Lance Berkman: Is He the Best Fifth Hitter in Fantasy and the Major Leagues?

Lake CruiseAnalyst IApril 21, 2011

April 17, 2011: Lance Berkman struts to the dugout in L.A.  He's been strutting around the bases with the Cardinals.
April 17, 2011: Lance Berkman struts to the dugout in L.A. He's been strutting around the bases with the Cardinals.Harry How/Getty Images

Question: What lately has been lacing Lance Berkman’s milk bone bat? 

Answer: Leather baseballs bouncing off the wood and flying out of MLB venues.

The fantasy baseball season is starting to filter out the big fish from the small ponds, the rooks from the bishops and the Cardinals hitters from the haters.

As a team, the Redbirds were raking at a .294 clip as of last night. One of the biggest reasons they’re doing it big while big Albert Pujols is batting in the .240s is because of their new right fielder.

A better Ryan Ludwick in the batting order, Berkman is a career .296  hitter and a just what the doctors ordered—the doctors being manager Tony La Russa and batting coach Mark McGwire. 

Berkman is an almost perfect complement to the Cardinals middle order. Does that sound like Lord of the Rings and middle earth? It could. 

I digress, though, but fans of the Cards have been worshipping the earth Lance walks on. He’s not a god, yet—that’s Albert’s job in St. Louis.

I’m not a pagan and I believe in the higher power. Forgive me if this sounds like blasphemy, but Berkman is an almost perfect complement to Pujols and usual cleanup hitter Matt Holliday. Albert is a .330 career hitter and Holliday is at .319 for his Major League lifetime.

Berkman is in his 14th Major League season and has posted 333 home runs—45 was his high, circa 2006. The Cardinals won the World Series over the Detroit Tigers then. 

If Lance keeps the eye of the tiger, he could win a championship in St. Louis—no fantasy.

Speaking of fantasy, don’t you loathe the message from the fantasy baseball commissioner stating your roster move has been declined? I do—especially in this case—because it cost me Berkman. It seems another owner-manager made the move before me.

As I write this article, Lance is making moves and lacing National League pitching with a .339 average, six big flies, 15 RBI and 15 runs. I desperately wanted to draft him for one of my fantasy baseball teams, but someone scooped him.

Usually batting fifth behind Matt Holliday, the man is a wonderful backup when pitchers try to walk Holliday to load the bases after a ground-rule double by Pujols.

Once one of the most feared batters in the National League, Berkman is a native Texan who could rake with the best of them in the business. He was the 16th pick in the first round of the 1997 draft by the Houston Astros.

Born in Waco, Texas, he attended Rice University. He’s now one of the most feared fifth hitters in the NL. He could end up third, fourth, seventh or sixth in the order, though.

With six dingers, he was tied for second in the league with Johnny Gomes—sometimes the fifth place hitter for the Reds. Gomes is batting .240, though, for the Reds.

The three, four and five hitters for the Cards are shaping up to be one of the most lethal in the Majors. Going into the L.A. Dodgers series, Berkman led the team in home runs with four.

If Pujols misses an RBI opportunity with less than one out, so what now? Holliday or Berkman will pick him up. And if switch-hitting Berkman happens to bat second in the order, then Colby Rasmus—slugging Colby Rasmus when he wants to be—can bat fifth.

Right now, Berkman is one of—if not the best—No. 5 hitters in the Majors. The stiffest competition includes Nelson Cruz with the Texas Rangers and Robinson Cano with the New York Yankees.

Last year, Cano was an MVP candidate, but he’s taken a slight step back so far this season. Cruz was crushing the ball with regularity in the first week of the season, but he’s cooled off a bit. Berkman is heating up.

He’s hot at the Astros for not bringing him back this season, and he wanted to join a team in the NL Central—according to Al Hrabosky during the Cardinals’ telecast on FOX last night. Lance signed a deal for one year worth $8 million and left other multi-year deals on the table, Hrabosky said. Al was known as the "Mad Hungarian" in his own days.

Berkman is motivated to stay the best fifth place hitter in the Majors this season, and I believe he’ll do it. Time will tell, though. He’s 35 years old and batted over .300 only once in the last four seasons. He posted career lows of .245 and .255 in the last two.

His low averages could have been due to a number of factors. The Yankees felt he was good enough to help them win a World Series last season. They acquired him for the stretch run, but they ran out of gas against Lance’s home state Rangers.

Now, he’s back in range to being viewed as one of the most feared hitters in any spot in the order. I’d be out of order if I didn’t mention his .339 average right now is higher than his finishing average in any prior season.

I need to finish up a couple other articles. But first, let me leave you with this: Does Berkman remind anybody else but me of a Lou Brock-type lefty hitter, who could smack the ball off the pitcher anytime he wanted to? Holler back catcher.

Catch me later. Until then, good living, good loving and continued good lacing, Lance.