How Many More Years Does Berkman Need to Play?

This week we received news of two notable retirements, Nomar Garciaparra and Brian Giles. Both ranked among the best players of their time, and will probably receive some Hall of Fame consideration. Satchel Price took on Garciapparra’s case while Ben Jedlovec discussed Giles’s, but both concluded that the players will likely fall short. I guess those articles put the Hall of Fame in the front of my mind, because when I read that Lance Berkman might miss Opening Day following knee surgery, I wondered about his chances of enshrinement in the future.

The numbers Berkman has accumulated in his 11 big league seasons are nothing short of spectacular. He has hit .299/.412/.555, good for a .408 wOBA. His career OPS+, 147, matches that of Alex Rodriguez, while his wOBA falls just .004 short of A-Rod. With numbers like that, comparable with one of the best players of this generation, it might seem like Berkman has a strong Hall case. Unfortunately, this surface analysis leaves out a number of important factors.

One major aspect that separates Berkman and Rodriguez is position. Through his career Berkman has played the outfield and first base, spending some time in center, but mostly at the corners. Meanwhile, Rodriguez has posted his stats as a shortstop and third baseman, where offense isn’t as easily found. Still, a 147 OPS+ and .408 wOBA represents an excellent career, no matter the position. In other words, while voters should keep Berkman’s position in mind, his rate stats are at a level where it shouldn’t be a deal breaker.

What might cost Berkman support is his time in the league. He has played 11 big league seasons, though only 10 with more than 400 PA and nine with more than 550. That puts him a bit short in the counting stats, which certainly count heavily with voters. He’s accumulated just 1,575 career hits and 313 home runs, leaving him a bit short by HOF standards.

Berkman still has plenty of time, at least by traditional standards. He will play 2010 at age 34, which means he could still have a number of productive seasons. After 2010, assuming he recovers well from the knee surgery, he should have somewhere around 50 career WAR (from the career WAR leaderboard), which would put him around 170th all-time. He also figures to pass a number of Hall of Famers this year, including Kirby Puckett. With a few more productive seasons he could push himself ahead of a few more HOFers.

The question, though, is of whether Berkman will continue to play into his late 30s. The Astros hold a $15 million option for 2011, and given their financial situation they might decline it. At that point Berkman could sign else where — and he’s already said that he’d probably depart Houston in that case — but that’s not a certainty. Berkman has said that he could retire if he feels he’s not as productive as he wants to be. Retirement after the 2010 or 2011 seasons would almost certainly kill his Hall chances. If he remains healthy for, say, four more seasons, though, maybe he can make a case.

At 313 career home runs, it’s a long shot for Berkman to hit the 500 mark over the next four seasons. He’d have to average 47 per season, a mark he has never attained. At his current 162-game average, 34, he’d have to play five and a half more seasons — and that doesn’t even factor in declining skills. It could realistically take him six or seven more seasons to hit that mark, and it doesn’t sound like Berkman would be up for that. We can also rule out the 3,000 hit club, as it took him 11 seasons to get even halfway there. In other words, even if he plays through 2013 he’s going to be a tough sell to the HOF voters.

Then again, there are players in the Hall with far lesser numbers. Take Puckett for instance. He posted a career 124 OPS+ and had just 2,304 its and 207 home runs. If Berkman plays another four seasons he’ll come close to Puckett’s hit total, while beating him in just about every other offensive category. Puckett’s main advantage, of course, was that he played center field in 1,432 of his 1,729 career games. Even with the positional adjustment, though, Berkman figures to surpass Puckett in WAR this season, Berkman’s 12th, the same number of seasons Puckett played.

