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Three Inexcusable Omissions

Flick, Garciaparra, and Terry fail to make Asher's Top 200 List

by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
September 16, 2009

When Asher and I went over our Top 200 Lists this summer, we were actually quite surprised at the similarities between them, given our different valuation of players and the different methodology of our lists.  Still, there are indeed differences, and what better way to break the ice in discussing them than to examine the highest three players I have ranked that do not appear on Asher's list at all?  In order, they are Elmer Flick, whom I have ranked as the 111th-best player of all-time, Nomar Garciaparra (#129), and Bill Terry (#167).  Asher can apparently name 200 superior players to this trio, but I just don't see it.
2009 Player Rankings
Asher's List
Keith's List
Composite List


Elmer Flick | Nomar Garciaparra | Bill Terry

Bill Terry (#167)


This omission really isn't egregious in itself.  The difference between player #167 and player #201 isn't as great as our differences on Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera, Three Finger Brown, and Gabby Harnett are.  Still, I've included Terry in part because I do essentially know why Asher left him off his list and it demonstrates both an internal inconsistency and a methodological error, in my opinion.

The argument is similar to one I used against Bob Gibson years ago: A player's overall value can be skewed by one year played under favorable conditions.  Certainly, this is true of Gibson, Babe Herman, Hack Wilson, and others.  Asher contends that Bill Terry falls into a similar category because he batted .401 in the NL in 1930, probably the most favorable league ever for hitters, but never hit as high as .355 in any other year.

There are numerous problems with treating Terry this way.  First, while Terry's 60 adjusted batting runs that year was certainly the highest of his career, he also posted seasons of 48, 41, 34, 31, 31, and 29.  That one season was not wildly out of line with the rest of his career.  Next, while Terry generally played in favorable hitter conditions, he also played in the Polo Grounds, which played as a pitcher's park to anyone not named Mel Ott.  We have splits for over half of Terry's career, and in that sample size, he went .339/.392/.505 at home and .345/.401/.541 on the road.  Finally, although it is seemingly obvious, it's worth mentioning that Terry's batting average in 1930 was still better than anyone else's and that Ted Williams is the only major league player to bat .400 since.

What's worse, while Terry does not appear on Asher's Top 200 List, fellow first baseman George Sisler, Norm Cash, and John Olerud do. 

Sisler combined for an adjusted batting runs total of 134 in his two best seasons, both of which were played in cozy hitters' leagues.  Those seasons represent over 50% of his career adjusted batting run total.  Sisler played for longer than Terry did and stole a bunch of bases that Terry did not, but also played in an extreme hitter's era and simply did not produce nearly as well.  We have even more splits for Sisler than we do for Terry: .359/.400/.518 at home and .327/.361/.437 on the road.

Norm Cash, of course, had one of the most infamous fluke seasons of all-time.  He batted .361 that year, but never even reached .290 in any other season and drove in 132 runs despite failing to reach the 95 mark any other year.  1961 was not a great year for hitters per se, but it was an expansion year, which allowed good-but-not-great hitters like Cash, Roger Maris, and Jim Gentile to feast on diluted pitching.  Moreover, Cash admitted to corking his bat that year.  Cash amassed a phenomenal 85 batting runs that year, but never topped 31 in any other.  We have splits for Cash's entire career: .276/.383/.515 at home versus .267/.366/.463 on the road.

John Olerud compiled 35% of his career ABR total over the 1993 and 1998 seasons.  What do those two seasons have in common?  You guessed it: expansion years.  Olerud's home/road splits are nearly identical ,with just four points of OPS separating them.  As absurd as it sounds, Olerud is the closest of these three to Terry in merit, unless you use the trick in which you compare a player to his contemporaries at the same position.

When Rich rated Bill Terry as the 65th-best player in MLB history, I was a little incredulous.  But it made sense given his tendencies.  He is a Giants fan who doesn't like to award large positional or era adjustments to players.  What possible reason could Asher have to treat Terry differently from the other first baseman on his list?   This is the methodological error I mentioned earlier.  Asher is biased against any hitter who performed well in 1930.

1930 was certainly a unique season for offensive output, but it is counterintuitive to penalize everyone who performed well that year.  What would make more sense is to penalize those hitters that failed to take advantage of the favorable conditions that year.  Why, at the prime age of 27, did Paul Waner post his lowest OPS in four years that season?  Why did 26-year old Tony Lazzeri's batting average drop 51 points and home run total halve from 1929 to 1930?  Why did Sunny Jim Bottomley endure his worst season in a nine-year span as a 30-year old in 1930?  Shouldn't Waner, Lazzeri, and Bottomley get penalized before Terry, Wilson, and Herman are?

Or we could just penalize every position player who was unfortunate enough to play in 1930.  The thing is, part of the reason that 1930 was such an offensive bonanza was almost certainly that there were more quality hitters in 1930 than there were in 1960 or 1990.  So if anything, we should treat equal ABR totals from those three seasons as an advantage to the player who compiled his total in 1930.

That is radical thinking that will confuse and frustrate Asher.  What should be painfully obvious to Asher and anyone else is that there is no defense for ranking George Sisler 25+ spots higher than Bill Terry.

Elmer Flick | Nomar Garciaparra | Bill Terry




Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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