There have been a lot of mixed feelings out in the blogging world on what the Texas Rangers have done by signing Lance Berkman. There is a palpable risk for the Rangers since Berkman only played 32 games in 2012 due to continued problems with his knees. But what if Berkman could play a hundred games in 2013? If that could happen or more, then Lance Berkman will be worth every penny of that $10 million the Rangers will be paying him. At times quietly (most of his seasons in Houston) and at other times noisily (Cardinals in 2011), Lance Berkman has been one of the best offensive players of his generation. Don't think so? Check out these six things you may not know about him.
1. Lance Berkman has a career on-base average over .400 (.409). That is 38th all time. He has walked more than 90 times in a season in ten of his fourteen seasons and three of those were over a hundred times. Only ten players in history have walked more than 90 times in a season in more seasons than Berkman. And they list like the Who's Who of baseball history. Since 2009, which includes some injury-riddled seasons, he is tied with Jose Bautista for the highest walk percentage at 16.2%. If you go back as far as 2004, Lance Berkman is fourth in the majors in walk percentage (min 3,000 plate appearances) behind only Thome, Dunn and Giambi. And this is despite not being in the top 30 in plate discipline as far as swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Berkman has been an on-base machine.
2. Since 2004 (the post Bonds era), Lance Berkman has the seventh highest wOBA in baseball among players with more than 3,000 plate appearances. Those ahead of him? It's a pretty good list: Pujols, Votto, Manny, Miggy, Big Papi and Braun. So getting on base is not his only strength. Berkman also has a career Slugging Percentage of .544 and his rank since 2004 with the same criteria as before is 12th. If you go by OPS+, Berkman is fifth in baseball since 2004 behind only Pujols, Votto, Cabrera and Manny. In other words, one of the best offensive players of his generation.
3. Can we dare say that Lance Berkman is as clutch a player as there has been in baseball? Yeah, people hate that word. But consider these facts. First, since 2004, Berkman is third in all of baseball (position players) in WPA behind only Pujols and Cabrera. For his career, Berkman has an OPS of .984 with two outs and runners in scoring position. In tie games, his OPS is .969. In high leverage situations, his career OPS is .970. For his career, he has a .954 OPS in the ninth inning. That's a pretty good argument, is it not?
4. Lance Berkman is remarkably consistent. He has a career OPS of .914 or higher in every month of the season. His career OPS at home is .955. On the road it is .950. He's had a .909 OPS at every position he's played except as a pinch hitter. His OPS with no outs in an inning is .978. His OPS with one out is .946. His OPS with two outs is .936.
5. There is one exception to Berkman's consistency. He is no where near as good a hitter when batting from the right side against left-handed pitching as he is from the left side against right-handed pitching. His career OPS on the former is .777. His OPS in the latter situation is 1.007. That is a 230 point difference. It is a little better against left-handed starters where his career OPS is .833. But still, this is a huge difference.
6. If the Rangers are going to the post season, Berkman is a great guy to have along for that ride. Berkman has been as good or better in the post-season as he has been in the regular season. In 233 post season plate appearances, Berkman's triple slash line is: ..317/.417/.532. Yeah, that will do, eh?
Hopefully, the case has been made here of Berkman being among the best offensive players of his generation. Hence the Rangers' risky move here. If Berkman can slot into the DH and get 350 to 400 plate appearances, he should reward the Rangers' risk. And of course, he has always been highly rated for those clubhouse intangibles. But if his wheels are as toasted as they were for the Cardinals last season, then the Rangers' risky move will blow up big time. Health will be the key.