Chances are that once he hangs up his cleats, we’ll see articles about Berkman similar to the ones we saw about Garciaparra and Giles. Like the other two, he ranks among the best players of his time, but he falls short in terms of voter criteria. If he posts four more seasons of 5 WAR ball, he’ll be up at the level of Ozzie Smith, Tim Raines, and Roberto Alomar. Will the voters a decade from now recognize that? If they do perhaps Berkman has a case. Otherwise, it appears he’ll finish just outside the threshold.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Tom B
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Tom B
6 years 3 months ago

How are either of those players (nomar and giles) going to receive HOF consideration? Giles must be a sarcastic joke… and Nomar averaged 100 games a season for his career.

all4tookie
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all4tookie
6 years 3 months ago

Follow the links he posted above about each player and their respective careers.

Tom B
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Tom B
6 years 3 months ago

oh, thanks. i hadn’t thought of that.

Stan S.
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6 years 3 months ago

I’m sure he meant something like staying on the ballot for a few years and topping out at 25 votes. Neither guy is going to be part of a legitimate debate.

Bill
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Bill
6 years 3 months ago

Nomar played several seasons in a huge media market where he was the best position player on the team. He will definitely be considered on that basis alone.

I agree that Giles will not receive any consideration.

Also keep in mind the author is not acknowledging the validity of the case, simply stating it will be brought up.

PL
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PL
6 years 3 months ago

Giles was a better hitter than Andre Dawson and Jim Rice, and they are both in the HOF.

PL
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PL
6 years 3 months ago

All I know is that Andre Dawson wasnt very good at hitting and doesnt deserve to be in the HOF and if Rice never had Fenway as his home field he wouldnt be in either.

Giles and Berkman arent even in the same discussion as Dawson and Rice, they are simply so much better than them its an insult to the term “good hitter” when talking about them as a group.

Steve
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Steve
6 years 3 months ago

All I know is that Andre Dawson wasnt very good at hitting

whoah, slow down there. Andre Dawson hit 438 HRs and slugged .482 over about 10,000+ plate appearances. He had an OPS+ greater than 110 in 12 seasons and a career OPS+ of 119.

He was, by any objective measure, “good at hitting”.

Now, his sub-par OBP certainly clouds his HOF resume and makes him a borderline case that possibly (probably) did not warrant inclusion. I am not debating this.

But to say that either Dawson or Rice were not “good hitters” is simply insane. By definition, if you are a borderline HoF case, even if you are on the “out” side of the line, you were pretty “good” at baseball.

MikeS
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MikeS
6 years 3 months ago

Berkman is probably a good candidate for the “Hall of the Very Good for a Long Time.”

Resolution
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Resolution
6 years 3 months ago

There are two other things that may help him (though I agree he’s been awesome but nowhere near a safe bet for enshrinement)

1. He was (presumably) clean during the PED era.

2. (And this one’s more significant in my opinion) He’s put up these awesome numbers as a switch hitter.

deadpool
Member
6 years 3 months ago

Your problem with the switch hitter argument is that he’ll probably be going in at the same time as or a little after Chipper, who’ll be ahead of him in every offensive category and has more balanced numbers from both sides. If Chipper goes in before Berkman comes up then the switch hitter argument for Berkman loses luster, but if Chipper’s not in when Berkman comes up the question will become, how can we vote Berkman in if we’ve turned down Chipper?

Steve
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Steve
6 years 3 months ago

Serious question: Why does the “switch hitting” thing matter? Are you saying that if you had two players with the exact same numbers, and one player accumulated his hitting from one side of the plate and the other from both, you’d give the nod to the latter over the former? Why?

Mike Green
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Mike Green
6 years 3 months ago

Assuming that he recovered from his injury, and played from age 35-39 with a typical decline phase, he would be a marginal Hall of Fame candidate (with a little less than 60 WAR) on merit.

Berkman is pretty much anonymous though, so unless he ends up in a high profile place beginning in 2011, I don’t like his chances.

Jamie
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Jamie
6 years 3 months ago

I don’t think comparisons to Kirby Puckett should ever be factored into HOF conversations. Puckett was a fan/media favorite with a tragic story. He kind of got HOF “bonus points” for the career he would’ve had. You apparently only get these for non-injury related physical disability. (Sorry Nomar, Albert Belle, et al.).

