Climbing Tal's Hill

Astros: Analyzing Lance Berkman’s case for the Baseball Hall of Fame

The longtime former Astros’ player Lance Berkman is on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time this year. Does he have a shot to get in?

It’s that time of year, folks. No, I’m not referring to the holiday season. It’s Hall of Fame voting season, where members of the Baseball Writers Association of America are submitting their ballots for the 2019 class. Twitter is ablaze with debate, though Lance Berkman of the Astros seems lost in the shuffle.

Berkman is making his first appearance on the ballot, joining former Astros teammates Billy Wagner (who has a legitimate Hall case himself), Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens, Jeff Kent, Andy Pettitte,and Miguel Tejada. Berkman’s chances of gaining entry this year are essentially zero, but is there a possibility he finds a way in at some point in the future? Let’s take a look at his case.

The Raw Numbers

Berkman’s career 52.1 WAR is solid but unspectacular when viewed in the Hall of Fame lens. But of course, the argument can be made that if Harold Baines and his career 38.7 WAR belongs in the Hall, Berkman should get in too. He didn’t provide much value defensively or on the base paths, so his value lies almost exclusively in his bat.

His counting stats are decent but not eye-popping. Berkman totaled 366 homers, 422 doubles and 1,905 hits to go with 1,234 RBIs. The main knock on those is that he last played at age 37, and three of his final four seasons were marred by injury and/or underperformance. In short, he didn’t age well, which prevented him from padding his stats.

Still, his career averages make a worthy case. His career .406 OBP ranks 43rd all time. Of the non-active players ahead of him on that list who played at least 15 seasons, the only ones not currently in the Hall are Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Todd Helton, and Manny Ramirez. He’s ahead of current Hall members Jim Thome, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron.

Berkman’s career OPS of .943 is 27th all time, one spot ahead of Willie Mays. He’s also ahead of notable players such as Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., George Brett and Al Kaline. The non-active players ahead of him on that list who played at least 15 seasons and are not in the Hall are Bonds, Ramirez, Mark McGwire, Larry Walker and Helton.

One of the Best Switch Hitters

It can be argued that Berkman is one of the five best switch hitters to ever play the game. The top tier is made up of guys like Mickey Mantle and Chipper Jones, but Berkman has a legitimate case to be listed right behind them.

For one, his career OBP, SLG and OPS are higher than Jones. The two main differences are that Jones was more balanced between his left and right side, and he had more longevity. Jones won a batting title at 36 while Berkman couldn’t stay on the field at that age.

Berkman is second all-time in OPS among switch hitters, trailing only Mantle. His OBP ranks third all-time among switch hitters, behind Mantle and Roy Cullenbine (who played just 10 seasons). His 366 homers are sixth all-time among switch-hitters, trailing Mantle, Eddie Murray, Jones, Carlos Beltran, and Mark Teixeira.

Crowded Ballot Makes it Tough

Perhaps under different circumstances, Lance Berkman would be getting more consideration. But by my estimation, there are 18 players aside from Berkman who have legitimate cases currently on the ballot. With voters only allowed to select a maximum of 10 players, only the sure-fire Hall cases are getting significant support.

Indeed, it’s going to be tough for Lance Berkman to even receive the requisite 5% needed to stay on the ballot. As of Dec. 28, he was sitting at just 1.7% on the ballots that had been revealed (thanks to Ryan Thibodaux’s vote tracker).

Perhaps a committee may take another look at Berkman at some point down the road. If they’d elect Baines, then Berkman seems to have as good a shot as anyone. But unfortunately for Astros fans, it seems the third Killer B may not be joining Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in Cooperstown anytime soon.

Next: Astros: Brent Strom named MLB Coach of the Year by Baseball America
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