The 10 Best Pitchers From The 1890's

Michael WCorrespondent IIDecember 13, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 08:  Pitcher Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates after receiving his 2008 Cy Young award before his game against the Milwaukee Brewers at a Major League Baseball game on April 8, 2009 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

There were 36 pitchers from the 1890's that pitched at least 200 games. That is the lowest number of any decade in the history of Major League Baseball, other than the 1870's and 1880's.

The 1890s are an interesting decade to write about, because it was a poor decade for starting pitching numbers. In fact, it is the worst decade in history for starting pitching numbers, other than this decade.

Another interesting thing is that there are three Hall of Fame pitchers from the 1890's, but other than the three in the HOF, the others have fallen into oblivion.

Take the 1880's, for example. There are six pitchers from the 1880's that are in the HOF. But other than those six, there are another six or seven that are on the tongues of most historians, they still get their due even not being in the HOF.

But the 1890's pitchers, the three in the HOF are talked about and the others are never talked about, they’re all but forgotten.

So, in a way, this is a list that needs to be made.

If a player does not appear on this list of 36, then they either didn’t reach 200 games or I consider them a pitcher from the 1880's or 1900's. The 1900's will be covered in a separate article and I just wrote an article on 1880's pitchers. Pitchers will only be in one decade. For example, Cy Young will appear in my 1890's article.

An Explanation of the Stats

The statistics used will be games pitched, games started, innings pitched, ERA, ERA+, W, W%+, H/9 (OBA), WHIP (OOB%), SHO/40 (per 40 Games Started) and K/BB (ratio). I will also letter grade the length of their career.

First, I will include their raw career numbers. These are simply their career numbers.

Second, I will include their adjusted career numbers, if they had a long career (which most didn’t in the 1890's). Adjusted career is this: Let’s take Kid Nichols for example. Nichols had a long career. So in order to find his real numbers, I have to exclude some late seasons during his career to find the numbers that he really carried during his career, since he pitched past his prime.

With Nichols, I’d exclude his 1901, 1905 and 1906 seasons. That is his adjusted career. Again, this can only be done with players with long careers. If I don’t list an adjusted career under a player’s raw career numbers, then it means they didn’t play long enough to adjust for their long career, or it means they didn’t have any bad seasons.

Third, I will include their peak career numbers. Many like short peak careers; not me. I include the best seasons equaling at least 200 games for a peak. It takes away the possibility of a pitcher having one or two lucky seasons. The 200 game peak will let us know how good the pitcher was at his best.

Note: W%+ is a statistic that I have invented. It takes the team’s W% into account. It is very complicated as different weights go more or less on seasons depending on how many games and innings a pitcher pitched during a single season. Having said that, here’s the simple version.

Let’s say a starting pitcher has a career .500 W% during the 2000s and that pitcher pitched for the Yankees. Well, .500 is not good. But, it that pitcher pitched for the Royals, then .500 is good. This is the reasoning behind W%+. It is to W% what ERA is to ERA+. It’s not full proof, but either is ERA+, just another piece of the puzzle and far, far more important than raw W%.

The 36 Starting Pitchers

Here are the 36 Starting Pitchers from the 1890s that reached at least 200 games (listed in alphabetical order): Mark Baldwin, Ted Breitenstein, Kid Carsey, Elton Chamberlain, Bert Cunningham, Nig Cuppy, Red Donahue, Frank Dwyer, Red Ehret, Duke Esper, Frank Foreman, Kid Gleason, Ad Gumbert, George Haddock, Bill Hart, Pink Hawley, George Hemming, Bill Hutchison, Brickyard Kennedy, Frank Killen, Matt Kilroy, Silver King, Kid Nichols, Sadie McMahon, Jouett Meekin, Win Mercer, Billy Rhines, Amos Rusie, Harry Staley, Ed Stein, Jack Stivetts, Scott Stratton, Jack Taylor, Adonis Terry, Gus Weyhing and Cy Young.

The Honorable Mentions

Here are the 8 pitchers that just missed the top 10 for various reasons: Mark Baldwin, Ted Breitenstein, Elton Chamberlain, Frank Dwyer, Pink Hawley, Frank Killen, Matt Kilroy and Adonis Terry.

