Lance Berkman's Approach at the plate: The Astros' First Baseman Under the Microscope

**Update**: I just noticed that AstrosAndy made a fanpost a few days ago about Mr. Berkman. I think our approaches to looking at Lance's swing will reinforce one another's articles. Studying for finals has made me a little less observant around here. Andy, my sincerest apologies if I've stepped on your toes!

The struggles of Lance Berkman have been well chronicled. Our offense revolves around Lance, and with the improvements of Michael Bourn, and with Kaz Matsui coming on, it's imperative that Lance dig himself out of this hole he's been in. What do the number say about Puma's season thus far?

For starters, Lance is striking out much more than he ever has in his career. A 27.8% K rate is usually reserved for free swingers, not someone who chooses to swing at pitches meticulously. His BB% of 17.2 is Berkman's highest since 2004, but I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not. As I mentioned earlier, one of Lance's strengths is his plate discipline. He has become downright Bagwell-ian in his knowledge of the strike zone. However, there are limits to patience, and it seemed to me that throughout this season Berkman has been unwilling to take the bat off his shoulder in situations that warranted it. After taking a look at his swing percentages, my observation proved to be true nearly across the board:

O Swing % Z Swing % Swing % O Contact % Z Contact % Contact %
2009 Season 20.4 63.6 41.5 48.7 79.1 71.4
Career 17.9 72.0 43.8 44.6 86.2 77.4

 

Just as a reminder, Z Swing % is the percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone, O Swing % is the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone, and the rest of the stats are pretty much self explanatory with the aforementioned two in mind.

His BB and K rates are directly related to this grouping of statistics. We can see that Lance is swinging much more frequently at pitches outside of the strike zone. Despite the fact that he's making contact with those pitches at a higher percentage than he ever has, those aren't the kind of pitches that hard hit balls usually come from. Usually when a hitter expands his hitting zone, he lunges at the ball to a certain extent, simply wanting to...make contact.

On the other side of things, Lance is letting strikes go right past him at a ridiculously high rate. On top of that, he's also making contact with those pitches at a historically low rate. This should go a long way to helping us figure out why he's striking out so much.

Lance's hit chart displays his pretty much all or nothing season so far. He has no doubles and no triples. 2009 hopefully isn't shaping up to be like 2007, a season where Berkman had only one double going into June.

Simply put, Lance is swinging more at balls and less at strikes than he ever has at at virtually any point in his career. For the Astros offense to sniff respectability, these numbers are going to have to adjust back towards his career lines. Being an aggressive, opportunistic hitter has helped Berkman become one of the greatest hitters, well, ever. At 33, he knows how to snap himself out of these mini slumps, and hopefully that will come sooner rather than later.

 

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