A brief burst of continuity

added 12/13/2007 by Scott Barzilla

There have been two huge pieces of Astros news in the past two days. I will avoid those topics today. MLB avoided the topic for more than a decade, so you will have to forgive me for avoiding the topic for a week or so. Besides, when big news like this hits it is usually better to give it some time to sink in before rendering a long-winded comment.

Lance Berkman is the second in our series of the off-season focus on the position players. Berkman now stands as arguably the third best Astro in history. Certainly, people will render votes for Nolan Ryan, Joe Morgan, Cesar Cedeno, and maybe Jose Cruz, but Berkman's numbers are quietly approaching Bagwell's and his name is clear from the stain of you know what for the time being.

                AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS   HR   Runs   RBI   RC
Jeff Bagwell   .297  .408  .540  .948  449   1517  1529  1768
Lance Berkman  .300  .412  .559  .971  259    782   885   934

We can clearly see that Berkman's percentage stats are right there with Bagwell. We could crudely estimate that it would take him another six or seven seasons to equal Bagwell's counting statistics. Obviously, this is the difference between the good players and legendary players. Guys like Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy looked like sure Hall of Famers when they were Berkman's age.

You can talk about Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence all you like. Heck, you can even throw J.R. Towles, Michael Bourn and Kaz Matsui into the conversation. The number one reason for the Astros offensive malaise early in the season was the sub-par play of Lance Berkman. As Berkman goes so go the Astros. Yet, even with a sub-par season he was still among the best first basemen in baseball.

                 OBP    AB    TB    BR    ASLG    AOPS
Lance Berkman   .386   561   286    -8    .496    .882

Berkman ranks fifth in the NL in adjusted OPS and sixth in the big leagues. That's not half bad for someone that had a down season. With the catchers we saw that the American League was dominant, but in the case the NL carries the day. More than half of the AL first basemen had OPSs below .800. This is likely because most of the dominant hitters that fit the profile are actually designated hitters.

This brings in the spector of defense into the equation. In the Bill James 2008 Handbook, a panel of experts rated the top ten players at each position. Berkman got one top ten vote from the panel. For information sake, Brad Ausmus ranked sixth overall and got an eighth place vote from John Dewan (who uses the plus/minus system we will use). Eleven first basemen were listed on the positive end and six were listed on the negative end. Lance Berkman was not part of either list. So, he ranks somewhere between twelth and 24th. That as close to average as you can get.

Lance Berkman sported 24 win shares last season, but has been in the 30 range in normal seasons. We know Ausmus will not get a majority of the time, but if we combine the runs created for the two of them we see that they created a combine 133 runs. Ausmus created only 28 of those runs. If we assume that Towles creates 50 runs and Berkman creates just ten more then we see a 30 run improvement already on the offensive end.

Today's events might have put a damper on some Astros fans' mood. I could certainly understand why. However, the improvement at the first two positions on the diamond is enough for optimism. Of course, we haven't even made it to the rest of the infield where there is a lot of room for optimism.