My point being that while Berkman compares favorably to Puckett, so do a whole lot of guys on the outside of the HOF looking in.

cptspandex
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cptspandex
6 years 3 months ago

I agree, and the Puckett debate is getting old. It’s lazy. Everytime someone references a borderline HOF, the Puckett comparisons come out. Puckett won 2 World Series championships in 12 years, and had a career cut short by injury — one that was on a HOF path. So with all due respect to the Jim Rice (he eventually made it in), Albert Belle, Dale Murphy type candidates, comparisons to Puckett do not work.

Scottwood
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Scottwood
6 years 3 months ago

Length of career shouldn’t factor into a HOF choice? Why shouldn’t Puckett be penalized b/c his career was cut short and he didn’t accumulate as much value over the course of his career as other more deserving candidates did?

cptspandex
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cptspandex
6 years 3 months ago

Scottwood, you miss the point ENTIRELY. Puckett does not make a good comparison for that very reason. Unless, of course, you want to start including all hitters with similar numbers to Puckett — Jamie notes.

You don’t use a player with career-shortened statistics as a measuring stick.

JR
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JR
6 years 3 months ago

His near identical comp when he’s finished, I think, will be Larry Walker (and, actually, another Rockie-Todd Helton). And whatever happens to Walker will follow for Berkman.

Giles just didn’t have the raw numbers (or even the advanced numbers) to match Berkman in a serious HoF comp. Garciaparra’s short period of production in his career precludes him from comparison.

Stan S.
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6 years 3 months ago

I think it will be interesting to see what happens to Edgar Martinez. Berkman is better than Edgar in every way- longevity (presumably), length of his peak, actually played a position and provided some value there.

Personally, I don’t see any way Edgar should be in, but if he is, then Berkman skates in easily.

Rob
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Rob
6 years 3 months ago

Martinez is far superior to Berkman. While its far from definitive, Martinez has 67.2 Wins above replacement, #66 all time among position players, Berkman is at 44.7 or 220th among position players.

http://www.baseballprojection.com/war/top500.htm

JayCee
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JayCee
6 years 3 months ago

You may be correct, but it’s worth noting that Berkman on his best day could never carry Larry Walker’s jock er glove when it came to defense. Walker in his prime was one of the best RFers of the modern era.

SharksRog
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SharksRog
6 years 3 months ago

This is far from a scientific appraisal, but Lance doesn’t feel like a Hall of Famer. Keep in mind, too, that getting into the Hall is going to become increasingly hard, since there are more qualified, nearly qualified and just qualified enough to dilute the voting candidates who will indeed dilute the voting and make it more and more diffficult to get the requisite 75% of votes.

Within a few years of each other, the voters will have Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux, Jeff Kent, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz on their ballots.

Jamie
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Jamie
6 years 3 months ago

I unscientifically concur. And since HOF voters vote on “feel”, it probably matters more than facts. It won’t help Berkman that he a) never won an MVP, b) led the league in RBI one season, doubles in two, and nothing in the rest and, c) spent the first few years of his career as the third best player on his own team.

OremLK
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OremLK
6 years 3 months ago

Hard to win an MVP award competing with Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols throughout your prime.

OremLK
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OremLK
6 years 3 months ago

I’d say this question depends much on how mainstream sabermetric studies become. A huge portion of Berkman’s value is his ability to take a walk (15.4% over the course of his career, and over 16% after 2002), but the Hall doesn’t care much about walks at this time.

Another wild card in his favor is that he is one of the best switch hitters of all time, something which is at least unique and may set him apart in the minds of voters, though it’s a distinction of dubious real-world value.

It’s very hard for me to see Berkman making a push for 500 HR, much less 3,000 hits, but 2,000/400 should be within reach if he cares enough to pursue those milestones.

cptspandex
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cptspandex
6 years 3 months ago

You are probably correct in that walks are not noticed by Hall Voters, but I think OBP is far more valuable. The sad thing is, OBP trumps BA in every way, yet voters still get hung up on a number like .300. He obviously won’t reach the counting stats, so he needs a philosophical shift towards sabermetrics to get him in.

