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Home Runs and Lance Berkman

In six of the last eight seasons, Lance Berkman has drawn support in the MVP balloting. Last year he ranked fifth in the National League, following a season in which he batted .312-29-106-114-18. According to Last Player Picked, that was the ninth-best season by a hitter in 2008. Berkman was the second-best first baseman behind only Albert Pujols in fantasy last year, but this year he has an ADP of 15 and on average is the fifth player picked from his position.

Part of the reason for Berkman’s relatively low rank this year is his second-half fade in 2008. After going .327/.444/.613 before the break, Berkman posted a .276/.354/.449 slash line in the second half. Streakiness is nothing new to Berkman, who followed up an .839 OPS in the first half of 2007 with a .970 OPS after the break.

Berkman displayed a full season of excellence in 2006, when he posted a .315-45-136-95-3 line. That year he set career-highs in both FB% (41.8) and HR/FB (24.6). Last year his HR/FB rate was down to 16.6 percent, his lowest mark since the 2003 season.

What you expect his HR output to be will have a big influence on when you decide to draft Berkman. Is he the guy who hit 40+ HRs in 2002 and 2006 or do you think he’s the guy who failed to crack 30 HRs in 2003, 2005 and 2008?

None of the four projection systems see Berkman as a 40-HR hitter this year. Bill James is the most optimistic, showing him with 33 HRs while both Marcel and Oliver show him with 28.

It is understandable why fantasy players are opting for the easier-to-project first basemen like Ryan Howard and Mark Teixeira over Berkman in early mocks. Berkman simply has not displayed the consistency from year-to-year that fantasy players desire from their early picks.

Additionally, none of our four projection systems see Berkman repeating his career-best season of 2008 in either runs or SB, which helped him to his big fantasy success last year. Without a return to form in HR, Berkman could fall to the eighth-best first baseman in fantasy, which would hardly be worth a high second-round pick.