Nearly two weeks ago, I wrote an article challenging fans' preconception that Lance Berkman is having a bad year. A Richard Justice blog at chron.com, which described Berkman's season as terrible, inspired me to write the article. I pointed out that Berkman's season at that point consisted of one bad month and two months with increasing performances levels in his normal range. As noted in my article, Berkman's .885 OPS at the time would have been considered an outstanding offensive performance by many star sluggers.
As Berkman has continued his offensive onslaught (Berkman's OPS+ in July is a robust 216 so far), Justice now is surprised to discover that Berkman is having a good year:
Anyway, someone on ESPN said Berkman was one of the players that has a legitimate beef about being left off the NL All-Star team. I thought that was crazy. I mean it has been in all the papers and on all the talk shows.
So I looked up his numbers. We're halfway through the season, and if Berkman has another half-season just like this first half, here are his numbers:
.398 OBP, 34 HRs, 96 RBIs, 32 doubles, 118 walks.
If this is the new working definition of lousy, then the Astros need a few more lousy ball players.
I'm glad that he has come around to what I tried to point out a few weeks ago. I previously pointed to Berkman's June OPS, which ended up at 1.061, and to this point in July Berkman has upped the monthly OPS to 1.150. His 2009 OPS now stands at .924. Berkman's 2009 OPS+ is 147, which is slightly higher than his career OPS+ of 146. Berkman's OPS and OPS+ are the 12th best in the NL. Berkman has the 4th best runs created by a NL first baseman.
And then I turn to the comments on the unofficial scorer's blog in the chronicle. The first commenter says: "sorry...he (Berkman) is having a horrendous year..."
Why is it that Justice, and other fans, are surprised to find that Berkman is having a normal offensive season?
I think this is indicative of how much batting average influences fans' (and even knowledgeable baseball writers') perceptions of a player's overall season. Berkman's batting average (.271 right now) is somewhat below his typical average. But batting average probably is the least informative of the basic baseball hitting stats. On base percentage (OBP) is more indicative of a player's ability to get on base than batting average. Berkman's .398 OBP is excellent, slipping only ten points or so below his typical OBP. The problem with focusing on batting average is that the stat is more dependent on luck than most hitting statistics. This is illustrated by the fact that Berkman's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .276, which is well below the major league typical BABIP of .300 - .305. When Berkman's batting average rises to, say, .290, which is not unlikely, I suppose many fans will then arrive at the conclusion that Berkman is having a good year.