The game was different in the 19th Century. The game changed almost yearly in the very early days of baseball, but the most important change for pitchers was in 1893 when the pitching distance changed to 60 ft 6in.
Comparing 19th Century pitchers to today's pitchers can be problematic. That is why we compare Jim McCormick to his peers.
There are 2 reasons Jim McCormick fell short of 300 Wins:
1) McCormick was the first "tough luck" pitcher in baseball history. He played 8 of his 10 seasons for terrible teams, only once finishing above 5th (out of 8 teams) in runs scored. McCormick's team was shutout 39 times while he was on the mound, 33 of those during McCormick's peak from 1879-1884. Only Pud Galvin endured more shutout losses (4 more), and he pitched 5 more seasons and started 200 more games than McCormick. Bill James' stat waaWL% measures what a pitchers record would be had they played on a league average team. Not only is McCormick's "lost" wins much greater than his peers, he ranks #1 all time among Hall of Fame pitchers in lost wins. McCormick endured 1.8 shutout losses per 200 innings pitched, more than any of his HOF peers.
The five Hall of Fame starting pitchers of the era, meanwhile, all played for successful, high run scoring teams in Boston, New York, and Chicago. McCormick's teams averaged an OPS+ of only 87, by far the lowest of any of his peers.
2) McCormick retired at age 30 after only 10 seasons while every one of contemporaries who achieved 300 Wins played more seasons, sometimes well into their 30s. McCormick's wife Jennie was gravely ill with tuberculosis when he retired and she died months later. McCormick could have held on for several more years at league average as many of his Hall of Fame peers did and compiled more numbers but he retired to care for his wife and tend to his saloon.
For a more full examination of McCormick's lack of 300 Wins, click here.
McCormick's 76.2 career WAR is better than Old Hoss Radbourn, Pud Galvin, and Mickey Welch.
Only Tim Keefe and John Clarkson have better WAR numbers than McCormick.
Keefe needed 4 more seasons, over 100 more starts, and over 700 more innings to accrue 10.3 more WAR than McCormick.
Clarkson needed 2 more seasons, 19 more starts, and over 200 more innings to accrue 7.8 more WAR than McCormick.
A case can be made that, inning for inning, Clarkson & Keefe were better than McCormick (but not by much). However it is very difficult to make a case that Radbourn, Galvin & Welch were better than McCormick.
When career WAR is broken down by 200 Innings Pitched, only John Clarkson was better.
WAR per 200 IP:
McCormick's 2.43 ERA is better than every single one of his Hall of Fame peers.
His ERA is 20 points better than his next closest peer, Tim Keefe.
Among pitchers of his era with 4,000 IP, Jim McCormick ranks 1st in ERA.
Using Bill James' Black Ink test for Hall worthiness, only John Clarkson and Tim Keefe scored higher among his HOF peers than McCormick's 194.
McCormick is the only pitcher among his HOF peers to lead the league 3x in WAR and his one of only 16 pitchers in history to accomplish that feat.
McCormick led the league:
3x Adjusted Pitching Wins
2x Fielding %
1x Win %
2x Games Started
Jim McCormick's 72.4 JAWS score is better than 3 of his 5 Hall of Fame peers.
Clarkson's 79.5 score is only 6.1 points better and Keefe's 76.5 score is only 4.1 points better than McCormick.
McCormick fits squarely among his Hall of Fame peers while the next highest non-HOF peer, Tommy Bond, falls below 4 of the 5 HOF pitchers of the day.
McCormick retired after only 10 seasons so his career Innings Pitched are lower than his Hall of Fame peers but he averaged 8.2 innings per game, more than all of his peers.
McCormick averaged 427.2 innings per year, which is #1 all time and more than 27 innings per year more than Pud Galvin, who is 2nd in his era.
McCormick's 2.28 SO/W ratio is better than 4 of his 5 HOF peers.
Only Pud Galvin has a higher SO/W ratio.
McCormick was also elite in the number of BBs he allowed per 9IP:
Pud Galvin 1.12
Jim McCormick 1.58
Old Hoss Radbourn 1.74
Tim Keefe 2.20
John Clarkson 2.36
Mickey Welch 2.43
Whether it is WAR, ERA, JAWS, Black Ink, etc. -- Jim McCormick is better than every other non-Hall of Fame pitcher of the pre-1893 er in almost every objective measurement of pitching effectiveness.
The graph above illustrates the JAWS scores of the top pre-1893 pitchers. McCormick ranks 3rd behind only Clarkson and Keefe.
Pitchers like Bobby Mathews, Tommy Bond, Charlie Buffinton, and Tony Mullane had great careers and have been considered for the Hall of Fame. However it is clear McCormick was consistently better than all of them over the course of his entire career.
Jim McCormick was elite in his time.
Only John Clarkson and Tim Keefe could lay claim to being better than McCormick.
It's not enough to simply elect the 300 Win pitchers of the era into the Hall and call it a day. We have the tools to measure greatness. Let's use them.
It's up to us to recognize the greatest players of this era, no matter how remote they seem to today's game.