I wrote about Lance Berkman and his Hall of Fame chances back in May 2012, when he first contemplated retirement following knee surgery while still with the Cardinals. He managed to return later that season for a few games and then had one more go in 2013 with the Rangers, but his knees finally got the best of him and he has officially announced his retirement: "It doesn't make sense to play in the physical condition I'm in," he told MLB.com.
Berkman's final career numbers: .293/.406/.537, 366 home runs, 1,234 RBIs, 51.8 WAR.
Great career. We'll miss you, Lance.
Berkman's final triple-slash line is pretty close to former teammate Jeff Bagwell, who finished at .297/.408/.540.
Back in 2012, I wrote:
Hall voters, of course, require a tough-to-dissect combination of peak value and career value. After struggling in 2010 with a knee injury, Berkman bounced back with a terrific 2011, hitting .301 with 31 homers. He had a great World Series, hitting .423, driving in five runs, scoring nine. The Cardinals won it all. In 52 career postseason games, his batting line is .317/.417/.532. I'll take that, thank you.
So where does that leave us?
A player who was one of the elite hitters of his generation.
Ten Hall of Fame-caliber seasons, plus a great partial season in 2000 (.297/.388/.561 in 114 games) and a not-so-great 2010.
A terrific postseason performer.
A player who didn't win an MVP award but fared well in the voting.
On the negative side: Not much defensive or baserunning value, a late career start (his first big year came at 25) and relatively low career totals.
Two years ago, I wrote that Berkman's 10 strong years was enough for me. Now, I'm not so sure. Back to Bagwell. Berkman's career WAR falls way below Bagwell's 79.5. Why? For starters, Bagwell played 271 more games. More of his career took place in the Astrodome, a pitcher's park, so the runs Bagwell created were worth more than the runs Berkman created at Minute Maid Field, where the run environment was higher. (Berkman played only 25 games in the Astrodome.) Bagwell has a big advantage on the bases as he was worth 31 runs above average while Berkman was 23 runs below average, a swing of about five wins of value. Bagwell was a terrific defender, Berkman wasn't.
Historically, the BBWAA favors longevity -- think Eddie Murray or Andre Dawson or Tony Perez -- over guys with higher peaks and shorter careers (think Dale Murphy, Edgar Martinez or Larry Walker). But does Berkman even compare to Martinez (68.3 WAR) or Walker (72.6 WAR)? His career WAR places him more in the Fred McGriff/Jeff Kent class in terms of value, and considering his relatively low totals of home runs and RBIs for a corner outfielder/first baseman (he did play more games in the outfield in his career), Berkman has virtually no chance to get elected via the BBWAA, even if he is a member of the all-interview team.
So check back in 25 years when he's up for consideration via the Veterans Committee.
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One final note: Should Berkman have remained a switch-hitter? In his career, he hit .304/.420/.575 from the left side, .260/.360/.417 from the right side. Left-handed batters do typically have a larger platoon split than right-handed batters -- on average, lefties produced about 32 points less of wOBA against left-handed pitchers than against right-handed pitchers. Berkman had .416 wOBA from the left side, .341 from the right side, a 75-point difference. It's possible he would have been better off just sticking to the left side. Of course, every individual is different, and Berkman obviously deduced he was still better off switch-hitting.
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The all-time switch-hitting team:
C -- Ted Simmons
1B -- Eddie Murray
2B -- Frankie Frisch or Roberto Alomar
3B -- Chipper Jones
SS -- Ozzie Smith (he actually has the highest career offensive WAR of any switch-hitting shortstop)
LF -- Tim Raines
CF -- Mickey Mantle
RF -- Carlos Beltran
DH -- Lance Berkman (hey, he was a DH for the Rangers)
UT -- Pete Rose
P -- Carlos Zambrano (hitting only)