What Can We Expect From Lance Berkman in 2011?

Can Lance Berkman rebound in his first season as a Cardinal?

It’s always jarring to see a player don his rival’s jersey. Just ask Packers fans.

Often, the move works out for the player’s new team. Lou Brock became the Greatest of All Time (pre-1991) after the Cubs traded him to St. Louis, and Johnny Damon jumped 1.3 WAR after ditching the Red Sox for the Evil Empire.

So forgive Cardinals Country for getting excited seeing Lance Berkman, who spent twelve seasons frustrating Redbirds pitchers as an Astro, join the Cardinals as their everyday right fielder for 2011.

After all, Berkman posted a .420 OBP as recently as 2008 and still had .372 OBP in 85 games before being traded to the Yankees last season.

So what kind of production should we expect from Fat Elvis’s bat this year?

First, let’s look at what some of the experts have to say.

Bill James is gives the most favorable prognosis: .275/.393/.486 with 22 homers. ZiPS, on the other hand, projects a .262/.379/.449 line with 17 long balls.

Personally, I don’t think the Cardinals should be disappointed with either of those out of their right fielder, but let’s look at what his probable replacements, Jon Jay and Allen Craig, are projected for.

Jay, who declined sharply over the course of 2010, is projected for a .280/.335/.398 line, but his Marcel projections are much more favorable: .289/.351/.429, which would be much closer to the .290/.339/.450 line the Cardinals got out of their right fielders in ’10 than what Berkman is projected to do.

Craig’s projections are flipped – Bill James (.283/.335/.461) is much higher on him than Marcel (.258/.322/.411).

Regardless of which projection you believe, it’s unlikely that either player will approach Berkman in terms of on-base percentage or slugging. Thus, there’s little doubt that Berkman is an upgrade offensively over a platoon of Craig and Jay.

However, back in the National League, Berkman’s going to have to play the field. And his fielding ability is much murkier.

He’s projected as the starting right fielder, but he hasn’t played the outfield regularly since ’04. And even then, his -3.6 UZR wasn’t up to snuff.

Assuming there’s some regression from those numbers, Albert Pujols needs to get Bud Selig to allow spring-loaded cleats, or any line drive to the right side will become a circus

Look, I’m not saying signing Berkman was the wrong move. We can’t really assume anything when it comes to a man who hasn’t played the position in seven years, even if he has lost 15 pounds in an effort to get back in shape.

His defense might be a huge drop-off from the Ludwick/Jay/Craig triumvirate of 2010, but his offense and reputation with National League pitchers are something that Craig and Jay can’t be expected to bring to the lineup.

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