Lukehart: The best hitters you’ve never heard of

From SABR member Jason Lukeheart at Ground Ball With Eyes on March 4, 2013:

At Let’s Go Tribe I’ve been doing a series on the best hitters in Indians history out of each spot in the batting order. In a recent installment I was looking at #5 hitters (a list topped by Jim Thome) and in 7th place I chose a player named Les Fleming, whom I’d never heard of before researching that post. Fleming batted fifth for most of the 1942 season, which was his only full season in the Majors. He was one of the ten or so best hitters in baseball that year, on par with Joe DiMaggio.

Despite being such a potent hitter, Fleming played in only 434 career games, getting to the plate for 1,572 plate appearances. His career OPS+ was 130 (meaning he was 30% better than average for his career). That’s the level All-Star Carlos Gonzalez has been at over the last three years, right around the level of Joe Mauer and Troy Tulowitzki. I found myself wondering two things: Why didn’t Fleming play longer and how many other hitters have been that good but had such short careers?

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Originally published: March 4, 2013. Last Updated: March 4, 2013.