Lance Berkman: The Anti-Josh

Berkman
“If you’re scoring runs, I get it, otherwise, big deal!” – Harold Reynolds illustrating that he still doesn’t “get” on-base percentage on MLB Network.

Boil baseball down to one skill, one attribute that is most key to a player’s success, and you have command of the strike zone.

Before you can hit, you need a pitch capable of hitting.

Plate discipline is about more than just taking walks.  Some players, like Vlad Guerrero, have rarely seen a pitch that they could not drive.  Most players, however, need a good pitch to hit, and to say that recognizing those pitches is half the battle would be an understatement; for most players it is the battle.

The ability to better drive a ball with authority can be taught, as can the skill to take a pitch to the opposite field.  Plate discipline, however, is not an easy skill to teach.  And perhaps that is why I look forward to Lance Berkman’s at-bats so much.

Or perhaps, it’s how diametrically opposed the approach of the Big Puma to that of his former-Devil [Ray]-turned-Angel predecessor.

Admittedly, until Tuesday, I looked forward to any at-bats I could catch between tax returns.  But that’s just one of several reasons I enjoyed this at-bat, most of which do not require explanation:

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Was there anything more frustrating than watching that happen when 32 was in a Rangers uniform?  No wonder some of us are excited to watch a guy with a little more patience.

Sticking with the theme of tax accounting and nerd-dom, there are the numbers that can be assigned to plate discipline.  Not just on-base-percentage, but numbers that specifically target the player’s ability to control the strike zone and do not focus on the result (a hit, and error or a walk).

Outside Swing Percentage refers to the percentage of pitches a player swings at pitches that are outside of the strike zone – whether they make contact or not.  For example, had Josh Hamilton hit a home run on the pitch in the above gif, it would still be a pitch that was outside of the zone that he swung at.  The value of a low O-Swing %, and it’s relation to a player’s ability to get on base, is rather obvious; the less time you spend swinging at pitches in the dirt, the more time you spend walking to first base, putting the pitcher behind in the count, and driving strikes into the gaps.   

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It seems Josh Hamilton’s bad habit of swinging at pitches outside of the zone has only gotten worse over the past 4-5 years, while the man who now occupies the third spot in the Rangers order appears to have a better command of the strike zone (as one of the best OBP players of this era, this should come as no surprise).

Of course, if Josh Hamilton were only capable of hitting strikes, he wouldn’t be Josh Hamilton.  Another way to contrast Josh’s formerly-frustrating-now-amazing trend of swinging at pitches he has very little chance at driving anywhere and Berkman’s elite recognition of the strike zone is to look at how often each player swings and misses.

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The correlation between each player’s level of performance and their swinging strike rate is easy to see: both players had rough years last year, when they swung and missed at more pitches.  For Hamilton, it’s a troubling trend.  For Berkman, it’s a small sample size in a year in which he was plagued by injury.

Speaking of small sample sizes, Josh Hamilton is hitting .200/.258/.382 to Lance Berkman’s .389/.500/.611.  Again, small sample size.  But that doesn’t mean it’s a fluke, either.

Josh Hamilton now resides in California.

Lance Berkman still lives on base.

It’s time to embrace the guy ahead of Beltre that actually embraces his own at-bats.

Robert Pike is a Staff Writer for ShutDowninning. He can be reached at Robert.Pike@ShutDowninning.com or on Twitter @Bob_Pike

Robert Pike

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