Monday, July 14, 2008

Terrific Texas Twosome

Sure, neither of their teams may make the 2008 playoffs, but how about the individual efforts thus far by a Houston first baseman and Texas outfielder?

Entering the All-Star break, Lance Berkman is a bona fide Triple Crown threat, and Josh Hamilton is not far off.

Do either of these sluggers have a chance?

Sure they’ve got a chance, but there is two and a half months of baseball remaining, let’s not quite heat up the Triple Crown talk. I mean, we’re talking about a feat that hasn’t been accomplished for over 40 years (Carl Yastrzemski, 1967). Let’s just take a look at these two players and analyze their MVP chances.

First up is Berkman.

Through his team’s first 95 games the 32-year-old Astros slugger has a .347 batting average, 22 home runs and 73 RBI. What’s more impressive? The 10-year-veteran has compiled these numbers for a team that ranks near the bottom of National League in many offensive categories.

Houston, as a team, has scored 414 runs. Of these, Berkman has touched home plate 79 times. That’s more than one-fifth of the Astros’ run total; pretty impressive for a power hitter. The hefty first-baseman is able to compile such a lofty run total because he’s not only a talented hitter, he’s a smart hitter.

Berkman leads his team in runs by a 19 point margin, but he leads the Astros in walks by an even larger amount. The 6-foot-1-inch slugger has earned 56 free passes this season – Carlos Lee is second with 29. The walk total, in addition to that high batting average has Berkman ranking third in the National League with a .443 on-base percentage.

While walks, batting average, on-base percentage, are all key attributes to a team MVP, Berkman has helped out Houston with other facets of his game.

No, he doesn’t have Jose Reyes’ speed, but Berkman has stolen 15 bases, which ranks at the top among MLB first basemen.

As far as run production, Berkman’s 73 RBI doesn’t lead his team (Carlos Lee has 76), but he still fares well among league leaders. Only Ryan Howard (84) has more than the Berkman or Lee.

While Howard – who also has a league-leading 28 homers – and Atlanta’s Chipper Jones (who’s currently hitting .376) may stand in Berkman’s way in terms of the Triple Crown, the MVP award could be a possibility if he can maintain his ’08 success during the second-half of this Major League season.

Okay, so how about Hamilton?

Wow, what a story. If Hamilton is able to break Hack Wilson’s legendary RBI record, we almost have to give him the MVP, right?

Through his first 95 games, Hamilton has 95 RBI. Wilson had 191 in 1930. Okay, to break Wilson’s record, Hamilton would need to keep his pace and then some.

Thus far, in 2008, Hamilton has a .310 batting average and 21 home runs to go along with his league-obliterating RBI total.

Isn’t it something, though? As good as Hamilton has been, he’d still have to drive home 96 runs over the remaining 67 games of this 2008 season just to tie Wilson.

Well, beyond Wilson and the single-season RBI record, let’s take a look at what else this Rangers outfielder has done this season.

I believe Hamilton’s odds at winning an MVP are team-based. As opposed to Berkman’s Astros offense, Hamilton’s Rangers rank at the top of American League offenses with 538 runs scored. In fact, Texas has scored 43 more runs than second-place Boston.

The key cog is this offensive juggernaut is none other than Hamilton.

Cleveland’s Grady Sizemore has 23 homeruns and Hamilton’s teammate Ian Kinsler leads the AL with a .337 batting average, but the Texas slugger still has Triple Crown potential this season.

Kinsler is one of the main reasons Hamilton has been having a monster year. The Rangers second-baseman also leads the AL in doubles (34) and runs scored (84). In fact, those stats, as much as they bode favorably to Hamilton’s success, might also be reasons for him not to win the MVP. If Kinsler can maintain his 2008 first half through the second, he too could bear claim to MVP; but, that’s another story.

Okay, back to Hamilton and his 2008 AL MVP chances. I think they hinder on Texas’ continued offensive success. Kinsler has been a fine table-setter for Hamilton, but several other players are vital to Texas’ offense as well. Players like Milton Bradley, Michael Young and rookie David Murphy have all contributed to the Rangers’ run-producing success.

Bradley, who’s primarily been Texas’ DH, is hitting .316 with 19 home runs and 57 RBI; Young has scored 63 runs, posted a .302 batting average and driven in 52; while Murphy has hit 13 homers and 60 RBI. If these Texas hitters can keep up its offensive production and enable the Rangers to keep its AL-leading team batting average (which is currently .285), Hamilton should be in good position to succeed.

At 27 years of age, 6-feet-4-inches and 235 pounds, Hamilton is poised to continue putting up big numbers in what is really his first full MLB season (he had 298 at-bats for Cincinnati last season).

Now, going back to weighing Berkman and Hamilton’s MVP, or dare say it, Triple Crown odds …

Berkman has always hit for average (he’s a career .304 batting average) and, obviously, has more experience than Hamilton; but as far as sheer power goes, the young Ranger phenom packs a bit more punch.

In the end it comes down to team baseball. Come September, I don’t see the Astros competing with Chicago or Milwaukee in the NL Central. As far as the Rangers, however? Well, they’ll need to pitch better, but this offense is so potent that I could definitely see them making a run at Anaheim, which is why I’d say Hamilton has a better chance to earn any type of prominent individual accolade.

It’d be really neat to see Hamilton’s Rangers offense continue to soar. Texas pitching, however, ranks dead last in AL pitching with its 5.10 team ERA.

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