There have been several times over the past 12 years or so when Lance Berkman has certainly felt like a Hall of Famer. In the moment, anyway, as he went on tears and put up seasons that matched up with all manner of men in Cooperstown.
But, given that he didn’t have a full time gig until he was 24 and given that he seems to be hitting the end of the road after only 14 seasons — some of them shortened due to injury — it seems pretty likely that Berkman won’t get a lot of love when he becomes eligible for voting. The counting stats just aren’t there and, no matter what we think of counting stats, they matter and always have for the Hall of Fame.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate someone who is an inner-circle Hall of Very Gooder, and yesterday David Schoenfield of ESPN.com did just that. And while David himself can’t convince himself of Berkman’s Hall-worthiness, he does a great job of reminding us just how good a hitter the dude was (and still is, if he comes back from his injury):
So where does that leave us?
• A player who was one of the elite hitters of his generation.
• Ten Hall of Fame-caliber seasons, plus a great partial season in 2000 (.297/.388/.561 in 114 games) and a not-so-great 2010.
• A terrific postseason performer.
• A player who didn’t win an MVP Award but fared well in the voting.
…It’s interesting to compare him to his one-time teammate, Jeff Bagwell, who obviously isn’t in the Hall of Fame (for some reasons we all know about) but whom many of you and in the stat community believe is a no-brainer Hall of Famer …
I’ve probably contributed an awful lot to this, but I sort of hate that Hall of Fame discussions often result in people denigrating the careers of those who fall just short. Making the perfect the enemy of the good as it were. Good for Schoenfield for celebrating the good.
World Series Game 1 was billed as a battle of aces, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw against Chris Sale of the Red Sox. Between them, they have 14 All-Star Game nominations. Kershaw has won three Cy Young Awards. Sale could his first Cy Young Award this year. Among his 10 seasons with at least 110 innings pitched, Kershaw has never posted a sub-2.92 ERA. Sale has been at 2.90 or below in each of the last two seasons. The two have combined for over 4,000 career strikeouts and both have averaged better than a strikeout per inning over their careers.
And yet Tuesday’s Game 1 was anything but a pitcher’s duel between Kershaw and Sale. Though a couple of fielding mistakes weren’t of any help to Kershaw in the first inning, Red Sox batters were squaring him up good. Of the five balls put in play in the first inning, three had exit velocities of 100 MPH or higher. Of the 12 total balls put in play against him overall, five reached triple digits in exit velo.
Kershaw gave up a pair of runs in the first, another run in the third on a J.D. Martinez double to straightaway center field, and another two in the fifth. Kershaw led off the fifth by walking Mookie Betts, then giving up a single to Andrew Benintendi, ending his night. Ryan Madson relieved Kershaw and proceeded to allow both inherited runners to score. All told, Kershaw yielded five runs on seven hits and three walks with five strikeouts on 79 pitches in four-plus innings.
Sale, meanwhile, was on the hook for individual runs in the second, third, and fifth. Dodger hitters weren’t squaring him up quite as well as the Red Sox batters squared up Kershaw, but Sale was still more hittable than usual. Of the eight balls put in play against him, four were at least 90 MPH in exit velo. One of the runs was a no-doubt solo home run to Matt Kemp in the second. The Dodgers chased Sale in the fifth when he issued a leadoff walk to Brian Dozier. Matt Barnes relieved him allowed the inherited runner to score. Overall, Sale threw 91 pitches in four-plus innings, serving up three runs on five hits and two walks with seven strikeouts.
The game is now, as has been generally the case throughout this postseason, a battle of the bullpens.