Fun Times for Big Puma

added 5/16/2008 by Scott Barzilla

It seems pretty obvious to everyone that Lance Berkman is having a special season. Yet, we need to pause before we annoint him as having the best season in Astros history. He's certainly on pace to do so, but he will have some pretty stiff competition. Jeff Bagwell's 1994 campaign was special in a lot of ways. Berkman so far has the same feel, but the summer months will tell the tale.

1994 was my freshman year in college. The dorms didn't have cable, so we had to go to the sports bar to watch games. Bagwell couldn't get out (or so it seemed). In effect, 1994 was his coming out party. He shattered the franchise home run record by early August. When the players walked out in 1994 it stopped one of the best campaigns any player had put up in any season.

Lance Berkman and Jeff Bagwell play the same position and have put up eerily similar numbers through their same age (Berkman is now 31). The only thing missing from the Berkman resume is the MVP season. Maybe 2008 is the season for him. Below, you will see the numbers Bagwell would have put up in a 162 game schedule and the current 162 game pace Lance Berkman is on. It is amazing how similar those seasons are.

                       AVG   OBP   SLG   HR   Runs   RBI
2004 Jeff Bagwell     .368  .451  .750   57    153   171
2008 Lance Berkman    .391  .472  .808   58    174   166

Before we start drooling over Lance Berkman we need to remember that Bagwell played half of his games in the Astrodome. While MMP is technically neutral it does favor home run hitters slightly. The Astrodome was murder for power hitters. Naturally, this isn't Berkman's fault, but it is a special consideration for Bagwell.

I hate to pin greatness on counting stats, but outside of Billy Hamilton from the 19th century, 174 runs scored is nearly unheard of. If Berkman even approaches these numbers (say 150 runs scored and 150 driven in) he might get that elusive MVP that Bagwell earned in 1994. If that happens there won't be much separating the two at this point in their respective careers.

Praising Berkman is popular right now. The weather vane over at the Chronicle wrote a glowing article about him. It's too bad that same columnist was questioning his leadership this winter. Over the long haul, many observers have criticized Berkman for who he is not: Bagwell. Bagwell was a fundamentally sound a player as one could fine. He was superb defensively and no one ran the bases better. More importantly, he never had the kind of brain farts Berkman seems to have at times.

All that being said, Berkman is on pace to have career highs in stolen bases (by a very wide margin), readjusted zone rating, and outs outside of the zone. In other words, he has become the complete player even if it has been for only two months. So, when the streak finally ends it will become popular to point out Berkman's flaws again. Let the weather vane blow with the proverbial winds of public opinion. I choose to appreciate Berkman for who he is.

Check out my blog at http://commons.chron.com/barzilla