Berkman's numbers make interesting Hall case

Former Astros great 'mildly curious' to see how he fares in this month's voting

January 14th, 2019

HOUSTON -- As one of the most feared hitters of the 2000s and clutch playoff performers of his time -- in addition to being one of the game's greatest switch-hitters -- former Astros and Cardinals slugger Lance Berkman built a terrific career through a decade-plus of consistency.
Berkman performed at a Hall of Fame caliber at his peak in the mid-2000s and played in 1,879 regular-season games in 15 seasons, amassing a .293 batting average, 422 doubles, 366 home runs, 1,234 RBIs and a .943 OPS that ranks 27th all-time in Major League history. He's on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year and brings an interesting case.

The results of this year's Hall of Fame voting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will be revealed Jan. 22 on MLB Network, and Berkman admits he's "mildly curious" to see how he fares, though he says he won't make the Hall of Fame.
"When you start out playing, it's beyond your wildest dreams that someday you'd be at least named on a Hall of Fame ballot," he said. "It's exciting to make it that far, and I guess you never know what can happen, so we'll just see how it plays out."
Berkman blended power and batting average from both sides of the plate while building a reputation as a clutch player. He anchored the lineup of the Astros' first World Series team in 2005 and led the Cardinals to the World Series title in '11. In 52 postseason games, he hit .317 with nine home runs and had 41 RBIs while posting a .949 OPS that includes a .410 average and 1.084 OPS in 11 World Series games.

In the 2000s, Berkman ranked in the top five in the National League in multiple categories, including second in RBIs (1,026), third in total bases (2,887), walks (968), doubles (357) and runs (959), fourth in homers (309), OBP (.413) and OPS (.972) and sixth in slugging (.559). In those 10 seasons, he posted an OPS higher than .900 nine times and higher than 1.000 three times.
Among switch-hitters, Berkman ranks second all-time in OPS and slugging (.537), third in OBP (.406) and sixth in homers. His 52.1 WAR ranks 10th among switch-hitters but is tops among switch-hitters that have fewer than 1,900 games played. Still, Berkman admits he probably didn't play quite long enough to build a Hall of Fame resume.
"It seems like that one of the things that the voters value is longevity," he said. "Really, I only had about 12 healthy years out of my 15 that I ended up playing. For a guy that didn't have much of a defensive metric -- I didn't play a premium defensive position -- you've got to have a lot of home runs, a lot of RBIs, and I don't know if I've got enough to get in."
Berkman, who played outfield early in his career before switching to first base in 2005 to replace the injured Jeff Bagwell, reached the 100-RBIs mark six times, hit 30 or more homers six times and had two 40-plus homer seasons. He also reached 90 walks 10 times and 100 runs five times. A six-time All Star, he finished third in the voting for the NL MVP Award twice (2002, '06) and fifth twice ('01, '08).

Last month's election of Harold Baines to the 2019 Hall of Fame class by the Today's Game Era Committee could force some voters to give players like Berkman a closer look. Berkman didn't play nearly as long as Baines to amass huge cumulative numbers, but bests Baines in OPS (.943 to .820), OPS+ (144 to 121) and WAR (52.1 to 38.7).
"I know that it's such a subjective process and subjective criteria," Berkman said. "There may be voters out there that don't care about longevity, but I'm assuming there's at least a few that do care about it. If I manage to say on the ballot somehow and over the course of time, if some of the less-traditional numbers are looked at, you could make a case based on OPS and those kinds of things that I have a pretty good candidacy. I'm definitely curious to see how that all shakes out, but I'm not sitting here holding my breath."
Berkman's long-time teammate, pitcher Roy Oswalt, is also on the ballot for the first time this year. Ultimately, Oswalt is likely in the same category as Berkman, having perhaps a Hall of Fame peak but lacking longevity.
In 13 seasons, Oswalt was 163-102 with a 3.36 ERA, 20 complete games and 1,852 strikeouts against just 520 walks. In the 2000s, he led the NL in wins, was third in ERA (3.23), fourth in innings pitched (1,803 1/3) and fifth in complete games (18). Oswalt also proved to be a clutch performer in the postseason with a 3.73 ERA in 13 appearances, and was named the MVP of the 2005 NL Championship Series.