30 Rangers In 30 Days: Lance Berkman
By Eric Reining
I suppose I prematurely jumped the gun when I last wrote that Nelson Cruz was the final member of the Rangers’ everyday lineup. Being that it’s the American League, and that there’s some entity known as the “designated hitter,” or so I hear, then I would be remiss not to mention Lance Berkman, perhaps the most impactive piece of Texas’ offseason.
Playing the majority of his career with the Astros (1999-2010), Berkman, 37, has also made pitstops with the Yankees (2010) and Cardinals (2011-2012). Toting with him a lifetime triple slash of .296/.409/.544 (an amazing 146 wRC+), Lance Berkman is certifiably on the cusp of a Hall-of-Fame worthy career. No, the Rangers will not be paying him to be the 7.9 fWAR player of 2008, or even the 4.9 fWAR player he was in 2011. His role will be far simpler in 2013; he will be asked to get on base, hit for some occasional power, and drive in his fair share of runs hitting in the middle of the lineup.
After all, take into consideration the individual he will be replacing, Michael Young, was statistically the worst player in baseball last year (-1.4 fWAR). To think that Berkman could a be a 0.0 fWAR replacement-level performer in 2013, and still be worth between 1-2 wins more than Michael Young was last year is quite perplexing, but in a positive way. Even if Berkman doesn’t come close to matching his 31 homer 2011 season (his last full year in the bigs), he still provides something Michael Young never could as the team’s primary DH: the ability to get on base.
Here lies the great advantage of having Lance Berkman — his career On Base Percentage is .409; in the last decade, only twice has he carried an OBP less than .390 (.368 in 2010 and .386 in 2007). Now, if we assume he will not be the same player in 2013 as he’s been the rest of his career — mostly due to age-related decline — we can comfortably still pencil him in to sit somewhere between .360 and .380 in the OBP department. And that’s a wonderful thing.
Because he will be the DH, we will not be able to extract very much defensive value out of Berkman, though, due to the poor condition of his knees, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing. Though Mitch Moreland is average with his glove — at best — manning 1st base, he will very likely provide a better option than Berkman at this stage in his career, and I’m certain, given his health, that the Rangers didn’t sign him to run around and be Willie Mays in the outfield.
For what it’s worth, Bill James has Lance Berkman hitting a .273/.389/.485 line in 2013, while FanGraphs has him at .275/.378/.468, good for 2.2 fWAR.
If you’re asking me, which I don’t know why you would, I’m confident we will see a ton of walks from Berkman, a fair amount of home runs (15-20), and an excellent run producer hitting behind Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus. The Rangers knew they were taking a risk when they inked Berkman to a one-year, $11 million contract (with a vesting option in year-2), but it was a risk they were willing to take — a risk they wouldn’t have made if they didn’t feel the payoff was worthwhile. Like I mentioned, anything in the +WAR from Berkman will be a major gain, given the state of Michael Young in 2012, but if I had to put a number on it, I’ll say he will be worth 2.5 fWAR in 2013 — a 4-win swing in the positive in comparison to Young.