When the Yankees traded for Lance Berkman, many wondered whether they would give him a chance to hit against left-handed pitching, considering his deterioration in that area over the last few seasons. With a lefty-mashing player in Marcus Thames at his disposal, Joe Girardi has answered that question with an emphatic “no.” It seems pretty clear at this point that Berkman is unlikely to see any important at-bats against lefties in the postseason, as he will platoon with Thames and be pinch hit for if a lefty reliever enters the game. In fact, Joe has shown that if a lefty is on the hill, he would prefer to substitute Thames for Berkman even if it means that the opposing manager will change pitchers and bring in a righty to battle Thames.
Being that Lance had always been adequate against left-handers, some have been searching for a way to explain his inability to hit them over the last few seasons. At the request of friend-of-the-blog Jamal Granger (@JamalGr), I reached out to Steve Carter (@SteveCarterPP), senior scout at Project Prospect, to ask if he could see anything different in Berkman’s swing from the right side. The following is his scouting report:
From the right side, he’s always been pretty much a dead pull hitter. Really opens up with his front side. That I knew. What I didn’t know was how bad it had become. Looked it up on TexasLeaguers.com’s spray charts, and since the beginning of 2009, he has a total of 5 hits to the right of dead center. Five. (One infield hit, but with his legs, ain’t nothin but a fluke.)
He’s never been a great hitter from the right side, but now that he’s older and his bat is slowing, his natural tendency to open up with his front side is hurting him big time. He’s basically early on everything that isn’t a fastball, but can’t generate enough bat speed to catch up to the fastball. Caught in between on everything. And since pitchers are seeing the slow bat, they’re pounding him in with hard stuff and then attacking away with soft stuff. And him being early isn’t really a timing issue. It’s a swing issue that leads to a timing issue. He’s not giving himself a chance to be on time because his own actions aren’t properly executed/timed up.
Swing wise- His first move from the right side has pretty much always been to open up with his front hip/oblique. Good when the pitch is middle-in, not so much when it’s away. He could get away with that when he was younger, not so much anymore. He also never really has been able to work his hands right from the right side. He has a very pronounced ‘hit down on the ball’ move with his hands, which doesn’t really allow him to build up bat speed behind him before committing to the pitch. All of his bat speed is late and out in front, and pretty much all his energy is directed out to left field- by that I mean the energy he builds up by loading doesn’t get built up in time, and what little he has built up doesn’t get expelled into the ball. Last thing about his swing from the RH side, it’s always been rather ‘armish’. A lot (more than there should be) of arm involvement, not enough hips/core/hands. Arms mean slow actions and slop in the swing, neither of which are good. Also, in his case, he extends his arms out away from his body too soon, further slowing him down and putting him in weaker positions to both create bat speed and drive the ball with authority.
As it stands, I’d avoid using him as a RHH if at all possible. Unless you face Cole Hamels, then I’d force him to sit the whole game on Cole’s change up.
Thank you to Steve for contributing, and check out Project Prospect for more of his work.
One thing I wanted to add to bolster this analysis is that Berkman is hitting 9% more line drives when hitting left-handed (18.8 to 9.5%). As Steve noted, his righty swing is not allowing him drive the ball, a major issue that is likely at the core of his poor performance against left-handers. I am uncertain whether this is something that he can fix, as it sounds like age and bat speed are major factors in his decline. Regardless, he is unlikely to get a chance to alter his mechanics and then test the changes during his tenure with the Yankees. When lefties take the hill against the Bombers in September and October, it will be Marcus Thames manning the DH spot.
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