Lance Berkman hasn’t played since July 6th, a night he (characteristically) went 0-2 with a walk, and scored a run. His triple slash line at that point read .254/.355/.377 (99 wRC+).
Between May 18th and July 6th, Berkman compiled a total of 3 extra-base hits; two home runs and a double. That’s the most perplexing part of his season: It’s nothing short of amazing that a player’s OBP is over 100 points higher than his batting average, when his slugging percentage basically says he’s a single’s hitter. Pitchers are less timid to throw pitches over the plate against guys who don’t hit for much power, so it’s either (a) been a poor job by the opposition to challenge Lance in ’13, or (b) just a credit to his set of Hall-of-Fame-caliber eyes.
In either sense, the D-FW media — and blogosphere alike — have engaged in what feels like a coalition of sorts, against Lake Dad, of course, and the impression I get is that no one really gives a shit either way whether he returns or not.
So, although I’m no Berkman apologist, I do think perspective should be kept in order.
At this stage of the season it does not matter if Lance returns. Fact. But if he did, there’s a possibility of some real upside, which is evident from how he’s posted a league-average wRC+ in what mostly everyone has perceived as a very poor offensive season.
For reference, in 2012 the Rangers primary designated hitter was Michael Young, and he posted a triple slash of .277/.312/.370 (79 wRC+), significantly worse than Lance. The Rangers dropped $10 million and an option (that won’t vest in 2014) not for a player they expected to carry the team on his shoulders, but for another piece to blend in on an already functional lineup. Furthermore, a league-average bat — which Berkman has statistically been according to the objective data — is worth better than +1.0 full win compared to Mikey Baseball in 2012.
Also, there’s no such thing as a bad one-year contract.
Today T.R. Sullivan mentions that Lance Berkman was taking some early batting practice in Anaheim, which piqued my interest to write this article before you. I will be perfectly comfortable taking the roster as it currently stands, perhaps with the additions of Matt Harrison and Neftali Feliz trickling in over the coming weeks. But Lance Berkman carries literally no risk; if he isn’t healthy enough to play, he won’t play; if he does prove himself healthy enough to play, and comes back only to underperform, then he, again, just won’t play. They’ll put him back and the DL and he’ll never play again.
It’s now August 7th. It’s been over a month since Lance has played in a game, a month he hasn’t had to put any stress on his glass knees.
I’m not going to pretend he is the missing link to a World Series, but I also can’t, in my heart of hearts, jump on the anti-Berkman bandwagon simply because his batting average is in the .250’s, that he didn’t produce a ton of pop while he was in the lineup, that his legs haven’t held up, or that he isn’t Michael Young. That’s all secondary.
Even a .355 OBP — which is on the low end for a player of Berkman’s abilities — carries a high value on a team that’s going to be starving for base-runners and scoring opportunities in the 2nd half.