If you’re Lance Berkman (and you’re probably not), the title is probably quite representative of what you get when you consume any kind of sports news content generated recently regarding “Big Puma” and the St. Louis Cardinals. Left field or right field. Which one should he play? Bernie Miklasz weighed in on the subject in his column, Bernie Bytes, and he basically expressed an opinion that Berkman should play in RF. His logic is that Holliday plays just fine in LF, and if it ain’t broke, then you don’t fix it. He also made the assertion that:
“The career metrics show that Berkman was OK in left field, but a minus fielder in RF.” ~Bernie Miklasz (Bernie Bytes)
Whoa! Stop the bus. When someone refers to “career metrics”, then I expect to see some numbers, a pretty graph, or at least some crappy chart made using Excel on a cheap laptop (umm, not that I would do that). C’mon, someone throw me a bone here! I like numbers. Decimals make me happy. If Bernie won’t provide them, then I’ll just go find some on my own. Since I’m too cheap frugal to hire a stats geek to compile really cool advanced statistics, I’ll just rely on baseball-reference.com and a calculator as usual.
First, I’ll begin with the assertion that Berkman was “OK in left field”. That’s obviously a subjective thing, but I have no issue with contemplating the subjective things in life. In his career, Berkman has played 4058 2/3 innings in LF and had 806 chances with 16 errors for a fielding % of .980. The league average during those 8 seasons (1999-2006) was .979. Indeed, Berkman was just slightly above average in terms of fielding percentage. His range factor per 9 innings (RF/9) during that stretch in LF averaged 1.76 versus a league average of 1.93. That basic information simply confirms what most of you probably knew all along – Berkman was a slow but steady left fielder. Was he “OK”? That’s up to you, but I ask you that wait a moment before making your decision.
Let’s evaluate whether or not Berkman was a “minus fielder in RF”. Again, that’s a subjective thing as well, but it’s still fun to take a peek at the stats. Berkman has played 2032 2/3 innings in RF and had 429 chances with 13 errors for a fielding % of .970. The league average during those same 8 seasons (1999-2006) was .982 for RF. His range factor for 9 innings during that stretch in RF averaged 2.01 versus a league average of 2.12. Was he a “minus fielder”? Don’t answer that one quite yet.
Consider this “unknown player” and his 2010 stats. He played 1105 1/3 innings with 266 chances, 5 errors, and a fielding % of .981 versus a league average of .987. His range factor per 9 innings was 2.13 versus a league average of 2.17. Sounds like an “OK” fielder to me. Do you agree? Who is this mystery player?
If you thought that Colby was “OK” defensively in 2010, then I’d argue that Berkman wasn’t too far from “OK” in LF. I do take issue with the idea that he was just a “minus fielder” in RF, though. He certainly didn’t cover much ground, and he wasn’t all that sure-handed when he did reach the ball. That’s the equivalent of saying “He’s kinda clumsy, but at least he’s slow.” If there’s such a thing as a “minus, minus fielder”, then that was Berkman. The real problem is that these stats cover Berkman up through the 2006 season, and he’ll be nearly half a decade older when he starts stalking the outfield at Busch Stadium in 2011.
POSITIVE SPIN: I witnessed a lot of Berkman’s outfield play through 2005, and he actually passed the “eyeball test” in my opinion. He wasn’t fast, but he also didn’t take unnecessary chances or bad routes to the ball. His arm was about average, and he had a fairly dependable glove. He wouldn’t make spectacular plays, but he wouldn’t drop easy chances, either.
TIDBIT: One potential argument in favor of Berkman playing RF is that 3 potential injury/baserunning/defensive substitutions all have more experience playing RF than LF. In 2010: Skip Schumaker (12 in RF vs 4 in LF), Allen Craig (30 in RF vs 5 in LF), and Jon Jay (61 in RF vs 9 in LF). On the other hand, all 3 of those players are probably better defensively than “Fat Puma”, “Big Puma”, “El Puma”, “Big Fat Elvis Puma” or whatever we’re supposed to call him. I’m just going to call him Mr. Berkman, starting outfielder for the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.