StrategyJuly 9, 2011

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Buyer Beware: Lance Berkman

By Josh Shepardson

It’s easy to see Lance Berkman is having quite a resurgent year, his first in St. Louis. Those who invested a draft pick in him this year are being rewarded handsomely. That said, now is selling time on Berkman, even if it appears at face value that you’re taking a slight loss.

Typically I don’t put much stock in a player’s pre-all-star break and post-all-star break splits, but the difference in Berkman’s home run output is rather substantial and shown itself true over a fairly large sample of work. Prior to the all-star break Berkman hits a home run in every 15.20 at bats, while post all-star break he clears the fence less frequently hitting a home run once every 19.75 at bats. Recent history, namely the last two years, has been especially unkind to his home run output, likely making it difficult to sell him at full value to cognizant owners.

Looking beyond just his career numbers paints a gloomier outlook for the second half of the season. Spending most of his career in Houston, and even including his brief time in New York, he has called a launching pad his home. According to The 2011 Bill James Handbook Minute Maid Park has amplified home runs by 10 percent over the last three seasons. Conversely, Busch Stadium has reduced home run production by 18 percent over the same time frame. How has Berkman responded to his new digs? Well he’s posted a career best home-run-per-fly ball rate (HR/FB) of 28.6 percent. To put that number in perspective, his career best HR/FB rate was 24.6 percent in 2006, a year in which he hit 45 home runs, also a career best. His career HR/FB rate is 19.3 percent (which is better than each of his past three season marks). Understanding he has been nicked up each of the last few years, I can see why it might be best to shy away from those rates and use his career mark as a barometer of healthy performance. That said, his career rate comes, as I alluded to earlier, at a launching pad, making projecting his rest of year rate a bit trickier.

Out of curiousity I decided to take a peek at his Home Run Tracker information. I’m not exactly sure what to make of the info, but here are a few things that stood out to me. On the season, seven of his 24 home runs qualified as “just enough,” shots. Just looking at raw totals doesn’t seem like the best way of determining how “lucky,” a player is, since the more home runs a player hits, the more opportunities they have to squeak balls out. Viewing it as a percentage, 29.17 percent of his home runs were of the “just enough,” variety. Even still, the home run king last season, and yet again this season, Jose Bautista has seen an even higher percentage of his home runs classified in the “just enough,” category (34.48 percent to be exact, prior to Saturday’s two home run game). Tough to draw a firm conclusion from that data, but when taken in context with the rest of the information at our disposal, I would suspect some of his cheapies turn into warning track outs to set his HR/FB regression in motion. His average true distance and standard distance on his home runs are better than both the National League average and the Major League average. It’s safe to say the Big Puma is still a source of power, but to use a gambling expression, it’s time to cash out while his value is at its peak.

Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
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