Berkman Continues to Struggle

Lance Berkman has played in 1,389 Major League Baseball games; we have a pretty good idea who he is as a hitter.  He’s built up a solid-enough sample size that microtrends and patterns generally become just “noise.”

In other words, when Jordan Schafer homered in his first major league at-bat, and twice in his first three big league games, with no other experience to compare it to, an observer might think that here was a kid who was going to knock the stuffing out of the ball all season long.  Now, with 68 plate appearances, he hasn’t hit any since then.  Given 1,300 more plate appearances, if he hasn’t hit any, those numbers get put into a little better context.

With Berkman, we’re really at the point where things can be put into context.  And this is the context:

Berkman Graph.JPG

This is a month-by-month look at Berkman’s numbers throughout his career, and the thing that sticks out is at the far-right corner – September 2008 and April 2009, when his average and OBP have flatlined.  The previous low was April 2003, when he went .208/.337/.319; but April 2009 was his second-worst month ever in average (lowest was the month immediately prior – September 2008); his seventh-lowest OBP (Sep 08 was sixth-lowest); tenth-lowest SLG (Sep 08 was the lowest).

This includes 53 months during which he had a minimum of 40 plate appearances.

Between the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, something has happened to Lance Berkman’s numbers.  This is by far his longest sustained slump.  Whether there’s a hidden injury, a mental block, or something else entirely, I don’t know.  But this is quickly escalating from anomaly to trend. 

Andy Pettitte

There’s a very good chance you saw yesterday’s Red Sox-Yankees game, during which Jacoby Ellsbury stole home on former Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte.  Ellsbury’s show, while impressive, is at least a little understandable.  Though Pettitte has a great pickoff move, he’s not overly fast to the plate; for some reason, the Yankees were playing the shift despite having Ellsbury on third, and Pettitte (being a lefty) had his back turned. 

My point is that this was a good play, but not exactly as amazing as when Aaron Hill stole home against Pettitte — while Pettitte simply stood on the mound with the ball.  Now that was embarrassing.

Astros Fan.JPG

(These screen caps are starting to develop a theme)

The Pitch Count’s The Thing

Susan, the Astros Fan In Exile, asked me a question today that is so simple, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it.  How many pitches have the Astros thrown this season, and where do they rank among Major League Baseball in this regard?

After seeing our starters continuously exiting games with 100+ pitches in 6 and 7 innings this year, exposing our already-weakened bullpen even further, it’s a question that merits some investigation.

I ran the numbers, and it looks like little more than noise, at least at this point.  Astros pitchers have thrown an average of 151 pitches per game, tying them with the Reds for ninth-most.  Astros batters have seen 142 pitches, seventh fewest.  The -9 differential between the two is also seventh-lowest.  At either end of the spectrum, though, you have teams with varying amounts of success.

A more telling test might be the number of pitches thrown specifically by starters, but that survey will have to wait for another day, if at all.

Jason Smith

The good news is that the St. Louis Rams drafted Jason Smith.  The bad news is that it’s the wrong Jason Smith.  The Houston version, a small left-handed utility infielder, is now 0-for-18 to begin his Astro career.  He does have a SH and a SF, which accounts for his sole RBI, but he has yet to reach base this season.

Meanwhile, Edwin Maysonet, one of the players he beat out for a spot on the roster, was 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a walk today at Round Rock.  He’s now .367/.500/.500 on the season.

I Think Your J-Valve Is Busted

There’s something seriously wrong with Jose Valverde.  I mean physically; we all already knew there was something off mentally.

There isn’t a lot waiting in the minor leagues, and I suspect Valverde is hanging on as long as he can so as not to expose an expended bullpen, but something’s got to give.  The return of Brandon Backe and Brian Moehler will help (I seriously never thought I’d be desperate enough to say that), but barring a surge of arms from Round Rock, there isn’t a short-term answer. 

Pitchers on the 40-man roster include Alberto Arias, Samuel Gervacio, Brad James, Tyler Lumsden, and Polin Trinidad.  None of whom are having a very good season to this point.  Bud Norris is not on the 40-man roster, and would require an accompanying move to get called up.

Missing In Action

I wasn’t able to watch Saturday night’s game, so I didn’t see what prompted the ejection of Ivan Rodriguez and Cecil Cooper.  I also didn’t get to see J.R. Towles come up with a timely hit.  Good boy, Towlesy.

I suspect he’ll get some time in the Cincinnati trip.

The fact that Mike Cameron made it through that series without a fastball to the rib is a little disappointing, but it’s a long season and we’ll see the Brewers many, many times.

What Happened Was…

Houston Astros (MLB) – The Astros accidentally beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-2.