Voters are still too hung up on mainstreat generic stats, and that’s the OLD way of doing things.

JayCee
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JayCee
6 years 3 months ago

I love Berkman- he’s from my alma mater. But he is fading very quickly. I think his relative lack of “athleticism”, relative to other star players, not to you and I, is really catching up with him.

mymrbig
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mymrbig
6 years 3 months ago

Go Rice! Berkman is one of those guys that is more athletic that he looks. Not saying he is now, but he could move around.

OremLK
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OremLK
6 years 3 months ago

I should mention that as an Astros fan, I would, of course, love to see Berkman get into the Hall alongside Biggio and Bagwell. I would think that all three of the greatest “Killler B’s” getting in would seem very appropriate to any Houston fan.

Rick
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Rick
6 years 3 months ago

Can Derek Bell at least get a small “Operation Shutdown” display in a Cooperstown closet somewhere?

Jason B
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Jason B
6 years 3 months ago

Exactly what I was thinking – how about a little love for the 4th “Killer B” !! Who inexplicably wore pajama bottoms as pants.

Hey, even if you’re killing team chemistry and not the baseball, you’re still killing *something* …

SchmidtXC
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SchmidtXC
6 years 3 months ago

He ranked 3rd, 5th, 5th, and 2nd in wOBA among left fielders from 2001-2004, and 7th, 3rd, 8th, 2nd, and 12th among 1st basemen from 2005-2009. He did all of this primarily in a very hitter friendly environment while playing defense at about an average level (at the bottom of the defensive spectrum). You could certainly make the argument that he was among the better players at his positions in this era (although he likely doesn’t sit nearly as high on the list at first), but I really can’t see a good argument that he’s a hall of famer. There really wasn’t even a season where you could argue that he was the best player in the majors at his position. He’s a very good player, but he’ll likely never even get within sniffing distance of the hall without some major chemically enhanced late career numbers.

OremLK
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OremLK
6 years 3 months ago

I don’t think this is really a fair way to look at it. You have to look at the era in which Berkman has played.

Four of the top ten all time leaders in career OPS played in their prime at the same time Berkman played in his: Barry Bonds (LF), Albert Pujols (1B), Manny Ramirez (LF), and Todd Helton (1B).

Lance Berkman is currently 16th on that same list (career on-base plus slugging).

SchmidtXC
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SchmidtXC
6 years 3 months ago

Looking at a rate stat like that is great at the end of a guys career, but you’re currently comparing a guy just entering his decline phase to players who have already got that phase included in their rates. That stat is likely at the highest point it will reach for the remainder of his career. By the time he retires several other guys from his era will likely be ahead of him (Walker and Thome are near certainties, and there are quite a few other possibilities), and there will be several others that reach 3000 PA’s and surpass him by qualifying for the list (as well as several youngsters who are just entering their primes that will likely pass him). There are also several other guys from the current era who are ahead of him (McGwire, Thomas) even though their primes were several years apart from Berkmans. If he managed to play 5 more seasons at that OPS, he’d likely have a very good case, but it’s highly unlikely.

SchmidtXC
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SchmidtXC
6 years 3 months ago

And I don’t really think that OPS is the best stat to look at here. If you’re going to use a rate stat, wOBA does a far better job at valuing OBP and power. He’s currently 52nd all time, but it’s reasonable to assume he won’t be in the top 100 when he retires unless he does it very soon.

OremLK
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OremLK
6 years 3 months ago

OPS is probably a lot closer to what Hall Voters will evaluate based upon, SchmidtXC, and we’ll be lucky if it’s that. More likely they’ll pay more attention to batting average, number of hits, home runs, and championships won.

