What does Lance Berkman's absence mean to the Astros?

When I woke up this morning, I decided that I wanted to try and quantify exactly what the impact of Lance Berkman's DL stint will be on the Astros. Many, many moons ago I tried to do something like this with Adam Everett and Mark Loretta, but I really had no clue what I was doing (rereading it now, I laugh). The reason for today's exercise is because of yesterday's news that Lance Berkman is eyeing next Wednesday for his return. While I call BS, it is still the tentative date on which we will receive our best hitter back in a lineup that has struggled in his absence. We have to hang our hats on something, right?

The entire Astros lineup has been in a wicked slump through three games (is possible to be in a slump if it's the first three games of the season?), but I want to see if we can explore just want Lance Berkman's absence in the lineup means. I've decided to ignore defense because, in all honesty, I don't think there is a meaningful enough difference between Lance, Geoff, and Pedro at first base to warrant calculating anything.

What I have done is first calculate an average of all three's offensive projections, and then calculated how many runs, above/below average will be gained/lost over 30 PA (the approximate duration until Berkman returns next week). Now, I know this number is flawed, because Feliz and Blum have actually amassed PAs this season, and I know that there is more to scoring runs comparing wOBAs over 30 PA. So, I will discuss all of that goodness, too.

But all of it will be done after the jump.

I will start with the Puma's projected wOBA (for PECOTA, I took the weighted mean and used Tango's orignal linear weights for multiply each variable).

Projection System wOBA
Bill James 0.4
CHONE 0.381
Marcel 0.382
ZiPs 0.397
PECOTA (w/m) 0.405
Average 0.393

Next I did the same for Geoff Blum (PECOTA really, really likes him):

Projection System wOBA
Bill James 0.289
CHONE 0.294
Marcel 0.299
ZiPs 0.309
PECOTA (w/m) 0.326
Average 0.303

And then Pedro Feliz (again, PECOTA is his friend):

Projection System wOBA
Bill James 0.304
CHONE 0.308
Marcel 0.302
ZiPs 0.302
PECOTA (w/m) 0.322
Average 0.308

Then—just for funsies—I averaged Blum and Feliz's wOBA's together since they're splitting time at 1B. I know—not very scientific, but I wanted quick and dirty. The average (using their unrounded average wOBA's) is .3055. Because wOBA is easily calculated into runs by taking wOBA and subtracting league average wOBA (I'm assuming .331), then dividing that by 1.15 and multiplying by PA, turning the Feliz/Blum wOBA into runs was fairly simply:

((.3055-.331)/1.15)*30

They spat out a result of 0.67 runs below average over a 30 PA sample. Doing the same with Berkman's wOBA, we find that he is worth 1.62 runs above average during a 30 PA sample. So, the net effect of substituting Feliz/Blum for Berkman, over 30 PAs, is a loss of 2.28 runs above average (for those of you looking at these numbers and scratching your head just know that I've rounded everything I'm reporting). Since this is 30 PA of seven games, having Berkman on the DL will cost the Astros—theoretically—0.33 runs per game.

If I were to stop there, we could reasonably conclude that having the Puma in the dugout hasn't really been the culprit behind the Astros struggles at all. But to do so, would be to ignore how run production works (that entire series is worth a diligent read). Each batter's PA interacts with the batter ahead and behind him. It's why you need to be a genius with Markov chains to effectively model lineup optimization. In reality, Lance Berkman is likely the straw that stirs the Astros lineup's drink.

The last three games we have all bemoaned the quick innings, the lack of men on base, and the wasted opportunities. Sure, it has only been three games, and the sample size is meaningless, but I can't shake the feeling that if Lance Berkman were in the lineup, things would be different. Not only would the ordering of the lineup be more conducive to run production, but I think the lineup would have its mojo too. I don't mean to suggest that there is some kind of metaphysical aura which eludes statistics that the lineup needs to function, rather that not having Lance Berkman in the lineup throws off the all the other interactions of our lineup.

So what does Lance Berkman's stint on the DL mean to the Astros? In isolation probably 2-3 runs above average over seven games. In reality, I think it means a whole lot more, and I would go as far to venture probably close to a win. And, to paraphrase Astros County, it makes me rethink his $15 million option just a little bit.

Finally, my good, if not best, friends just released their new album on iTunes. Because I love them and have this soapbox, I highly suggest you guys give them a listen (The Lucky One and Jimmy Page are the "singles"). Once you do, I'd suggest buying their album and supporting their starving artist lifestyle—only if you like them, of course.

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