The Top 10

10. Nig Cuppy (1892-1901)

Career Length Grade: F

Raw Career: 302 G, 262 GS, 2,284.1 IP, 3.48 ERA, 127 ERA+, 162 W, 110 W%+, 9.9 H/9, 1.37 WHIP, 1.4 SHO/40 and 0.8 K/BB

Peak Career: 240 G, 206 GS, 1,819.1 IP, 3.33 ERA, 134 ERA+, 132 W, 113 W%+, 9.6 H/9, 1.34 WHIP, 1.5 SHO/40 and 0.8 K/BB (exclude his 1893, 1898 and 1901 seasons)

Nig Cuppy had one of the best fastballs of any pitcher from the 1890's. It was the only pitch he threw. Even by the 1890's, most had at least two or three pitches they threw, not Cuppy. His thought was this: I’ll throw the ball as hard as I can and you see if you can hit it. He was a "here it is, try to hit it" pitcher, and it worked. Don’t see that today, didn’t see it as much as you may think back then.

Many forget, he pitched almost his entire career with Cy Young as his teammate.

He was overshadowed by Cy Young, but he pitched well. He had over 20 wins four times during his career, including three consecutive seasons from 1894-1896.

Cuppy and Young had that in common, they won. In fact, Cuppy had over a .525 W% during every season of his career, except his last season and he had at least a .615 W% during each of his first six seasons.

Cuppy also led the league in SHO during his 1894 season.

It’s hard to put a player with a 127 ERA+ in the 10 spot, they would usually be higher, but his “F” length of career drags him down this list.

9. Billy Rhines (1890-1899)

Career Length Grade: F

Raw Career: 249 G, 223 GS, 1,900 IP, 3.47 ERA, 114 ERA+, 114 W, 99 W%+, 9.3 H/9, 1.34 WHIP, 2.3 SHO/40 and 1.0 K/BB

Peak Career: 223 G, 199 GS, 1,731.1 IP, 3.22 ERA, 124 ERA+, 105 W, 103 W%+, 9.1 H/9, 1.31 WHIP, 2.6 SHO/40 and 1.1 K/BB (exclude his 1892, 1893 and 1899 seasons)

Rhines was an interesting phenomenon. He pitched nine seasons, six were really good and three were terrible.

He was either on or he wasn’t. But he pitched less than 70 innings during two of his three terrible seasons and pitched his best when he pitched full seasons.  

When he was on, he was on. He led the league in ERA twice, ERA+ twice, WHIP twice and H/9 once.

Of the 10 pitchers on this list, and keep in mind that three of them are in the HOF, Rhines has the 4th best WHIP, the 5th best ERA and the 5th best SHO/40.

Like Cuppy, he had a short career. But the two of them still get these last two spots on this list over anyone on the honorable mention list, even with their short careers.

8. Sadie McMahon (1889-1897)

Career Length Grade: D

Raw Career: 321 G, 305 GS, 2,634 IP, 3.51 ERA, 118 ERA+, 173 W, 106 W%+, 9.3 H/9, 1.39 WHIP, 1.8 SHO/40 and 1.0 K/BB

Peak Career: 236 G, 225 GS, 1,932 IP, 3.48 ERA, 124 ERA+, 140 W, 106 W%+, 9.3 H/9, 1.38 WHIP, 1.8 SHO/40 and 1.1 K/BB (exclude his 1889, 1892 and 1897 seasons)

He was on those mid/late 1890's Baltimore Oriole teams that most historians think were the best team from the 1890's and maybe the 1800's, period.

Some historians still bring those teams up as some of the 10 best teams in history. In the field for some of those years, he had Dan Brouthers at First Base, Hughie Jennings at Shortstop, John McGraw at Third Base and Joe Kelley in Left Field. They are all in the HOF. McMahon isn’t in the HOF, of course, but he was arguably the best pitcher on one of the best teams in history.

He really never had a bad season until his last, and by the time it was all said and done he led the League in wins twice, shutouts twice and strikeouts once.

7. Jack Stivetts (1889-1899)

Career Length Grade: D+

Raw Career: 388 G, 333 GS, 2,887.2 IP, 3.74 ERA, 120 ERA+, 203 W, 96 W%+, 9.1 H/9, 1.41 WHIP, 1.7 SHO/40 and 1.1 K/BB

Peak Career: 216 G, 185 GS, 1,596 IP, 3.05 ERA, 132 ERA+, 118 W, 97 W%+, 7.9 H/9, 1.31 WHIP, 2.4 SHO/40 and 1.3 K/BB (include his 1889, 1890, 1891, 1892 and 1897 seasons)

He recorded at least 20 wins six times during his career, including five consecutive seasons from 1890-1894.

