Lance Berkman, Kosuke Fukudome And Other National League Surprises

HOUSTON - APRIL 26: First baseman Lance Berkman #12 of the St. Louis Cardinals singles to right field in the second inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 26, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Another look at the surprise hitters of the 2011 season thus far, this time the National Leaguers. Brandon Wood’s .400 on-base percentage should probably get a column of its own. Sure, it’s only eight at-bats, but I did the math: if you extrapolate his current performance out to 500 at-bats, it would translate to a .400 on-base percentage. Amazing! Hop to it, fantasy owners.

Again, some of the reasons why the hitters might sustain their success are based in ludicrously small samples, so it’s not a good idea to get too excited. But at the end of the year you’ll look up and say, "Wait, that guy was good this season?" Maybe you won’t even have to wait that long -- the All-Star Game is lurking, and maybe there will be a Scott Cooper or two to look back on.

 


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
  Jonathan Herrera - Rockies 18 63 10 20 4 0 1 5 14 6 4 2 .317 .442 .429



Why he's an unlikely success story:

Colorado Springs is Coors Field, but with AAA pitchers. J.R. Phillips hit .311/.380/.614 when he played for Colorado Springs. Herrera hit .277/.353/.346 at Colorado Springs. I don’t have the MLE in front of me, but just by eyeballing it, I think that translates to a .177/.253/-q line in the majors. If you can’t hit for average or power as a member of the Sky Sox, you shouldn’t be able to do so in the majors.

A reason to hope the success will continue.

The guy doesn’t swing at pitches outside the strike zone. If he’s moving the bat, it’s at something in the zone, and his contact percentage is one of the best in the National League, so he’s also putting the bat on the ball. With the huge outfield of Coors Field, a lot of those balls in play are falling in for hits. Maybe it’s a perfect match of player and ballpark.

 


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
  Lance Berkman - Cardinals 21 78 19 30 7 0 6 17 9 11 0 2 .385 .448 .705

 


Why he's an unlikely success story:

He looked dreadful towards the end of last season, showing zero power in a park where sac bunts often drop in for ground-rule doubles. A 35-year-old slugger isn’t always going to be washed up after a season like that, but it’s usually a pretty good sign. The score to the movie was swelling in a minor key, and one of the more annoying characters was slowly creeping toward the closet door. Maybe the axe murderer isn’t behind the door, but you had a pretty good idea. Also, the axe murderer is a metaphor for "age-related decline", but that would make for a really long movie.

A reason to hope the success will continue.

He really is one of the best switch-hitters of all-time, and he’s just a season removed from a 140 OPS+ performance over 562 at-bats. The Cardinals took a lot of ribbing for thinking Berkman’s bat could make up for his defense -- but it’s looking like a brilliant tactical move right now.

 


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Nick Hundley 22 77 11 22 4 1 3 11 8 20 0 0 .286 .356 .481



Why he's an unlikely success story:

He had a nondescript minor league career before settling in as the Padres’ catcher, and in his first two seasons was really one of the more underrated players in the game. A catcher who can give a team league-average offense and solid defense from behind the plate is a really, really valuable thing, and Hundley was doing it unnoticed. But nothing about him suggested that he could be the kind of hitter who would hit in the middle of the order.

A reason to hope the success will continue.

Because it has to. If you’re a Padres fan, he has to keep hitting. There’s no metric to quantify morale, but the Padres traded away the face of their franchise and replaced him with a first baseman who has an OPS+ of 9. That’s 9. That’s the sabermetric equivalent of dividing by zero. San Diego has been shut out in seven of their 25 games this season. They need a guy like Hundley, just to keep from throwing things onto the field.

 


G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2011 - Kosuke Fukudome 16 48 4 22 1 0 0 2 10 5 0 0 .458 .552 .479



Why he's an unlikely success story:

Back in the 2007 offseason, Fukudome was perhaps the hottest outfield free agent on the market. Scouts thought his game would play well in the United States, and his stats in Japan were absolutely gaudy. But when he came over, he was just another guy. He wasn’t bad, wasn’t good ... he just was. Baseball Reference spits out a Jeff DaVanon similarity score, and that’s probably the best comparison in the history of the site. Fukudome is Jeff DaVanon.

A reason to hope the success will continue.

Those pesky NPB stats. Kaz Matsui never turned them into anything, but they keep staring at you. It’s not insane to think that a hitter might need a multi-year adjustment after coming over from Japan. And his .287 BABiP last year seemed low for a left-handed hitter with decent speed.

There is a slight chance, of course, that Fukudome’s .512 BABiP this year will fall. But worry about that when it happens! For now, these players are carrying their teams, and if you want to feel optimistic about them, go for it: it’s April.

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