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Lance Berkman for Astros Hall of Fame

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Where’s the Love?

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The Houston Astros recently inaugurated their Hall of Fame by choosing the following players for initial induction. They are: Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Nolan Ryan, Jimmy Wynn, Jose Cruz, Larry Dierker, Don Wilson, Jim Umbricht, Mike Scott, Joe Morgan, Bob Aspromonte, Joe Niekro and Shane Reynolds.

I am not going to quibble about who was picked, but I am perturbed by who was left off. I think that Roy Oswalt was probably more deserving than a number of the pitchers here, but obviously he was not the best Astros pitcher of all-time. But somehow, for some unfathomable reason, it seems that whoever made these choices left off arguably the greatest outfielder in the history of the Astros, Lance Berkman.

Where’s the Love?

The following chart compares the relevant statistics of the four best outfielders in Astros history, including the two that made the initial Hall of Fame cut, Jose Cruz and Jim Wynn. In this chart we will compare the bWAR of the best four continuous seasons, Astros career WAR, OPS+ for the four best continuous seasons, and Astros career OPS+, total bases. home runs and number of plate appearances as Astros.

astros HOF outfielders.csv

Player PA'sAstros Best 4 WAR WAR/Astros WAR/650 PA WAR/season Best 4 OPS+ OPS+/Astros Total Bases Home runs
Player PA'sAstros Best 4 WAR WAR/Astros WAR/650 PA WAR/season Best 4 OPS+ OPS+/Astros Total Bases Home runs
Jose Cruz 7448 19.5 51.4 4.5 4 132 125 2846 138
Cesar Cedeno 6389 25.5 49.6 5.1 4.1 144 129 2601 163
Lance Berkman 6713 22.6 48.2 4.6 4 152 146 3043 326
Jim Wynn 6014 22.7 41.6 4.5 3.8 150 131 2252 223

As one can see from the chart, Lance Berkman, in 12 seasons with the Astros, had the highest OPS+, the most total bases, the most home runs, was tied with Cruz and was ahead of Wynn in WAR/season, and beat both of them in WAR/ 650 PA’s. Although Cruz beat Berkman in total WAR, he had an additional season on the team with which to do it. Berkman beat Wynn by 6.2 WAR, although Wynn was only with the Astros 11 years.*

The above chart used statistics from Baseball Reference. But according to Fangraphs Lance Berkman was third all-time in Astros total WAR, at 51.5, with Jose Cruz fourth, Cesar Cedeno fifth, and Jimmy Wynn sixth.

Berkman’s 326 home runs were second all-time among Astros, behind Jeff Bagwell of course. But Lance Berkman was actually slightly more prolific during his more limited tenure with the Astros, hitting a home run every 20.59 PA’s, compared to Bagwell’s every 21 PA’s.

Gittin Er Done

There are intangible factors that go into getting into a Hall of Fame as well, and Berkman checks those boxes. He led this group with five All Star appearances as an Astro, Cedeno with four, Cruz with two, and Wynn with only one.

He was a post-season warrior, leading the Astros in the 2004 run for the National League pennant that ended in a game 7 loss to the Cardinals, and leading the team in its 2005 playoff run that took the Astros to its first World Series. In the 2004 NLDS and NLCS his OPS was 1.071 and 1.150 respectively. In the 2005 run he hit 1.143 in the NLDS, .924 in the NLCS, and 1.065 in the World Series. As Theo Gerome recently pointed out, Berkman’s 2.7 playoff Win Probability Added is the third highest all-time. Berkman was glorious when it really mattered the most.

Here is Lance with a Grand Slam in the 8th inning of the 2005 ALDS against the Atlanta Braves. It brought the Astros to within one run. Yeah, it’s the game the Astros won in 18 innings.

And he was one of the Killer Bees, that is, one of the real Killer Bees, not Killer Bees with names like Bell or Berry, but one of the Killer Bees that took the Astros to numerous playoff series. From his first full season in 2000, through the 2005 World Series, no other Astro position player had more WAR, not Jeff Bagwell, not Craig Biggio.

Defensive Wunderkind?

Berkman was underrated as a fielder. His career DRS/year was 0, which means he rated average. Only Jose Cruz rated higher defensively among players on this list. For comparison sake, George Springer also has a career DRS/year total of zero.

It takes a real athlete to make this play.

Lance Berkman was recently dissed by the MLB Hall of Fame Committee, receiving only 1.2% of the votes, and thus becoming ineligible for further consideration. The main criticism against him was lack of longevity, not production while he played. But his longevity and total numbers with the Astros were comparable or better than that of Cruz and Wynn, and thus should have played no role in his exclusion from the Astros honors. After the failure to remain on the MLB ballot, failure to make the Astros Hall of Fame must have been a slap in the face for this Rice alumnus and great citizen, one I believe he did not deserve.

Why hasn’t Lance gotten the love he deserves? I think it’s his baby face.... Really.

MLB Photos via Getty Images

Be patient Lance, You’ll get the recognition you deserve someday soon.

*A close examination of the chart shows that a very good case can be made for the inclusion of Cesar Cedeno as well.