He also had over a .560 W% during each of his first six seasons.

He was a really good pitcher during every season of his career, except for his last few. During his career, at one time or another, he led the League in ERA, ERA+, H/9, WHIP, K/BB and Ks.

He had one or two seasons where he was arguably the best pitcher in the League, but usually he was just one of the better pitchers in the League,an extremely good pitcher, year in and year out.

6. Bill Hutchison (1884-1897)

Career Length Grade: C

Raw Career: 375 G, 346 GS, 3,078 IP, 3.59 ERA, 112 ERA+, 183 W, 102 W%+, 9.1 H/9, 1.38 WHIP, 2.4 SHO/40 and 1.1 K/BB

Peak Career: 212 G, 194 GS, 1,786 IP, 2.76 ERA, 124 ERA+, 122 W, 107 W%+, 8.0 H/9, 1.20 WHIP, 2.9 SHO/40 and 1.5 K/BB (include his 1890-1892 seasons)

He led the League in wins for three consecutive seasons from 1890-1892. During those three seasons, he recorded 42, 44 and 36 wins; that’s over 120 Wins in three seasons. Today, it would take a good pitcher about nine seasons to win over 120 games.

He had one of the best fastballs in the League during the 1890's and he had a curve ball to go along with it. His great fastball helped lead to some high strikeout totals, including his League leading 314 in 1892. He also led the League in K/BB during his career.

He was a workhorse during his career and pitched over 250 innings during every season, except for his first last seasons. He pitched over 550 innings during each of his magical three seasons from 1890-1892 and finished his nine season career with over 3,050 innings pitched.

5. Gus Weyhing (1887-1901)

Career Length Grade: A-

Raw Career: 538 G, 503 GS, 4,324.1 IP, 3.89 ERA, 102 ERA+, 264 W, 105 W%+, 9.5 H/9, 1.42 WHIP, 2.2 SHO/40 and 1.1 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 396 G, 375 GS, 3,240.2 IP, 3.55 ERA, 112 ERA+, 216 W, 105 W%+, 8.8 H/9, 1.37 WHIP, 2.7 SHO/40 and 1.1 K/BB (exclude his last 6 seasons)

Peak Career: 209 G, 195 GS, 1,712.2 IP, 2.85 ERA, 126 ERA+, 120 W, 106 W%+, 8.0 H/9, 1.28 WHIP, 3.3 SHO/40 and 1.2 K/BB (include his 1888, 1889, 1890 and 1892 seasons)

He had a long 14 season career, over 4,300 IP. Basically, he was among the best pitchers in the League during the first half of his career. But the second half of his career, wasn’t very good, comparably.

His first seven seasons, the first half of his career, he won over 20 games every season.

His entire peak career is pulled from seasons that were during the first half of his career. He posted a 2.85 ERA during his peak.

4. Silver King (1886-1897)

Career Length Grade: B-

Raw Career: 397 G, 370 GS, 3,190.2 IP, 3.18 ERA, 123 ERA+, 203 W, 105 W%+, 8.8 H/9, 1.28 WHIP, 2.0 SHO/40 and 1.3 K/BB

Peak Career: 223 G, 217 GS, 1,894.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, 149 ERA+, 141 W, 102 W%+, 8.2 H/9, 1.16 WHIP, 2.6 SHO/40 and 1.6 K/BB (include his 1887-1890 seasons)

He was on the late 1880's St. Louis Browns teams that were arguably the best teams of the 1880's. Some argue the best from the 1800's, period; and many historians still bring that team up as one of the 10 best teams in history.

As most of you know, the St. Louis Browns of the 1880's are the St. Louis Cardinals of today. They switched their name from the Browns to the Cardinals in 1892 when they jumped from the American Association to the National League. Not to be confused with the St. Louis Browns of the 1910s that are now the Baltimore Orioles of today.

In 1887, St. Louis won the Championship. They mainly pitched a 3 man rotation that season. Silver King had Bob Caruthers and Dave Foutz in the rotation with him.

It was arguably the best rotation from the entire 1800s. The offense was incredible too. They had Yank Robinson at Second Base, Arlie Latham at Third Base and Tip O’Neill at Left Field. Also, Charlie Comiskey as Manager and he played First Base.

