Friday, January 31, 2014

So long, Lance Berkman and Michael Young

A couple of Texas institutions during the past fifteen years hung up their spikes this week. Between the two of them, Lance Berkman and Michael Young banged out 3,940 hits while wearing the uniform of teams from Texas. Berkman, of course, was the first round draft pick of the Houston Astros who had quite a career there and Young plied his trade with the Texas Rangers for his long career.
Though they were both drafted in 1997 and both were institutions where they played and banged out consistent .300 batting averages over the years, the similarity between the two players pretty much ends there. If the sun were Cooperstown, Lance Berkman was the Earth and Young, probably Jupiter. I said Pluto last night on Twitter, but that was a bit unkind and in response to another blogger who stated that Young retired on the cusp of Cooperstown. Young was not even close to that kind of player.
But Lance Berkman was. If he could have stayed healthier, he could have really put up the kind of numbers that would get him a plaque. Berkman's injuries led him to have only twelve seasons where he played more than a hundred games. Out of those twelve, he slugged over .500 eleven times and had over a .400 on-base percentage eight times.
Just to give you an idea of how different they were offensively, Lance Berkman had a career wOBA of .400 on the dot. Michael Young had a career wOBA of .342. Lance Berkman's offense was worth 433.6 batting runs during his career. Young's offense was worth 44.2, almost ten percent of Berkman's contribution. Berkman finished with a 144 wRC+ (same as his OPS+) and Young, 104.
Interestingly, they finished within six total bases of each other for their career, but Berkman compiled his in almost 800 fewer plate appearances. Berkman's 1,201 career walks more than doubles Young's career total.
Young was much more durable. In one twelve year stretch, Young played more than 150 games in eleven of those seasons. He also led the league in hits twice and batting average once. He made seven All Star teams and finished in the top ten in MVP voting twice.
Young was more of a cog in a wheel of some very good Rangers teams (and some very bad ones). Berkman was a contemporary with Biggio and Bagwell for years and was just as much as an offensive star as either of them.
Young will always be marked down a bit because he played half of his games in Texas Rangers' home parks, always considered hitters' paradise. Indeed, his home OPS for his career is 108 points higher than his road OPS.
Berkman just flat out hit no matter where he was. For his career, Berkman a .946 OPS guy at home and .940 on the road. His OPS was over .900 for every month of the year--over .950 for three of those months. He had a career .970 OPS with two outs and runners in scoring position, a .926 OPS in late and close games and a .956 OPS in tie games.
Young played more valuable positions on the field and his versatility is somewhat what kept him a fixture for so long. That is not to say that he always played them well. Berkman played the bulk of his career as a left-fielder (while Bagwell was at first) and then as a first baseman: two positions that do not rate highly on the positional skill ranking. But he played them reasonably well most of the time.
Young was strictly a right-handed batter who was consistent against pitchers who threw with either arm. Lance Berkman was a switch-hitter who was much, much better batting left-handed.
Both players were considered good clubhouse guys. Berkman was known for his humor and for keeping things loose and teammates laughing. Young was a leader of his clubhouse in Texas for many years.
Both played quite a few post-season games. Berkman over-performed his career numbers there was killer in his two World Series appearances. Young under-performed in his post-season career.
As you have seen, Lance Berkman was twice as valuable a player than Michael Young. But both are gone now and after watching them for all these years, they are going to be missed. Baseball goes on, but every so often, you lose players that have seemed to be with you forever. Michael Young and Lance Berkman were Texas baseball and it won't be the same without them. 

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