Add Sal Paolantonio to the list of sportswriters who have no understanding of the phrase “small sample size”. I read over at The Big Lead today about Sal’s assertion that Barry Sanders is among the most over-rated players in NFL history. Now the NFL isn’t exactly my expertise, so I’ll leave Sal’s conclusion alone. Although I’ll say Sanders is one of the 10 most exciting athletes I’ve ever seen. The focus of this post is the way Sal gets to his conclusion. I’ve cut and pasted excerpts from his book that were excerpted on ESPN.com here.
He first focuses on Sanders’ touchdowns in his playoff games. Yes, 6 playoff games. The crazy thing is, Barry Sanders is known for sort of falling off in the playoffs, but having an unreal career over the regular season. As far as I can see, he is “rated” just fine. But here’s where it gets nutty:
Sanders' postseason performance supports the notion that he was a product of the cozy, climate-controlled Silverdome. Nice carpet for easy, stop-on-a-dime maneuvering. Seventy-two degrees. Detroit faithful keeping the defensive line off balance with high decibel support.
In four career outdoor postseason games, Sanders averaged a paltry 2.8 yards per carry. He never scored a touchdown. And he never ran for more than 65 yards in a single game. With Sanders, the Lions went 0-4 in outdoor playoff games, losing by an average of 17 points.
But this picture of perfection has a nasty blemish. Once Sanders got to the big stage, and got out of the Silverdome, he was a bust.
Holy shit. Four games! He then talks about how Barry had more help than you realize (really, did he have Emmitt Smith’s help? What about Terrell Davis?) and how the way that Sanders left was abrupt and mysterious. Who gives a shit? That shouldn’t impact how we view his performance on the field. Also, if you take out one horrific game (-1 yards) versus a very good Green Bay team, his average in the other three games was 3.8 YPC. Not Barry Sanders good, but not 2.8 either.
Now, let’s get back to this Silverdome thing. See, I think that when a running back plays for 10 years, then perhaps you can’t conclude that they were over-rated and benefited from their home stadium just because of how they performed on the road….in the playoffs….in 4 games. I was unable to find home/road splits for Sanders so I compiled them myself (took about 20 minutes, Sal) from this site.
These are numbers I compiled, and have not been subject to review. If someone is really anal out there, e-mail me and I’ll e-mail you my data. There’s probably a site out there with this but I couldn’t find it.
These are regular season only:
Career at Home: 78 Games – 1,619 Carries – 8,053 yards – 5.0 YPC
Career on Road: 75 Games – 1,443 Carries – 7,216 yards – 5.0 YPC
Now, since he also implied that the temperature controlled Dome played a role, I’ve bifurcated the road numbers into Indoor/Outdoor games:
Indoor Road Games – 18 Games – 316 Carries – 1,528 yards – 4.84 YPC
Outdoor Road Games – 57 Games – 1,127 Carries – 5,688 yards – 5.05 YPC
I did this split myself, as the site didn't indicate the type of stadium. Note that I counted 1 game in Dallas as outdoors because the field is at least open to the elements.
Now, this is simplistic of course – the dome games may have been against inferior defenses over all. But the fact is simply that it’s a wash. I do not buy the; it was the “big stage” of the playoffs coupled with the non-climate controlled stadium with the crowd noise. I think he looked at 4 games, and I think that is stupid.
At least this was published in an innocuous little post on ESPN.com…..oh wait, yeah …..it’s in his book.
I’ll also point to this post on armchair GM which has a different view on some of the playoff numbers.