Breaking Down the Lance Berkman Baseball Hall of Fame Debate

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2014

NEW YORK - JUNE 12:  Lance Berkman #17 of the Houston Astros hits against the New York Yankees on June 12, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

After a terrific 15-year big league career spent mostly with the Houston Astros, slugger Lance Berkman is officially calling it a career, as he announced his retirement on Wednesday afternoon.

Richard Justice of was the first to report the news, and he talked to Berkman about what led to the decision and how he feels about hanging it up:

"It doesn’t make sense to play in the physical condition I’m in. I’m not going to keep trying to run out there for the heck of it," said Berkman. "I think I’m actually glad about (retiring). I’m excited about the next chapter in my life. I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family, and at some point, I’ll definitely coach somewhere."

The 37-year-old signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Texas Rangers last year to serve as their primary DH. Issues with his right knee and left hip limited him to just 73 games, though, after he managed just 32 games the previous season with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Whenever a player retires, one of the first questions that inevitably pops up is whether or not he is a Hall of Famer. Berkman has an interesting case, as he was undoubtedly one of the best in the game during his prime. Let's take a closer look at the numbers.

Lance Berkman Career Stats
Baseball Reference

The switch-hitter first saw regular playing time as a 24-year-old in 2000, and that was the first of 10 straight seasons in which he posted an OPS of .896 or higher.

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One question Hall of Fame voters like to ask is whether or not the player was one of the best of his era. Berkman may have never been a face of the MLB-caliber superstar, but there is little question he was one of the most potent bats in baseball during the 2000s.

Here is a look at how his numbers stack up to the rest of MLB during that decade, as that 10-year stretch more or less represented the prime of his career.

Lance Berkman Stats During 2000s and MLB Rank
Baseball Reference

Berkman ranks right up there with the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Todd Helton, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Carlos Delgado and Vladimir Guerrero in the conversation for best power hitter of the decade, and he did it while also hitting .300.

His numbers fell off significantly in 2010, as he dealt with knee and elbow issues, but he managed to rebound for one last monster season after the Cardinals took a chance on him with a one-year, $8 million deal in 2011.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

He finished seventh in NL MVP voting that year, posting a .301/.412/.547 line with 31 home runs and 94 RBI, and he did it while playing primarily in the outfield for the first time in six seasons. His final two seasons in the league were essentially a wash, but that does not detract from what was a terrific 15-year career.

The question here is not just where he ranks among his peers, though, but where he ranks among the greatest of all time, and whether he deserves a place among the game's immortals.

His most compelling argument from a statistical standpoint is a .943 career OPS, which is good for the 26th-highest mark of all time.

In fact, it's better than the likes of Willie Mays (.941), Hank Aaron (.929), Frank Robinson (.926), Mike Schmidt (.908) and a number of others former greats.

An impressive OPS shows that Berkman had a superior blend of plate discipline and power, something that every team looks for from their middle-of-the-order hitters.

Everyone with a higher OPS, excluding active players and players currently on the Hall of Fame ballot, has been inducted into Cooperstown, with the only exception being Lefty O'Doul.

Aside from his OPS, though, it's hard to find statistical backing to say Berkman deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.

According to Baseball-Reference, the 10 most comparable players statistically are as follows (I have included the Hall of Fame support each player received, if they have appeared on the ballot):

10 Most Comparable Players Hall of Fame Support
NameYears On BallotMax Hall of Fame Support
1. Jim EdmondsN/AEligible in 2016
2. Dick Allen1418.9%
3. Brian GilesN/AEligible in 2015
4. Moises Alou11.1%
5. Ellis Burks10.4%
6. Miguel CabreraN/AActive
7. Albert Belle27.7%
8. Jack Clark11.5%
9. Shawn Green10.4%
10. Bob Johnson20.8%
Baseball Reference

Those are 10 solid players who were all among the best in the league at one point in their careers, but everyone who has popped up on the ballot to this point has fallen well short of enshrinement. The same will likely be the case for Edmonds and Giles, while Cabrera figures to add plenty to his career numbers before he calls it a career.

You can also factor in that his first year on the ballot will be a crowded one, though, as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Roy Halladay and Todd Helton will also be eligible for the first time in 2019. Those four, along with any potential holdovers, could make the votes left for someone on the fringe like Berkman harder to come by.

One intangible Berkman has working in his favor is how likable he was throughout his career. As we know, the Hall of Fame voting process remains an incredibly subjective one, and a good guy like Berkman is likely to receive more support from the voters than someone like Albert Belle.

It's a tougher call than many candidacies, but in the end, I tend to lean towards Berkman being just short of Hall of Fame worthy. Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.