The NL returned to an 8-team loop, keeping Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, and Providence in the fold, while adding Buffalo, Cleveland, Syracuse, and Troy, giving the league a strong New York state flavor, if not New York City. NYC would not return to the fold until 1883. Games played increased as a result. It thus became more common to have a second pitcher, who would spell the #1 guy every third or fourth league game. It wasn't exactly a rotation, but it was the first league usage of multiple pitchers.
Providence won the pennant, breaking the Boston Red Caps' streak. The Rhode Island team had gone all-in, bringing in several stars to complement the solid team they had in place. Boston was second, followed by Buffalo, Chicago, and Cincinnati. Syracuse, Cleveland, and Troy, three of the four new clubs, brought up the rear.
Providence had the top two hitters with Paul Hines at .357 and Jim O'Rourke at .348, with King Kelly at a slightly lower .348 for Cincinnati. John O'Rourke hit .341 and Deacon White .330. Charlie Eden hit 31 doubles and "Buttercup" Dickerson 14 triples. Charley Jones led with 85 runs scored, Hines scored 81 runs, George Wright 79, and Kelly 78.
John M. Ward had 47 wins, Will White and Tommy Bond 43 each, and Pud Galvin won 37. Bond led with a 1.96 ERA, White was at 1.99, Ward 2.15. Ward had 239 strikeouts, White 232.
Win Shares data: Among pitchers, Pud Galvin (Buffalo) had 61 WS, J.M. Ward (Providence) 51, Tommy Bond (Boston) 50. Terry Larkin (Chicago) had 39, Will White (Cincinnati) and Jim McCormick (Cleveland) 33.
Position players were led by Paul Hines (Providence) at 22, followed by Charley Jones of Boston with 21, King Kelly (Cincinnati) at 20, then at 17 were Orator Jim O'Rourke (Providence), Ned Williamson (Chicago), Deacon White (Cincinnati), and John O'Rourke (Boston). George Wright played as well as managed (only in this year) for Providence and collected 16 Win Shares.
WARP3 scores: Galvin 3.0; this was Galvin's first full year, after 8 games in the NA in 1875, so I guess he's an NL rookie: Ward 6.3, Bond 6.4 (last great year), Larkin 1.6 (last good year), White 1.6, McCormick 6.8. Position players, Hines 10.5, Jones 9.5 (best year), Kelly 9.2, Jim O'Rourke 7.0, Williamson 7.4, White 8.4 (last big year), John O'Rourke 8.9 (as a 29-year-old "rookie"), Wright 7.5 (last year as regular). Next highest was Silver Flint of Chicago at 6.6.
WAR: Bond 13.4, Ward 9.2, Galvin 6.9, McCormick 5.3, Larkin 3.7 among pitchers, with Jones at 4.9, Hines 4.6, Wright 4.4, Williamson 4.3, Kelly 4.2, John O'Rourke 3.9, White 3.5, Jim O'Rourke 3.3 for position players.
For top player, I'll take Paul Hines for the second year in a row. No Triple Crown this year, but he was the top player on the pennant winners, and as good as anyone. O'Rourke was operating in a helpful hitting environment, and the OPS+ lead was:
Kelly-CIN 184, Jones-BSN 183, O'Rourke-BSN 182, Hines-PRO 180
that's almost a wash, so I'll go with Hines, an excellent defensive player as well. Jones could be the one, but I'll go with Hines since Providence beat out Boston in this season.
#1 Paul Hines, #2 Charley Jones, #3 King Kelly, #4 Deacon White, #5 George Wright.
Best pitcher: John M. Ward, by a slim margin over Tommy Bond. Ward led in wins and strikeouts, finished 2nd to Bond in ERA. Bond also led in WHIP. Again, it's close, so I'll give the edge to the player on the pennant winner. Special mention to Will White as most durable. Amazingly, Ward was also the youngest player in the league, at 19.
#1 John M. Ward, #2 Tommy Bond, #3 Pud Galvin, #4 Terry Larkin, #5 Jim McCormick.
Top rookie: John O'Rourke, with a super year in Boston.
Top manager: George Wright, moving to Providence to get his own team and emerging from his brother's leadership shadow. He played a darn fine shortstop, too. This was his only year in the NL as a manager, though.