Tuesday, May 25, 2004


One of my favourite current players (and no doubt the guy Billie Beane dreams of whenever he looks at Nick Swisher) is finally returning to form. As of yesterday, Lance Berkman is hitting .347/.495/.646 (.384 GPA), reestablishing himself as one of the best two or three non-Barry hitters in the senior circuit. This after a disappointing .288/.412/.515 season in 2003 that saw a chunk of his power lost to a series of nagging wrist injuries.

The news gets even better when you look at his splits. The switch hitter is batting .347/.500/.661 as a lefty and .346/.469/.577 as a righty. That's like going from Ted Williams to Frank Thomas--it's a drop, but it sure aint much of one. Given Berkman has shown a strong platoon disadvantage against southpaws for most of his career, it's an extremely encouraging start and should kill the speculation that Berk should drop the whole switch-hitter trick. (Check out this year's copy of Baseball Prospectus if you don't believe me.)

And despite the Juice Box's reputation as a hitter's park, he's posted a positively Bondsian .389/.500/.833 in 72 AB on the road to go alongside a still-respectful .306/.490/.458 at home.

So, where you bat a guy who's getting on base nearly half the time and near the top in the league in slugging?

The correct answer is fifth (although up until a couple of weeks ago, the answer was sixth).

Yup, Jimy still has Berkman batting behind Biggio, Everett, Bagwell, and Kent.

I don%92t have a problem with Biggio leading off. He doesn't walk much anymore, and he doesn't run like he used to, but as long as he's making contact and his average is up around .300 he'll get on at a .360 clip. Combine that with a .500 SLG and you've got a useful hitter at the top of the order.

Everett's particularly painful in the number 2 spot. His .270 average hides the fact that he's a certified out-maker. He leads the league with ten sacrifices and you'd be hard pressed to say whether it's his .314 OBP or .379 SLG that's more damaging. And it's not like he's going to "come around". The 27-year-old Everett's a career .250/.314/.357 hitter.

As for Bagwell and Kent, they're are doing nothing to disprove that they're in their decline phases. (Coincidentally, 2000 was the last time either one had a an OPS over 1.000.) Bagwell's currently hitting .297/.421/.468, while Kent is hitting .304/.342/.518.

Despite that healthy OBP, I doubt Bagwell would accept being moved up to the number 2 spot, because in his mind that's not where a Hall of Fame slugger bats. Given the troubles Larry Dierker had trying to sway Bagwell with his own sabermetrical explanations, I'd be more tempted to move Ensberg up instead. Ensberg's got decent speed which the traditionalists like at the top of the order, and while his current .336 OBP isn't what you'd like from that spot, I'd expect it to improve closer to his .362 career mark by the year's end. And it's already much better than what Everett's doing.

Going Biggio, Ensberg, Berkman, Bagwell, Kent, Hidalgo before Everett and Asmus (yeesh) seems the best way to construct the Astros lineup.

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