Round Rock Express (AAA) – The Express had themselves a nice little game, downing the Memphis Redbirds (STL) 6-2.  Everyone knows I love me some Mark Saccomanno.  He may be the best hitter in the Astros system, and if his defense was even adequate, he’d be a big leaguer by now.  But it isn’t, and his throwing error today was his fourth in this young season.  Edwin Maysonet was 2-for-3 with two doubles and a walk to lead the offense; Alberto Arias finally had a good start, despite striking out just two in 5.0 IP, he allowed only one run on 3 hits and a walk.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks clawed their way back into this game, but couldn’t overcome a seven-run sixth inning by the Frisco Roughriders (TEX), and dropped the decision 9-5.  DH/OF Andrew Locke was 4-for-5 with a double.  Sergio Perez did not pitch well, allowing 6 runs in 5.0 IP.  You all know I have to give Justin Smoak’s line, and here it is: 3-for-4, with a double, a home run, 2 RBI, and a walk.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – This was a braw
l from start to finish.  The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAA) put up 4 runs in the second; Lancaster tied it up at five with four runs of their own in the fourth.  The fifth inning had Rancho Cucamonga scoring 4 to Lancaster’s 3.  That run, plus two in the ninth, would be the deciders in Lancaster’s 12-9 loss.  You know it’s a high-scoring game when a guy (2B Craig Corrado) can go 0-for-6 and still have 2 RBI.  OF Brian Pellegrini was 3-for-5 with a double and 3 runs and had an outfield assist to top it off.  Jason Castro, now free of Koby Clemens after the latter’s promotion to Corpus Christi, was 2-for-5 with a home run in celebration.  Reid Kelly was handed the loss, despite being the least bad of the four Jethawk pitchers.

Lexington Legends (A) – The Legends had an early 3-0 lead, but ended up dropping this one to the Bowling Green Hot Rods (TBR) 7-6, despite a 2-run rally in the ninth.  SS Ronald Ramirez had a good day at the plate, going 1-for-3 with a home run, 2 RBI, and a walk.  But then he decided to commit an error to remind everyone why he’s 23 years old and still playing in the South Atlantic League.  Jordan Lyles had a rough outing, striking out 3 in 5.0 IP, and allowing 3 ER on 4 hits and 2 walks.  Daniel Meszaros pitched a scoreless 8th to keep the Legends in the game, keeping his season ERA at 0.00.  Last year’s #1 overall draft pick, Tim Beckham, was 1-for-5 for the Hot Rods.



  1. astrosfaninexile

    Thanks for checking out the pitch count question. It would be interesting to know by starters – although they’ve been throwing +/- 100 and lasting 5 or 6 innings, so we kind of know that their pitches/inning must be on the high side. I have a gazillion numbers questions – and you are so great at digging up the answers. You need to make sure that we don’t turn your into our Stats Bitch!

    Re: Berkman – does it really make sense to combine numbers from September and April? It seems like the break in between is so long that only an injury would really connect them (in a bad way). BTW, there are still 3 games left in April… with such a small sample size this early in the season, they could affect the final month stats.

    Re: Valverde. Do you mean something wrong with him besides still limping from his injury last week? He’s definitely not totally recovered. I understand the need for a closer, but I don’t know why they are taking a chance on pitching him. Leg injury – even just bruising and soreness could cause him to compensate and hurt something else.

  2. roundrock15

    Susan — If Berkman were to finish the next three games 3-for-4, he would claw back up to .256. Which is unlikely, but of course anything can happen. And, in fact, if he is able to claw to a point above .230 by the end of April, I will call the Astros clubhouse to personally apologize to him.

    And I didn’t combine the months. You’ll see, at the bottom right of the graph, two very low plots. Those are last September and this April, respectively. From an evaluation standpoint, any stat that remains consistent across those lines is significant, inasmuch as Berkman’s offseason did not include any major physical trauma, such as surgery. Therefore, if a pattern emerges at the end of one season and continues into the next, I think it’s valid to view those two events together, particularly since it’s an event that has proven to be extremely rare over the course of his entire career.

    As for numbers questions, I actually love doing all of that stuff, so feel free to ask. The worst I can do is say no!

  3. astrosfaninexile

    I am still a bit skeptical about hitting patterns leaping from the end of one season to the beginning of the next (barring, of course, church football games). I can’t tell without the x-axis key whether there is a real pattern of similarity between Sept/April (high or low) from season to season…

    Meanwhile, I am waiting for Berkman to break out of his funk.

    So if you call the Astros clubhouse to apologize, will the Puma take your call? šŸ™‚

  4. roundrock15

    Yeah, I cut off the x-axis and didn’t realize it until after I’d deleted the damned spreadsheet. My apologies on that; it won’t happen again.

    But it’s still continuous playing time, despite the massive gap in the middle, and it’s still cause for some amount of concern. Don’t get me wrong – I think Berkman will be fine. He’s a great hitter.

    It’s funny, before this offseason I never interacted with other Astros fans, beyond one or two who’d sit around me at away games. But I’m learning the fans now, and I do believe they’re a pretty fickle bunch. That’s why I was so concerned yesterday that they were booing Berkman.

    I’m sure he’d take my call. I mean, it’s only polite, right? šŸ˜‰

  5. astrosfaninexile

    Before this season, I never interacted with other Astros fans either. I can’t tell you how much more fun I had at Spring Training this year, meeting people and seeing them game to game. I’m an introvert by nature (with good coping skills after 25 years in corporate America), so I used my camera and my website (“wanna be my fan of the day?”) as an ice breaker. By the way, I did make Bush #41 a fan of the day, even though he’s not of the same political persuasion as I am. But I would never have made Clemens the fan of the day. Nolan Ryan, yes – but he’s a Ranger fan now.

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