OremLK
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OremLK
6 years 3 months ago

Oh, and steroids (or lack thereof), which is probably one of the biggest factors in favor of Berkman, when he’s going to be compared to a bunch of hitters who are known to have used them.

mookieljl
Member
mookieljl
6 years 3 months ago

With all due respect, as soon as I saw the headline of the story I guessed that the author must be be no more than 25 years old. Lance Berkman, though a good player, has literally dozens of non-HOF comparables. If Berkman is near the end of his career we will need Albert Belle, Dick Allen, and Juan Gonzalez to get serious HOF consideration (and they never will) before we can talk about Lance getting in. If Berkman has 6 more really good seasons he might be mentioned with Gary Sheffield who will probably have a hard time getting in himself. Heck, Berkman isn’t a lot better than Ken Singleton at this point and the sentence I am writing right now is the first one ever to include both “Ken Singleton” and “Hall of Fame”.

OremLK
Guest
OremLK
6 years 3 months ago

Are you kidding? You’re joking, right? Ken Singleton had .824 career OPS in 14 seasons, Berkman has .967 in ten. They’re not even close. If you prefer wOBA, how about .370 for Singleton versus .408 for Berkman?

Berkman would have to decline MASSIVELY to be even close to comparable. He is a much better hitter than Singleton ever was.

mookieljl
Member
mookieljl
6 years 3 months ago

Nope, not kidding at all. Ken Singleton through age 33 had a career OPS+ of 139. Berkman has a 147 through 33. Yes, Berkman is better but not by a mile. KS was in the top 10 in OBP 9 times in his career vs 8 times for Berkman. Both guys had pop and walked a ton. Both guys were top ten 6 times in runs created. Berkman played in an era when way more HRs were hit so his stats look better on the surface but the two guys are actually quite similar. Singleton would be one of those players that sabre guys love if he played today.

Steve
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Steve
6 years 3 months ago

I think Sheffield will get in, probably for the wrong reasons. He will get in b/c his “bat waggle was INTIMIDATING” and for a slugger, he has very low strikeout totals. Writers will love that. Getting over the 500 HR plateau was big too.

He’s tainted with the steroids issue, but writers will probably identify at least part of his career with the era before the “steroid era”. I think he sneaks in.

SF 55 for life
Member
SF 55 for life
6 years 3 months ago

“With all due respect, as soon as I saw the headline of the story I guessed that the author must be be no more than 25 years old.”

I know this isn’t a good agument but there are worse players in the HOF now than Berkman, Juan Gonzalez, Albert Belle, and Dick Allen.

Fangraphs should just make their own hall of fame, have the fans and the writers do a vote or something.

Jenju
Member
Jenju
6 years 3 months ago

Maybe this has been stated already- but the hall doesnt just vote on perormance
“voting shall be based upon the individual’s record, ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the game” some people get in being a very good player but much better in these other areas, personally i don’t think its too far fetched to see more emphasis put on the integrity, character, contribution to the game categories in the future- because of the “steroid era”

--------
Guest
--------
6 years 3 months ago

How about a trade of Aaron Poreda, Logan Forsythe, Saywer Carroll, and Will Venable for Grady Sizemore and Justin Masterson. The Padres lineup becomes:
1. Everth Cabrera
2. David Eckstien
3. Grady Sizemore
4. Adrian Gonzalez
5. Kyle Blanks
6. Scott Hairston
7. Chase Headley
8. Nick Hundley

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
6 years 3 months ago

This is incredibly relevant to the Berkman HOF discussion. I can’t believe, with all the germane arguments and counter-arguments being tossed about, that everyone left out this make-believe Indians/Pads trade…

Gilbert
Guest
Gilbert
6 years 3 months ago

As an aging non-Astros fan I get the careers of Bagwell and Berkman blurred so I’m surprised people aren’t saying how Bagwell does in HOF voting (same market, mostly same postion, mostly same postseason exposure) would indicate what voters will say about Berkman.

OremLK
Guest
OremLK
6 years 3 months ago

Good point. Bagwell is actually a pretty great comparison.

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