunately, following the 1884 season, he began to decline (no doubt attributed to the 1200 innings he had just thrown in the 2 previous years), but it wasn’t as quick as a lot of other players. His ERA in 1885 shot up to 3.99, a whole 2 runs higher than his career low in 1884, but he had an ERA below 3.00 four more times in his career. He would still be competitive over the next few seasons (still throwing 400+ innings in 1886-1888), but it was clear that his dominance was gone. His ERA- (like wRC+, but for ERA and lower is better) went from 65 in 1884 to 135 in 1885 before flat-lining close to 100 over his remaining seasons, while his FIP was above 3 for nearly every year for the remainder of his career.
Based on traditional numbers, Galvin’s career looks like a great one, despite having over 300 losses. However, more advanced numbers have Galvin’s career decline severely damaging him overall. Galvin’s career ERA- of 94 (only 6% better than league average ERA) would rank him 55th overall during his time period, while his ERA ranked 35th. Galvin had some incredible seasons, but a large pitching load took its toll and Galvin went from being a dominant pitcher to a very good one in a short amount of time.
Having said all that, there is definitely a spot in the Hall of Fame for pitchers like Galvin. For one, medical science is much better today than in the 1800’s, and the affects of pitching large numbers of innings in a short time period are common knowledge today. It isn’t Galvin’s fault that people back then didn’t know how much pitching affects the body. For another, the game has obviously evolved but its history should never be forgotten. Galvin for a time was one of the top 5 pitchers of the game and should be remembered as one.
Stay tuned for the next update on Bastille Day.
On deck 7/14/16, this Hall of Famer was nicknamed “King” for his larger than life personality.