I’ve been thinking about Lance Berkman lately. I guess I’m not alone since Steve also posted about him yesterday. What follows are a few links from various sites like FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and Fungoes. Also, a great interactive graphic from Beyond the Box Score ponders whether Minute Maid Park might have inflated Berkman’s power the last few years. It’s all after the jump… and I’ll provide a few musings along the way.
Beyond the Box Score – Berkman’s New Digs (Chris Spurlock)
- In a fantastic interactive graphic by Chris Spurlock, Berkman’s batted balls in Minute Maid Park were plotted onto Busch Stadium III. Taking a look only at shots to the warning track and beyond from 2008-2010, Chris determined that Busch Stadium III would have cost Berkman 13 home runs over the past three seasons.
- Although Berkman’s numbers at Busch Stadium III are inferior to his career at Minute Maid Park, this only includes 28 games. Since 2006 (Busch III’s inaugural season), Berkman has posted a .395 wOBA in NL stadiums other than Minute Maid Park (according to Baseball Musings Day By Day Database). With that said, a .932 OPS (career at Busch III) looks pretty good, and that’s with a much lower BABIP (.327 to .286). I think the Cardinals would gladly take that. I know I would.
- Bill James predicts .486 SLG (.449 ZIPS); sure, that’s down from his career average, but I don’t think the Cardinals are so naive as to expect a .530 SLG (career) from Berkman (2010 SLG of .413). Rather, I expect much of his appeal was from an OBP that remains in tact (15.5 BB% career; 16% 2010). TLR has banged the drum for Berkman to bat behind Pujols and Holliday, but I’m sure that he’ll get his share of AB’s in front of Pujols too, which is where I’d value him most.
- R.J. noted Berkman’s struggles batting as a RHH: wOBAs of .236, .305, and .352 in 2010/2009/2008 respectively… but this really isn’t a new revelation. Sure, Berkman produced a .370+ wOBA from 2003-2005, but only over a span of 455 PA. In his career facing LHP as a RHH (1364 PA), Berkman has a much more modest .340 wOBA. So, who is he? Does a steady three year decline in production against LHPs suggest a loss of skill? Maybe. But it’s likely that he’s closer to the .340 wOBA hitter than the .236 wOBA that he posted in 2010. With that said, there is some evidence that Berkman’s bat is slowing down. See Steve’s post from yesterday for more details (linked was provided above).
- Lastly, R.J. astutely pointed out that Berkman’s defense may not hurt the Cardinals as badly as it would have other teams since their pitching staff obsesses about generating ground balls. In 2010, the Cardinals were second in all of MLB at inducing grounders; only the Braves (49.5% to 49.9%) were better.
- Speaking of defense… we already know that Berkman will be playing RF; the club will not ask Holliday to vacate LF. But Pip had another interesting idea worth mentioning. He suggested the Cardinals minimize how badly Berkman’s defense hurts them by deciding whether or not to play him in LF/RF depending on the conditions of the game: “…if the conditions of the game dictate that more athleticism is required in right, Berkman should play left. If left requires more running, he should man right.”
- Although Pip goes on to remind us that a similar strategy was used throughout most of Babe Ruth’s career, one must wonder if constantly adapting from one corner of the outfield to the other would completely negate such managerial strategy, especially when you’re dealing with such a poor fielder to begin with. I could see such an approach working better with a gifted fielder such as Carl Crawford (as Pip has also suggested, though I couldn’t find a link).
- How much difference would this really make over the course of a season anyway? Pip estimated that a straight platoon approach (placing him in left or right field depending on batter handedness) would allow Berkman to avoid 60 plays over the course of an entire season. Although this isn’t a very realistic scenario, the mental image of Berkman running back and forth between left and right field is pretty hilarious. I’m sure Carpenter wouldn’t mind waiting between batters.
- John Perrotto from Baseball Prospectus reported that Berkman turned down a two-year, $16 million offer to play DH for the Athletics. He could have made more money playing elsewhere, and in the Californian sun no less. Instead, he opted for less guaranteed money to stay in the NL and endure the blistering Midwestern summer. It’s possible that he also liked the idea of making himself more money in 2012 with a bounce-back season. Still, it’s clear he wanted to be in Saint Louis. I’m pretty sure he already has Cardinal Nation in the palm of his hand with quotes like, “I’m not sure I can work up any more animosity for the Cubs than I already have.”
- Christina Kahrl (Baseball Prospectus) also weighed in on the Berkman acquisition. Although she doesn’t like that the Cardinals have entrusted two veterans to play positions that many doubt they can handle (Berkman –> RF; Theriot –> SS), she does believe in Berkman’s potential to be a significant upgrade offensively provided his HR/FB rate regresses back towards career norms, especially when you consider that he is sure to walk 13-15% of the time. And it’s only a one year deal, so there’s zero long-term risk.
Overall, I think it’s safe to feel pretty good about the Berkman acquisition. With that said, I’d be lying if I said Ludwick’s agreement (1-year, $6.775 Million) with the Padres didn’t sting a little bit. It’s time to move on, I suppose.