That 1887 season is the season that Tip O’Neill hit for the Triple Crown, he actually led the League in 9 categories; and Robinson, Latham and Comiskey could run the bases like bandits. My point is, with that offense, they likely could have won the Championship with normal pitching, but they happened to have the best rotation that the game had ever seen to that point with King, Caruthers and Foutz.

The team ended that season with almost a .705 W%. I suppose it’s a W% that would be expected with the best overall offense and pitching rotation that the game had arguably seen to that point.

The three of them in that rotation were all great pitchers. Of course, King led the team in Wins with 32, but Caruthers and Foutz put up their regular great numbers too; they posted 29 Wins and 25 Wins, respectably.    

By 1888, Caruthers and Foutz were disgruntled over issues that had begun boiling even before King joined the team in 1887. So, Caruthers and Foutz left the team to play for Brooklyn in 1888. Many thought that King wouldn’t be able to do it without the other 2 pieces of the rotation, Caruthers and Foutz. They were wrong. King did it. St. Louis again won the title in 1888.

They finished 6.5 games ahead of Caruthers and Foutz Brooklyn team for the Championship. With Foutz and Caruthers gone, King pitched every other game that season, over 550 IP. He led the League with a 1.63 ERA, a 200 ERA+, a 0.88 WHIP, 45 wins, six shutouts and a 3.4 K/BB.

That season, he also posted 6.7 H/9, a .682 W% and 258 Ks. Not a bad season, huh? Foutz and Caruthers out in Brooklyn, they were a formidable 2nd place team, but the two of them didn’t stand a chance against King that season.

King was only 20 years old when he beat Foutz and Caruthers Brooklyn team out for the Championship in 1888. He was a teenager when he won the Championship with the two of them in 1887 and he was a high school aged 18 year old during his rookie season in 1886.

By the time his career was over, he posted incredibly good career numbers. It’s arguable if he was a better overall pitcher than Caruthers, but he was certainly better than Foutz. They were all 3 great. But Foutz and Caruthers are on the lips and minds of many historians.

 But somehow, King is generally forgotten, even though he was better than Foutz and just about as good as Caruthers; and even though it’s King that led that 1887 Championship team with more Wins than Caruthers or Foutz; and even though King beat them out for the Championship when they joined forces against him in Brooklyn.

Along with Tip O’Neill, King might be the most important reason that St. Louis won back to back Championships in 1887 and 1888.

He shouldn’t be forgotten, he should be on our tongues like Caruthers and Foutz. If we’re going to remember one pitcher from the 1890s, other than the 3 in the HOF, it should certainly be Silver King.  

By the time his career was over, he ended up leading the League in ERA twice, ERA+ twice and SHO twice. His peak career was great. He posted a 2.70 ERA, a better peak ERA than Amos Rusie, in the HOF.

He also had over 140 wins during that four season peak, winning at least 30 games during each of those four seasons. It would likely take a pitcher a nice 10 season career to Win over 140 games today.

3. Amos Rusie (1889-1901)

Career Length Grade: B+

Raw Career: 462 G, 427 GS, 3.07 ERA, 129 ERA+, 245 W, 111 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.35 WHIP, 2.8 SHO/40 and 1.1 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 422 G, 389 GS, 3.04 ERA, 132 ERA+, 225 W, 110 W%+, 8.0 H/9, 1.35 WHIP, 2.7 SHO/40 and 1.1 K/BB (exclude his last 2 seasons)

Peak Career: 215 G, 202 GS, 1,797 IP, 2.79 ERA, 155 ERA+, 126 W, 108 W%+, 8.1 H/9, 1.35 WHIP, 2.5 SHO/40 and 1.1 K/BB (include his 1890, 1893, 1894 and 1897 seasons)

He’s in the HOF, as he should be.

He started pitching in MLB as a 17 year old in 1889 for Indianapolis. He grew up in Mooresville, Indiana, which is right outside of Indianapolis. I actually have family lineage on my Mother’s side of the family to Rusie.

My Mother has letters from Rusie to old family members that have been passed down from generation to generation. I usually don’t bring this up when I talk about Rusie because most think that I’m full of crap.

You may think I would overrate him since I have some lineage to him, but he wasn’t as good as Nichols and Young, not many were.

