Yankees trade for Berkman should have little impact on pennant race
Berkman isn't lighting it up this year, but his on-base percentage is still strong
Berkman will add surprisingly little to the Yankees due to their strong lineup
The real impact is keeping other contenders from snatching the first baseman
If Lance Berkman, 34, does anything at all over the next few years, he's going to end his career as a serious Hall of Fame candidate.
Result of context though it may be, his career OPS of .959 is one of the 20 best ever. He's never run up an on-base percentage lower than this year's .372, which on its own ties him for 17th in the National League, and he ranked in the top 10 in OBP in eight of the last nine years. The names of the active players who have clearly done more in the batter's box are Ramirez, Rodriguez, Pujols, Thome, Jones, Giambi and Guerrero. Bland as plain grits as his career may have been -- I dare anyone who lives outside Texas to name something memorable he's done -- the man is nearing real greatness.
That the New York Yankees can casually (reportedly) trade for such a player in the midst of a pitched pennant race is cause for some real indignance. Fuzzy as details are at the moment for technical reasons involving Berkman's rights as a 10-year veteran who's played for the same team for the last five years, it seems the Yankees will pay Berkman's salary for the rest of the year and consequently send the Astros nondescript minor leaguers in exchange for his services through the end of the season. That's a heist. If this deal decides the aforementioned pitched pennant race, though, it will count as a minor miracle.
Given the present composition of the Yankee lineup, Berkman will essentially be replacing catcher Francisco Cervelli's at-bats, with Jorge Posada playing more at catcher and less at designated hitter. For the sake of argument, assume that Berkman will have 220 plate appearances over the rest of the season, and that every one will come at the expense of Cervelli, the worst hitter on the Yankees. Further assume that both Berkman and Cervelli will hit at their career rates from now through the end of the year. What is the impact? Surprisingly little.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Berkman has created .194 runs per plate appearance in his career, against Cervelli's .097. Over 220 trips to the plate, that works out to 42 runs for Berkman and 21 for Cervelli. Using the rule of thumb that 10 runs equal a win, a trade for Berkman would thus seem to account for two wins in the standings over the rest of the year -- seemingly quite a lot.
Note, though, that we've made generous assumptions. Berkman is suffering his worst season, and unlikely to hit to his career norms over the rest of the year. He's also not going to be taking every one of his at-bats from Cervelli. Some will come from Posada, some will come from Alex Rodriguez, some will come from other Yankee veterans who have found the odd day of relative rest by hitting at DH. The difference is likelier near a single win than two, equivalent to the impact of an exceptional day from a back-end reliever or a few good catches in the outfield. And even splitting the difference between what he's done this year and his career norm, Berkman is something like the fifth-best hitter in an absurdly deep Yankees lineup.
The real impact here, in fact, may be keeping Berkman away from other contenders. The Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox are two teams who have gotten nothing at all from their DHs this year, and for whom Berkman could have made a real difference. Both clubs could presumably have offered sketchy minor leaguers and absorbed Berkman's salary, and given his rumored eagerness to leave the horrifically bad Astros for a real contender, both could probably have convinced him to waive his no-trade clause as well.
Neither pulled the heist, though, and whether you want to credit the Yankees' money or their aggression, they did (or at least seem to have). It probably won't count as the difference in the American League East, and given the vagaries of October it probably won't count there either. Berkman, though, is a hitter who's run up an incredible career without creating one indelible moment, and if you think he doesn't have one in him, you're deluded. It would be early to count this as one of the great deadline acquisitions. Should it turn out to be one, though, it will come as no surprise.