Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lance Berkman's Return to Relevance

After Lance Berkman was traded from the Houston Astros to the New York Yankees last season, some speculated that a change of scenery could benefit him.  He arrived at Yankee Stadium and proceeded to disappoint, hitting .255 with 1 HR and 9 RBI in 37 games.  He finished 2010 with the worst output of his career, which signaled that his career may be on the decline.

Then along came the St. Louis Cardinals with a one year $8 million contract for the 2011 season.  This would fill a hole for them in the OF and give some insurance at 1B for Albert Pujols.  The signing has turned out to be one of the highlights of a mediocre season for the Cardinals.  He just hit his 30th home run last night and only Berkman thought he had that in him this season.  I venture to guess the Cardinals would have been happy with 20 HR, 70 RBI and a .270 AVG, based on what he had shown last season.  Along with his 30 HR in 2011, Berkman has 81 RBI and is hitting .292.  His OPS is .980, which ranks 4th in MLB.

So, was 2010 a fluke or is this season an aberration?  First, Berkman missed time in 2009 due to injury.  In 136 games he accumulated 25 HR, 80 RBI, a .274 AVG. and his OPS was .907.  These are very respectable numbers considering the time he missed and not far off previous seasons.  His totals for 2010 were miserable; 14 HR, 58 RBI, .248 AVG. and a .781 OPS.  These numbers were a dramatic drop across the board.

Some of Berkman's peripheral numbers in 2010 and 2011, in conjunction with his career rates, are telling.  Using FanGraphs' data, Berkman's ground ball to fly ball ratio (GB/FB), line drive percentage (LD%), and his home run per fly ball ratio (HR/FB) were all skewed in the wrong direction in 2010.  In 2010, his GB/FB was a career high 1.31 compared with a career average of 1.11 prior to 2010.  His LD% was 16% compared with 19.9% prior to 2010.  A career low 12% of fly balls he hit went for HR in 2010 compared to a rate of 19.3% prior to 2010.  This season Berkman is hitting far less ground balls compared to fly balls (GB/FB = .98), his LD% is at 19% and 23.3% of fly balls he has hit have gone yard.  His 2011 numbers are much more in line with his career rates.

At 35 years old, no one would suggest that Lance Berkman is going to continue to bash over 30 home runs a season for much longer, but he seems to have been able to put a miserable season behind him and in good fashion.  At the least, Berkman has become relevant again at the plate, which could earn him at least one more multi-year contract.