But he was great and an easy pick for the HOF. He won at least 20 games during every season of his career, except for his first and last season. The fact is, he won over 30 games during four consecutive seasons from 1891-1894.

By the time his career was done, he led the League in Ks five times, H/9 four times, SHO four times and ERA twice.

As I mentioned, he led the League in strikeouts five times and it is Rusie that is credited as the main reason that the pitching mound was moved back farther from home plate to where it is today, following the 1892 season.

It didn’t really change much for Rusie, he was just as good with the mound moved back as he was when the mound was closer. He led the League twice when the mound was closer and three more times after it was moved further away.

2. Kid Nichols (1890-1906)

Career Length Grade: A

Raw Career: 620 G, 561 GS, 5,056.1 IP, 2.95 ERA, 140 ERA+, 361 W, 108 W%+, 8.7 H/9, 1.22 WHIP, 3.4 SHO/40 and 1.5 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 554 G, 502 GS, 4,534 IP, 2.91 ERA, 145 ERA+, 331 W, 107 W%+, 8.7 H/9, 1.22 WHIP, 3.4 SHO/40 and 1.5 K/BB (exclude his 1901, 1905 and 1906 seasons)

Peak Career: 245 G, 220 GS, 1,977.2 IP, 2.43 ERA, 164 ERA+, 149 W, 106 W%+, 8.4 H/9, 1.17 WHIP, 4.0 SHO/40 and 1.8 K/BB (include his 1890, 1891, 1896, 1897 and 1898 seasons)

His career 140 ERA+ is still 9th all time in the history of Major League Baseball for a starting pitcher.

Nichols won over 20 games during each of his first ten seasons, and he won at least 30 games during seven of those ten seasons. He also had at least a .525 W% during each of those first 10 seasons. He was a winner. It’s why he ended his career with over 360 Wins.

By the time his HOF career was over, he had led the League in K/BB four times, WHIP three times, Wins three times, SHO three times and ERA+ twice.

1.Cy Young (1890-1911)

Career Length Grade: A+

Raw Career: 906 G, 815 GS, 7,354.2 IP, 2.63 ERA, 138 ERA+, 511 W, 120 W%+, 8.7 H/9, 1.13 WHIP, 3.7 SHO/40 and 2.3 K/BB

Adjusted Career: 791 G, 708 GS, 6,448.2 IP, 2.61 ERA, 143 ERA+, 459 W, 117 W%+, 8.6 H/9, 1.13 WHIP, 3.7 SHO/40 and 2.8 K/BB (exclude his 1900, 1909, 1910 and 1911 seasons)

Peak Career: 221 G, 208 GS, 1,877.1 IP, 1.94 ERA, 176 ERA+, 148 W, 127 W%+, 7.8 H/9, 1.03 WHIP, 4.6 SHO/40 and 2.6 K/BB (include his 1892, 1899, 1901, 1902 and 1908 seasons)

Most of you already know, the name of the pitcher of the year award is named after the guy. That tells us something. One of the first pitchers elected to the HOF.

He’s first all time in so many career categories that I won’t list them all. Here are some: 511 Wins, 815 GS, 7,354.2 IP and 749 Complete Games, to name a few.

By the time his career was over, he had led the League in K/BB eleven times, SHO seven times, WHIP seven times, Wins five times, W% twice, ERA twice, Ks twice and ERA+ twice.

His career 138 ERA+ is still 10th all time in the history of MLB for a starting pitcher.

He won over 20 games fifteen times during his career and he had at least a .525 W% during each of his first 10 seasons.

The number of games and innings he pitched during his career were mind boggling, especially for a pitcher that pitched so much in the 1890's. It’s why he’s the best pitcher from the 1890s, the best pitcher from the 1800's, period. It’s also why he’s arguably still one of the 10 best starting pitchers to ever grace the fields of Major League Baseball.

It’s easy to do. Cy used to write articles on rules for pitching success. I love this old Cy Young quote, here’s part of it:

“Let liquor severely alone, fight shy of cigarettes, and be moderate in indulgence of tobacco, coffee, and tea…A man who is not willing to work from dewy morn until weary eve should not think about becoming a pitcher.”

No wonder I can’t pitch worth a crud…wait…come to think of it, I don’t drink much tea. Old Cy Young quotes are among my favorites, he was a very quotable guy.

There you go. The best pitchers from the 1890s.


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